Understanding root causes is first step in confronting violence – Commercial Appeal

At a time when our lives are filled with news of violence, it seems appropriate to talk about peace.

With the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels fresh in our memory, with Sandy Hook, Charleston and the Wisconsin Temple shooting not yet faded from our thoughts, and with Ferguson and Chicago police incidents leaving our heads spinning in disbelief, it seems there is no sensibility left in our world.

With violence dominating our lunchtime, dinner table and water cooler conversations, there is no room for talk about nonviolence.

There’s a reason that we worry about violence. From 2001 to 2013, some 3,380 deaths occurred from terrorist attacks in the U.S., most of those in the 9/11 attacks. Each year since, about 35 people have died in terrorist attacks in our country. During the same period, some 406,496 people have died from gun violence including homicides, suicides and accidents. Although the homicide rate has held steady overall, suicide by gun has increased significantly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, domestically, there are 1,000 deaths from firearms for every one death from a terrorist attack.

While the greatest toll from gun violence is physical, the toll from terrorist violence is psychological for both adults and children. A mall, church, movie theater, workplace even a classroom no longer feel like safe places.

Set aside heart disease, cancer and AIDS and the great strides we have made to prevent and treat them. It seems we have been able to do little to prevent terrorist violence and gun violence.

I am not convinced that greater surveillance or gun control are solutions for the longer term. Yet neither is revenge, more incarceration or torture.

Violence in response to violence has not worked as a long-term solution. That is because terrorism and guns are not the causes of violence, but rather the symptoms. If we reflect deeply, we realize that the causes of violence are rooted in poverty, lack of opportunity, injustice (perceived or real), inequality (perceived or real) and fundamentalism (religious or political). The terrorist and shooter do violence out of their own fear, insecurity or desire for revenge.

Terrorism and gun violence have no easy solution. Carpet bombing or taking away guns are not solutions, and neither is pacifism or refusing to take action. But we can begin with a meaningful dialogue.

So this Friday and Saturday, five keynote speakers and 25 presenters will gather before a crowd of more than 250 people at the University of Memphis to share their perspectives at the annual Gandhi-King Conference for Nonviolence (gandhikingconference.org).

Speakers include:

Tavis Smiley, who hosts the late-night PBS talk show, has written about how to eradicate poverty.

Erica Chenoweth, a professor who was ranked among the top 100 global thinkers in 2013 by Foreign Policy magazine and who understands terrorism.

Rev. Mike Kinman, who has traveled to Sudan and Ghana and witnessed stark inequality.

Rev. William Johnson, a minister in Ferguson, Missouri, who has lived through the eruption of violence in his city.

Maya Soetoro-Ng, a professor who teaches the history of the peace movement and efforts to bring about social change. She is also a half-sister to President Barack Obama.

For the most part, these leaders contend that violence in retaliation for violence has not worked, and that we must think of a different approach. Although I may not completely agree with these speakers, I know I will learn a lot by listening to them.

As a doctor, I know it is important to clearly delineate the symptoms of an illness from its root cause. Clearly the violence in our society is a public health problem with both physical and psychological impacts, yet its causes are rooted in political and social conflicts.

At the conference, I don’t expect to find a solution to our conflicts, but I know I will better understand the root causes. That may be a good start in a world filled with so much violence.

Dr. Manoj Jain is an infectious disease physician in Memphis.

Source: Commercial Appeal

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