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Rev. Andrea Ayvazian: Winning the war on war, as diverse voices urge Syrian attack be avoided

Sunday after Sunday, we prayed in the hope that a spontaneous, universal desire for peace would grab hold of people around the world, affecting young and old, hawks and doves, military and civilians. We have hoped and we have prayed for years.

Now, all of a sudden, it seems that an outbreak of peace is happening. President Obama announced plans to attack Syria to punish its leader, Bashar al-Assad, for poisoning his own people with a nerve gas, and people have risen up in huge numbers to say “no.” And the widespread condemnation of military force is not coming only from aging hippies like me, but from a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans, seniors and young adults, poor, middle-class and wealthy people, those on the coasts and in the heartland, religious and not religious.

According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, “A broad majority of Americans, exhausted by nearly a dozen years of war and fearful of tripping into another one, are opposed to a military strike on Syria, even though most say they think Syrian forces used chemical weapons against civilians.”

What is even more significant is that the broad-based opposition to attacks in Syria extends to military engagement in other foreign countries as well. According to the New York Times/CBS poll, “Sixty-two percent of the people polled said the United States should not take a leading role in trying to solve foreign conflicts, while only 34 percent said it should.” (By comparison, the poll noted that “in April 2003, a month after American troops marched into Iraq, 48 percent favored a leading role, while 43 percent opposed it.”) Those who are rising up to say no are not just Americans. Britain, Italy, Germany, and Canada have all voiced opposition to a military strike on Syria. And in recent weeks, rallies and vigils to stop the U.S. from bombing Syria have been held in Lebanon, the Philippines, Pakistan, Jordan and Vatican City, to name a few such sites around the world.

So what is going on here? Is it simply fatigue from so many wars fought around the globe? Is this the international community’s distaste at the sight of a declining superpower’s attempt to flex its military muscles? Is it a concern over the financial costs of continued warfare at a time of severe economic hardship at home?

I think it is all of this, as well as something different.

I think expanded international travel, the Internet and a growing knowledge of and engagement with the outside world has made foreign societies that once appeared distant and alien seem more like neighbors and friends. Sociologists have said for years that when a group is experienced as “the other” — different, remote, and disconnected — it is easier to hold unappealing stereotypes about them and to be indifferent to hardships they experience. But as the world seems to shrink in size and international boundaries diminish in significance, people are relating to those on foreign soil as part of the human family.

Even though people around the world were horrified by the photographs of the victims of Assad’s nerve gas attacks and tempted to punish him with military strikes, people also knew that air strikes would injure and kill more children, mothers and fathers even when aimed at military targets. The Syrian people now feel close, precious and “kin,” as one member of my church put it.

I do not think the current “outbreak of peace” we are witnessing around the globe is simply war-fatigue. I think it is also a growing recognition of the sisterhood and brotherhood of all of us alive on this planet. I believe that people are experiencing a growing sense of global interdependence and interconnection that has become the defining feature of the “global village” we now all inhabit.

I believe this current wave of opposition to war with Syria is the beginning of a turning of the tide. Even if it is technology — tweets, emails, photographs, videos — criss-crossing the globe that has driven this new-found interconnectedness and appreciation for one another, it is our hearts that have been touched and broken open.

Author Margaret Wheatley has said, “You cannot hate someone whose story you know.” As we grow increasingly aware of our identity as global citizens, we are hearing one another’s stories more than ever before in history. And as a result, fear and animosity are diminishing.

As a Christian, I look to Scripture, which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What is exciting now, in this current outbreak of peace, is that we are redefining who it is we consider our neighbor.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a monthly column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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