📚 Review: I Am Not Your Enemy

I Am Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World by Michael T. McRay

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, Highly Recommended

The stories we tell and the ones we listen to change us all the time, in large and little ways, and we'd do well to consider carefully which stories win our attention.


Note: you can find this title and more on the Resilient booklist. Commsissions from sales from that list help acquire more books for review.


Summary

From Palestine, Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the USA, we hear the stories of people working for peace.

Through this book, we learn of the possibility of peace and of the practical requirements of forgiveness and reconciliation. Can you reconcile while injustice continues? Can you forgive those who burned down your home while still living in its ruins?

— from the Foreword by Ishmael Beah

McRay takes care with the stories of the people he interviews, presenting their varying experiences with authenticity and grace. Peace is not an easy process, and we see time and again that the work is long and hard.

…it can take as long to get out we of a conflict as it took to get in it.

But the work is important, and we can continue to get better at it.

Takeaways

#1: Peacemaking requires both Reconciliation and Justice

A common theme through the stories is that these two objectives are dependent on one another:

Reconciliation that isn't interested in the injustices that are dividing people is shallow at best and sinister at worst. And any effort at justice that addresses the basic needs of security and sustenance but pays little attention to the quality of compassionate relationship between people is like trying to build the frame of a ship without any adhesive.

and

There's something about the language of reconciliation that can seem friendlier to those in power and an enemy to those suffering, while language of justice may be the exact opposite.

Those of us with power must be willing to admit it and learn to share it if we hope to make lasting progress:

true reconciliation threatens the power structures. Reconciliation needs to be dealing with creating healthy, right relationships, which must mean dealing with power imbalances. Inequality in power, access, distribution of resources—all these tear at any hope of deep relationship.


#2: “Free the oppressed and you might free the oppressor too”

Obviously the oppressed need to be freed, but how about the oppressor? You may have heard this sort of idea before, but could have had trouble visualizing it or making it concrete.

There are a couple ways in which even the perpetrators of harm need to be freed:

First, they can be freed to regain their humanity. Continuing to uphold systems of harm degrades one’s ethical and moral center. It burdens the soul. It is an albatross.

Second, they can be freed from constant vigilance:

“…but I fear they will kill us if we don't control them. It's the cost of security.”

Those who uphold systems of oppression have a background anxiety that people who’ve been harmed are going to come “settle up”. This fear and constant vigilance often leads to things such as:

  • additional spending or effort on security

  • isolation and conclaving

  • reactionary measures and escalations

Walls like these often rise in response to fear.... But I think walls become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Our freedoms are bound together.


Have you read this book? What takeaways did you have?


Definitions

The book detailed a few terms that are worth sharing:

  • “single stories” - stories that strip complexity from people and reduce them to narratives without nuance (source: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

  • “single identity work” - the work that groups should do within the group, before working with other groups where there is conflict (this is the group version of “work on yourself, first”)

  • “contact hypothesis” - the (disbunked) idea that just getting to know people will solve or prevent conflicts

  • “sulha” - seeking to dismantle the occupation and secure freedom through nonviolence (source: Usama, a Palestinian interviewed for the book)

  • “refuseniks” - Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in occupied Palestine (note: there are other historical uses of this term as well, and it can also mean Israeli conscientious objectors more generally)

Additional Quotes

What makes for peace is the capacity to live with difference in such a way that bears fruit rather than arms. Difference and disagreement are guaranteed for human relationships. More often than not, it's how we deal with difference, rather than being different, that determines our potential to be peaceable.

The stories we tell either help us or harm us. No narrative is neutral. The ones that help are usually ones that tell bold truths about our world, even painful ones, because we always need to face the truth with courage if we're to heal and grow. The ones that hurt are usually ones that distort truths—maybe to protect power, or dehumanize, or tempt us to weaponize our fear. We humans tend to do our worst when we're afraid. Fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to violence and violence leads to fear, which leads to hatred, which leads to violence. If we don't address this deadly cycle, it can loop forever.

Building empathy for the sake of empathy, however, isn’t enough. It should lead to compassionate action for improving the world....Empathy that does not lead toward constructive efforts for personal and social improvement isn't of much use to anyone.

...religion and difference need not be markers of division. It's not written in stone anywhere that hospitality and affection shall be suspended in the company of difference. In fact, it's in the presence of difference that hospitality is often most needed.

…everyone who benefits from an unjust system and is not actively working to dismantle it is at least partly responsible for its harm.

What can you do to help bring reconciliation and justice?