There is an intimate link between intimate (domestic) violence and international violence says author, Riane Eisler.


Riane Eisler
{mosgoogle} Why, despite countless international peace conferences and treaties, and despite the millions of people in the contemporary anti-war movement, are terrorism and warfare still daily facts? Why do both rich and poor nations still use violence to impose their will? How can we change this?
 Conventional wisdom says violence is just human nature—it’s in our genes. But genes are just chemicals. What matters is the interaction between genes and experience. This is particularly true in our early years. A pioneer in the study of the neurochemistry of abused children, Dr. Bruce Perry, tells us that children who are abused not only become abusers; their brain neurochemistry also becomes programmed for fight-or-flight at the slightest provocation. Yet while there is much talk about economic and social factors behind warfare and terrorism, the link between intimate violence—in home and school—and international violence—in terrorism and war—is still largely ignored.
 Throughout history, the most violently despotic and warlike cultures have been those where violence, or the threat of violence, is used to maintain domination of parent over child and man over woman. But the syndrome is not limited to so-called ‘religious fundamentalists.’ It was present in the European Middle Ages, in Hitler’s Germany, in Stalin’s Soviet Union. It is a disturbingly familiar pattern; and if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.
 Human society is based, first and foremost, on relationships between the female and male halves of humanity and on their relations with their sons and daughters. Our first lessons about human relations are learned not in the public but in the private or intimate sphere. As children, we either learn respect for others or the acceptance of abuse and violence. Thus, talk of a more peaceful world will be just talk, unless this matter of the foundations we lay down in intimate relations is more vigorously addressed.
 A Legacy of Abuse and Violence
 For most of recorded history, parental violence against children and men’s violence against their wives was either explicitly or implicitly condoned. Those who had the power to prevent and/or punish this violence through religion, law, or custom, openly or tacitly approved it.
 As laws have addressed this intimate violence, victims have begun to break their silence. But in many places today, parents are not subject to what is still considered interference in family affairs. Men who beat their spouses are still exempt from criminal prosecution. Some religious teachers still insist that punitive violence by parents against children and men against women is divinely ordained.
 That the subject of intimate violence is receiving some attention today reflects major changes in cultural values and beliefs as well as in social institutions, from the family and education to politics and economics. These changes toward more democratic values are part of the shift from a dominator to a partnership model of social organization. But these changes have been met with enormous resistance and with periodic regressions.
 Throughout history, regimes noted for their repressiveness and official violence have made the return of women to their ‘traditional’ (or subservient) place in a male-headed family a priority. Even in democracies such as the United States, those who believe in ‘holy wars’ against ‘Godless enemies’ oppose equal rights for women. They not only organized to defeat the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; they still oppose ratification of UN conventions to protect the rights of women and children.
 Families where men are ranked over women, and where children painfully learn that questioning orders from above is dangerous to their physical and emotional welfare, are central to authoritarian, warlike cultures and subcultures. We see this historically and cross-culturally.
 In the Roman Empire, the male head of household had life and death powers, not only over his slaves, but also over the women and children in his household. Similarly, under English Common Law, which developed at a time when monarchs maintained their rule through fear and force, extreme parental violence against children was not unlawful and husbands were legally permitted to beat their wives if they disobeyed them.
 The connection between rigid male domination in the family and despotism in the state also helps explain customs such as the ‘honor killings’ of girls and women by their own families, and the stoning of women for alleged sexual offenses, found in chronically violent areas. Through the rule of terror in the family, both women and men learn to accept rule by terror as ‘normal’.
 Fortunately, not all people raised in violent households become violent and brutal. But studies such as the classic The Authoritarian Personality document how individuals who participate in and/or yield to authoritarianism, violence, and scapegoating in the state tend to be individuals from families where authoritarianism, violence, and scapegoating were the norm. Such studies verify our common sense: that the link between cruelty and violence in the private sphere of the family and the public sphere of the state is all too real.
 As psychotherapist Alice Miller pointed out, if we examine the childhoods of brutal despots such as Hitler, we see yet another link between the institutionalization of domination based on cruelty and terror in childrearing and the institutionalization of domination backed by cruelty and terror in the state. The biographies of such demagogic arch-criminals reveal that their cruelty and violence, particularly their violent persecution of ‘inferior’ or ‘dangerous’ people, be they Jews in Germany, Blacks in the American South, or ‘disobedient’ women in repressive cultures, is rooted in the violence and cruelty they experienced as children.
 The High Incidence of Intimate Violence
 Statistical studies on rates of abuse from many nations show the extraordinary cultural and economic range of violence against women in intimate relations. Studies of specific forms of child abuse reveal how pervasive that problem is, and how frequently female children are targeted. For example, the 1997 United Nations State of World Population Report estimated that 120 million girls have undergone some form of female genital mutilation, with another two million young girls at risk each year, particularly in regions of Africa and Asia where this practice is performed under the mantle of religious or ethnic tradition.
 There are studies on the huge number of girl children enslaved (often offered for sale by members of their own families) in the global sex industry, for example, in Thailand, India, and the former Soviet Union. The UN estimates that two million girls between ages five and eleven are introduced into the commercial sex market each year.
 Lori Heise reported in Violence Against Women: The Missing Agenda, that one in three women worldwide have experienced violence from a spouse or partner. 42% of women in Kenya admitted that their husbands regularly beat them. In Papua, New Guinea, 67% of rural women and 56% of urban women had been abused by partners. According to estimates by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1989, three to four million women are battered in the USA each year. In Bombay, India, one out of every five deaths among women fifteen to forty-four was due to ‘accidental burns’—that is, the infamous ‘bride-burnings’ or ‘dowry deaths’ that only recently attracted international attention.
 Beliefs about the legitimacy of men dominating women and of parents hitting children are central to the perpetuation of this violence. The family is not only influenced by, but in turn also influences, the larger social structure and culture of which it is a part.
 The Failure to Protect Women and Children
 The failure to protect women and children from violence is sometimes justified by rhetoric about noninterference in the family sphere. Clearly, a person’s right to make certain private decisions should be free from governmental interference. But that is not the same as immunizing family decisions—or more specifically, the decisions of those who wield power in a family—from public scrutiny and regulation.
 Another familiar argument against ‘outside interference’ in family affairs is that the family is the repository of traditional religious and/or cultural values with which neither laws nor governments should interfere. But if we go beneath the rhetoric and re-examine what is at stake, we see that the issue is not so much preserving religious or cultural traditions, but of preserving those traditions that maintain a particular form of familial and social organization. We also see that from the very beginning it has been precisely the re-examination—and rejection—of cultural and/or religious traditions that has fueled the modern movement for human rights and democracy.
 The basis of the modern human rights and democracy movements is the rejection of autocratic cultural traditions backed up by fear and force. The autocratic rule of kings was once justified, and staunchly defended, by religious authorities that claimed that kings and other ‘noblemen’ have a divine right to rule. Philosophers such as Edmund Burke argued that the doctrine of “the rights of man would lead to the utter subversion, not only of all government, in all modes, but all stable securities to rational freedom, and all the rules and principles of morality itself.”
 This kind of rhetoric is all too familiar, as it is still in our time used to oppose ‘women’s rights’ and ‘children’s rights’ by some religious authorities and secular writers who claim women’s and children’s rights are subversive of the moral order, a threat to family and social stability, and a violation of tradition.
 This cry against interference within ethnic and/or religious traditions is even raised to defend genital mutilation. Due to the challenge by women’s rights advocates around the world, some national leaders have condemned such practices, and a few international human rights organizations have taken a stand. But to date no major religious leader has taken a strong stand against this barbaric form of torture.
 Instead, some religious leaders still speak of the practice as an important cultural tradition. But surely no one today would dare to justify cannibalism or slavery (which were once also traditional practices in certain cultures) on cultural or traditional grounds.
 It is high time that the traditions of intimate violence against women and children be recognized for what they are: brutal practices to exert control through the infliction or fear of pain. It is also high time that this issue receives political as well as moral condemnation worldwide, if not for the sake of those directly affected, then because the connections between intimate and international violence today threaten us all.
 A Call to Action
 With the specter of biological or nuclear terrorism and warfare hanging over us, both religious and secular leaders have spoken out against international violence. But we also urgently need to hear their voices raised against the intimate violence that sparks, fuels, and refuels international violence.
 It has not been enough to say that intimate violence must stop because of the horrible damage it causes to the millions of children and women directly affected. Nor has it been enough to point to the massive economic and social costs of this violence, even though this too has been extensively documented.
 But if we do not address these cornerstones of violence and abuse, we will not have the foundations for a more equitable, peaceful, and sustainable future. Surely, if the connection between intimate violence and international violence becomes better understood, more will finally be done to end this terrible worldwide human scourge.
 The purpose of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV)* is to bring the link between intimate and international violence to the attention of policy makers and the public. Since the majority of people are religious, SAIV is also a call to spiritual leaders to spread the message that this violence will no longer be condoned. Religious leaders have moral authority. Their authority must be used to help end the epidemic of intimate violence that blights, and often takes, the lives of so many women and children, and that, unabated, will continue to undermine all efforts to create a more peaceful and just world.
 Intimate violence and international violence are as tightly bound together as the fingers of a clenched fist. Only if we vigorously oppose intimate violence and abuse, and teach relations based on mutual respect and caring rather than violence and domination in intimate relations, will we have the foundations for cultures of peace, as intimate violence provides a basic model for using force to impose one’s will.
 • Nobel Prize Laureate Betty Williams and I have launched (SAIV). For more information, please go to
Riane Eisler’s bestseller The Chalice and The Blade has been translated into 19 languages. Her most recent book is The Power of Partnership, a guidebook for individual and social transformation that applies her research to personal and political action. A constitutional law expert and attorney in family law practice, and a cultural historian and evolutionary systems scientist, Dr. Eisler is President of the Center for Partnership Studies, is a founding member of the General Evolution Research Group, a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and the World Business Academy, and a member of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality.