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.


snarkbutt said...

As a librarian, it's my professional duty to make you aware that these long-ass excerpts from published sources may be violating some kind of copyright.

Plus, it's kinda boring. If I wanted to read an entire Sojourners article, I'd go directly to the source. As a reader of your blog, I expect you to accomodate my miniscule MTV-generation attention span by condensing the article down to its most salient points.

Oooh, look, a butterfly! [Giggles and runs off...]

Dan S said...

I am certain that the free marketing I am providing via the tens of people who read this blog more than makes up for any copyright infringements.

I would have condensed this one, except it came via email and I couldn't find it on the sojo site, and then I noticed a lizard eating a butterfly and got distracted.

Brownie said...

As long as he gives proper credit to the source, is it not any different that citing sources on a research paper in college? I don't see a problem with copywrite unless he's claiming credit for the words or making some financial gain off of them.


"War itself is a form of terrorism"

I have heard this before, and though I understand (and partially agree with) its sentiment (not its point), there is a fundamental difference in the politics of the real world. Allow me to play Webster: (not to be condescending, but in the interest of clarity) War is conducted in support of some national or international policy, by a legitimatly recognized government or group of governments (and can be legal, or not, under international law)to deter, defeat or destroy a rival. War also has rules, as defined by the Geneva Convention, under which the waging of war can be conducted legally. Terrorism however, is conducted outside the realm of government control, by non-uniformed groups, individuals or organizations, (and therefore always illigal under international law) and principly targets civilian populations (rather than rival military or government personnel and facilities) in an effort to make political statements or effect political change. Terrorism's primary aim is to create fear in a population to force its government to change its policy. War's is aimed primarily at government facilities and represenatatives (such as uniformed troops) with special care given (under the Geneva Convention) to AVOID the death of innocent civilians.

In order for intelligent people to communicate concisely and with some measure of subtelty, we devise words with particular meanings. To reduce the meaning of words, such as "terrorism" down to "war" or vice versa, does a disservice to language and human endeavor in general. I am reminded of Orwell's 1984 and the chap who commented to Winston Smith that "the destruction of words is a beautiful thing" when he was working on the 10th edition of the Newspeak Dictionary (which if you have forgotten, was getting thinner, not larger, with each new edition).

I do not wish to live in a world where the words "war" and "terrorism" mean one and the same and we spend our time deciphering what the "meaning of the word 'is' is," to quote your buddy.

Just a thought.


snarkbutt said...

As long as he gives proper credit to the source, is it not any different that citing sources on a research paper in college?

I think you're confusing copyright with plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you fail to credit the source. Copyright deals with reproducing a work that you don't own. For example, if I typed out the entire contents of Ann Coulter's latest book on my web site, not only would my eyes bleed from the content, but I'd be in big trouble with her publisher, because I'm giving away content that I don't own.

I'm not saying Dan has violated copyright, because I'm no attorney, and I don't know how much of the article he posted here. But if he posted an entire article that's copyrighted, it would be akin to, say, giving away illegal copies of DVDs out of the back of your van parked near the river. Which is something I'm sure Dan would never do, considering he's constantly ragging on conservatives for lying, cheating, and stealing.

(Just doing my part to further the leftist Librarian agenda. The ALA Code of Ethics states, in part, "We recognize and respect intellectual property rights.")

Dan S said...

Well, he didn't say "War is terrorism", but "War is a form of terrorism".

The google definition of terrorism is:
"The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons"

How is war not a subset of that description?

Brownie said...

Answer, in a nutshell: