Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Friends without enemies

The proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” came to mind with the news that Iran (our “enemy”?) is giving bags full of money to Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan (our “friend”?)

First, let’s note that the terms “enemies” and “friends,” as applied to countries (which include land, animals, insects and people in addition to governments) is political short-hand and should not be taken at face value.

But if we accept these labels for the purposes of political discussion, what happens when an “enemy” (Iran) becomes the “friend” of a “friend” (Afghanistan)?

Could this be good news? Could this make our “enemy” less of an enemy? Would this not provide some kind of opening to friendship through a mutual “friend”?

Apparently not. Instead, the revelation seems to be having the effect of transforming Afghanistan into “the enemy.”

Perhaps this has always been the case and our government has simply refused to recognize it for geopolitical reasons, not the least of which has to do with natural resources.

The Karzai government (not “Afghanistan”) has always been duplicitous at best. Our own “bags of money” haven’t done much good, at least not for us.

I’m no expert but it seems to me that relationships in the Middle East and Central Asia aren’t defined in terms of “enemies” and “friends,” which are static, two-dimensional concepts. I’d go so far as to call them “Western.”

Relationships in Afghanistan and Iran are grounded in religion, culture, history and — opportunity. Those are things you can’t buy with bags of cash, weapons or boots on the ground.

To try to apply “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or, in this case, “the friend of my friend is my friend,” simply doesn’t compute.

What’s needed throughout the world is a shared ethical culture and perspective. As long as we seek solutions through military force or bags of cash we will lose as a planetary people. We aren’t going to learn the values we share. To the contrary, we will ensure that we remain dangerously divided. For sale to highest bidder.

The good news is that all peoples know we share universal values. He have a “human perspective.” We need to start by naming, extolling and, finally, living by what we share. Doing so needs to extend consistently and rigorously from individual relationships to governmental relationships.

If we succeed, we will all be “friends” and the word “enemy” will disappear from our languages. Then, and only then, will absurd proverbs like “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” become, literally, meaningless.

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