Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Non-Violent Strategy Against Terrorism

What should come into my inbox during an argument with my detractors but a ready-made response to the issue of non-violence as a strategy against terrorism. It is from a Sojourners email, by David Cortright, who recently authored "Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for an Age of Terrorism". Yay, Sojo.

In the months after 9/11, Jim Wallis challenged peace advocates to address the threat of terrorism. “If nonviolence is to have any credibility,” he wrote, “it must answer the questions violence purports to answer, but in a better way.” Gandhian principles of nonviolence provide a solid foundation for crafting an effective strategy against terrorism. Nonviolence is fundamentally a means of achieving justice and combating oppression. Gandhi demonstrated its effectiveness in resisting racial injustice in South Africa and winning independence for India. People-power movements have since spread throughout the world, helping to bring down communism in Eastern Europe and advancing democracy in Serbia, Ukraine, and beyond. The same principles - fighting injustice while avoiding harm - can be applied in the struggle against violent extremism.

Bush administration officials and many political leaders in Washington view terrorism primarily through the prism of war. Kill enough militants, they believe, and the threat will go away. The opposite approach is more effective and less costly in lives. Some limited use of force to apprehend militants and destroy training camps is legitimate, but unilateral war is not. In the three years since the invasion of Iraq, the number of major terrorist incidents in the world has increased sharply. War itself is a form of terrorism. Using military force to counter terrorism is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It ignites hatred and vengeance and creates a cycle of violence that can spin out of control. A better strategy is to take away the fuel that sustains the fire. Only nonviolent methods can do that, by attempting to resolve the underlying political and social factors that give rise to armed violence.

The most urgent priority for countering terrorism, experts agree, is multilateral law enforcement to apprehend perpetrators and prevent future attacks. Cooperative law enforcement and intelligence sharing among governments have proven effective in reducing the operational capacity of terrorist networks. Governments are also cooperating to block financing for terrorist networks and deny safe haven, travel, and arms for terrorist militants. These efforts are fully compatible with the principles of nonviolence.

Terrorism is fundamentally a political phenomenon, concluded the U.N. Working Group on Terrorism in 2002. To overcome the scourge, “it is necessary to understand its political nature as well as its basic criminality and psychology.” This means addressing legitimate political grievances that terrorist groups exploit - such as the Israel-Palestine dispute, repressive policies by Arab governments, and the continuing U.S. military occupation in Iraq. These deeply-held grievances generate widespread political frustration and bitterness in many Arab and Muslim countries, including among people who condemn terrorism and al Qaeda’s brutal methods. As these conditions fester and worsen, support rises for the groups that resist them. Finding solutions to these dilemmas can help to undercut support for jihadism. The strategy against terrorism requires undermining the social base of extremism by driving a wedge between militants and their potential sympathizers. The goal should be to separate militants from their support base by resolving the political injustices that terrorists exploit.

A nonviolent approach should not be confused with appeasement or a defeatist justification of terrorist crimes. The point is not to excuse criminal acts but to learn why they occur and use this knowledge to prevent future attacks. A nonviolent strategy seeks to reduce the appeal of militants’ extremist methods by addressing legitimate grievances and providing channels of political engagement for those who sympathize with the declared political aims. A two-step response is essential: determined law enforcement pressure against terrorist criminals, and active engagement with affected communities to resolve underlying injustices. Ethicist Michael Walzer wrote, counterterrorism “must be aimed systematically at the terrorists themselves, never at the people for whom the terrorists claim to be acting.” Military attacks against potential sympathizers are counterproductive and tend to drive third parties toward militancy. Lawful police action is by its nature more discriminating and is more effective politically because it minimizes predictable backlash effects.

Gandhi’s political genius was in understanding the power of third party opinion. He did not try to challenge the British militarily but instead organized mass resistance to weaken the political legitimacy of the Raj. The nonviolent method, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, undermines the authority and “moral unction” of the adversary. Gandhi realized that political struggles are ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. In all his campaigns, he assiduously cultivated the support of third parties by avoiding harm to the innocent and addressing legitimate grievances. These are essential insights for the struggle against terrorism. The fight will not be won on the battlefield. The more it is waged on that front, the less likely it can be won. The goal of U.S. strategy, said the 9/11 Commission, must be “prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamic terrorism.” Nonviolent resistance is the opposite of and a necessary antidote to the ideology of extreme violence. Gandhi often said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Better to keep our eyes open as we search for more effective means of eroding support for extremism, while protecting the innocent and bringing violent perpetrators to justice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Creating terrorists

From "The Battle for Lebanon" by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker, interviewing Jamil Mroue, a secular Shiite and editor of Beirut's English language paper, the Daily Star. Mroue:

"Even after 9/11, there is this expectation in the U.S. and Israel that some unspoken middle class is just sitting there waiting to inherit the ruins of whatever country it is that they are obliterating. But there is no calculation that, if they flatten Lebanon and [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah comes out of hiding and is given a microphone to deliver a speech, he can topple governments. He has been extraordinarily empowered by this. Israel and America are still obsessed with destroying hardware. But if you do this with Hezbollah you just propagate what you want to destroy.

Do I want to live under Hezbollah? No, I don't. But the same errors that the Americans made in Iraq are being made here. You get rid of Nasrallah not by destroying his guns but by helping to create a sustainable society."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Roller Terrorism

I saw the other day that my very own Ft. Wayne Roller Dome is one of the 8,000 or so terrorist targets in Indiana, as compiled by the Department of Homeland Security. I grew up in Ft. Wayne and spent many a junior high Saturday at the Roller Dome. It is where my friends and I attempted for the first time to understand and communicate with these new female humanoids we had lately noticed popping up everywhere. They seemed similiar to us, but different somehow. They didn't respond in what we thought should be normal ways to spitwad offerings or amazing feats of speed and agility around the rink.

Now, liberal Bush haters would like us to believe that sites like, say, the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty should be on the terrorist target list instead of places like the Ft. Wayne Roller Dome. But they are wrong. It is a place where many young men with raging hormones are first rejected, rather decisively and for good reason, by sensible young women. And if my junior high friends and I, like, totally grossed out the girls there, which we did, imagine how much harder it would be for Islamofacists to win their affections. It is even possible that some of my junior high friends grew up to be Islamofacist terrorists as a result of their time spent at the Roller Dome. It is the perfect place to see the inherent corruption and immorality of modern culture, and the total unfairness that you are unable to participate in it.

So, don't believe its inclusion on the list has anything to do with politically well-connected Indiana Republicans. I'm certain the process was completely fair and objective, and that former junior high boys everywhere would agree with the assessment.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lack of Vision on the Left

I started reading "The Left Hand of God" by Michael Lerner, who is a Jewish Rabbi. It is very good. Here's an excerpt:

Liberals and progressives sometimes like to make fun of the Right by pointing out that it is precisely in the Red states of the Republican majority where abortions are most prevalent, where divorce is most rampant,where the power of corporate selfishness is most unrestrained by laws, where the malls have done most to uproot small businesses, and where materialism on the whole seems to be having its greatest field day. The same is true for many of the enclaves of Red-state consciousness in Blue states, such as the gated communities and mostly white valleys of Southern California or the suburban areas of man other Blue states. But that, of course, is just the point. It is precisely because people in the Red states are suffering most from the epidemic of uncontrolled me-firstism that so many residents of those states are so desperate to find a counterforce. They are the most susceptible to the appeals of the Religious Right that has become a champion for family values, tradition, the stability that is offered by authoritarian and patriarchal norms, and the real comfort that spiritual life offers through connection to something higher than money.

The point is that there is a real spiritual crisis in American society, and the Religious Right has managed to position itself as the articulator of the pain that crisis causes and as he caring force that will provide a spiritual solution. And then it takes the credibility that it has won in this way and associates itself with a political Right that is actually championing the very institutions and social arrangements that caused this problem in the first place. And with the power that each of these has gained by their alliance, they have become ever more arrogant in trying to impose their worldview on everyone else in society. Their alliance threatens to destroy the fragile balance between secular and religious people and move the United States toward the very kind of theocracy that people originally came to this country to escape.

So, how could this happen?

It has happened because the political Left doesn’t really have a clue about the spiritual crisis in American society and is thus unable to address it in any persuasive way. Witnessing the country give electoral victories to the Right, those on the Left are totally confused about why it’s happening. They earnestly study poll data and then reposition themselves in ways that will not put them too far beyond where they imagine popular opinion is moving. It never occurs to them to be the shapers of this social energy instead of merely the responders. For much of the past twenty-five years, since the early days of the Reagan administration, the Democrats have explained their electoral losses by claiming that the country is just in a “conservative period”, as though the political climate had fallen mysteriously from the heaven and had nothing to do with the way liberals failed to develop mass support for a progressive worldview when they held political power.
I think this is very true. Democrats keep running to the center, and when they do, people rightly assume that they don't believe in their own values. The center then keeps moving right and Democrats just become light Republicans. They would do better to attract independents by articulating and standing behind their liberal values than by running away from them.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Don't Feel Safer

Here is Bush on the foiled terrorist plot yesterday:

The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.
I’m not sure which is worse, whether he still actually believes they hate us for our freedom, or that instead of honest leadership, we get partisan talking points.
The -- this country is safer than it was prior to 9/11. We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in. It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. And that is why we have given our officials the tools they need to protect our people.
The question isn’t whether law enforcement should have tools to protect people. It is whether they should follow the law in doing so. I think they should, but I guess that makes me a weak-kneed traitor. :)

And, does he really believe there are people who think there is “no threat to the US”? No one believes this. Quite the opposite in fact, among his detractors. His policies and actions have ensured that we will have attacks against our country for generations to come. There are far more people in the world that hate and want to harm us now, based on our cowboy diplomacy over the last five years, especially since he was re-elected.

People don’t want to harm us because of what we believe. We believe a lot of the same things than Canadians believe, but Islamic fundamentalists are not targeting Canada. They attack us for lots of reasons, most of which have to do with our policies and actions. Until we understand that, our enemies will continue to grow, not shrink.

*Update*: A kind reader helpfully pointed out that there *was* a plot this year to blow up a bunch of stuff in Canada by Islamic Terrorists. Oops. Hey, I meant Sweden. Canada was just a typo. :)

Nonetheless, the larger point remains: It is our actions and policies that really matter. They are what make the difference between a few crazies frothing at mouth and an organized army of people dedicated to our destruction. We just play into the hands of the crazies when we invade and occupy countries, which allows them to convince more people to join them. We must "drain the swamps of injustice", as Jim Wallis would say, if we really want long term peace and security. Pretending we will be safe if we simply round up everyone who hates freedom is both dishonest and detrimental.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Slice of Modern Conservatism

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz asks:

WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?
Yes, imagine a world where war is not waged because humanitarian concern dwarfs self-interest. Sounds pretty good to me.

If you read the whole article, you'll find that Podhoretz is joining Rush Limbaugh in joining Al-Queda and the Taliban in calling for more violence against civilians if it helps defeat enemies.

This is what modern conservatism in America has come to: In order to save our civilization, we must abandon the values that make it good. We must give up freedom in order to defend freedom. We must torture people in order to save our civilization from evil people.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Managing Calm vs Root Causes

Last week, in response to a reporter’s question about what happened to America’s clout in the Mideast as the Israel/Lebanon war continues unabated, George Bush gave the following response:

Bush: It’s an interesting period because instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability. For awhile, American foreign policy was just, let’s hope everything is calm — manage calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.

So apparently in Bush’s world view, our invasion of Iraq and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon are designed to address the root causes of resentment and anger of Islamic terrorists. That “managing calm” thing that Clinton tried to do only created a “sense of stability”. He should have been dropping bombs and occupying countries.

Man, if only we had realized this earlier. All that love that Muslims are now directing toward us because of our hard work on root causes could have been ours years earlier. :)

For the record, I am all for addressing root causes. But raining violence down upon entire countries is quite the opposite of addressing root causes, unless your goal is to solve the problem by killing everyone who opposes you.

Maybe Bush should actually try to understand why they hate us. Hint: it isn't because we love freedom. Here's a slice of a speech given by Osama bin Laden in Oct 2004. He may be full of it, but this is how he recruits people. Root causes indeed.

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorized and displaced.

I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy.

The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon? And the whole world saw and heard but it didn't respond.

In those difficult moments many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul, but in the end they produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny, and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

And that day, it was confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance.