Fighting fire with fire? Or with love?

27 Jan 2017

Yesterday President Trump made headlines over his remarks about torture. Our enemies, he said, play by different rules, implying that the US should not abide by them. "We have to meet fire with fire," he was quoted as saying.

Meet fire with fire? The Christian Gospel, which he professes to believe, enjoins us (unless it has changed recently) to meet fire with love. To love our enemies, to love those who persecute us.

My argument is not about pacifism, but about the attitudes and values that govern our thinking and conduct. When a national leader so repeatedly and blatantly departs from the core values on which our 'civilised' societies have been founded, one is entitled to be concerned. Of course we fall short of those values, repeatedly, but when they are no longer even held as true then the game has changed decisively.

Mahatma Gandhi did not fight fire with fire in his epic and successful fight for Indian freedom. He fought fire with love - and with the decisive actions of defiance that proceeded from a true heart of love. He loved the English enough to help them see the wrongness of their imperial position. And in the process of winning his country's independence he transformed a tense and potentially tragic situation into one which has kept a bond of love between two peoples.

The 'enemies' whose fire Trump wants to fight with fire may be more ruthless than most. It would be naive to think that military action is not needed to counter their threat. But if we descend to using their methods we become part of the problem, and we perpetuate the problem. Hearts and minds have to be won by a different strategy, by humility and dialogue, if the endless, ageless spirals of hate and violence stand any chance of ending.