Nonviolent Approach to Terrorism?

The recent decision to send combat troops to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq comes as no surprise. Pressure was rising against Pres. Barack Obama’s ostensible indecisiveness over how to curtail the encroachments of the Islamic State in the region, so much so that this new initiative was rather predictable.

It is not as if the Obama administration has been doing nothing with regards to the terrorist insurgents. After all, he has been droning them continuously and increasingly conducting airstrikes against them. What is striking, however, is the absence of any discussion about nonviolent, diplomatic means of grappling with international conflict. We keep alive the notion that “we do not negotiate with terrorists,” and we do not engage in substantive debate over proportional use of force or effective alternatives to outright war.

Nowadays, we easily accept the quick resort to surging our military presence and attacks. As a matter of fact, we deride and/or dismiss people who seek to battle against our hawkish predisposition while offering a rigorous and sustained diplomatic approach. Often, those who have pacifist inclinations are reluctant to face the barrage of criticisms that claim they are weak, idealistic, sentimental, and illogical. It is, indeed, overwhelming at times to receive captious remarks about impracticality, incompetence, and perfectionism and still seek to persuade leaders and the masses to ponder the possibilities of another way.

Last year, it was very disturbing to hear former CIA director Leon Panetta projected that tangling with ISIL and other terrorists in Iraq and Syria would transpire over thirty years and would more likely expand to Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere! We are already in a war that has been longer than any other war in our history; imagining that we will be embroiled in this battle for three decades more is simply mind-boggling! We cannot be resigned or insouciant to this prognosis, for to do so would eventuate in a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Edmund Burke asserted in his Letter to Sheriffs, “A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.” He also taught us, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Such a statement is a clarion call for all of us to work together to reach for a just, sustainable, and peaceful society.

From my perspective, the most certain way to accomplish international accord is through the coherence, or unity, of means and ends. Well aware that we do not live in a perfect world, I try not to be absolutist in my outlook on foreign affairs. But I do believe that we should attempt to reach harmony in a manner that fundamentally upholds the dignity and worth of human beings. Simply put, if we desire real peace, we must purport to achieve it by concord, reconciliation, and amity.

Special ops over a long period of time mean military and civilian casualties all around as well as a coterie of collateral damages. Because of our growing distance from the horrors of war, we are impervious to the resultant traumas and ignore mutually assured destruction. We have no compass of disdain. Echoing again from Burke, we understand “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”

In one sense, I feel governmental leaders are like children who just can’t seem to discuss matters civilly. The primary resort is quickly to develop a military operation and to attack. What has historically been the result of such action? It has not defeated the enemy we were seeking—even when high-profile terrorist leaders have been apprehended and killed. Somehow and someway, the leaders’ organizations have continued to operate: attracting new members and becoming entrenched in some other location, where fight training resumes for future attacks. We cannot continue to react in the same manner and expect a different result. Other strategies are necessary as well as alternatives to such insanity.

Yesterday, the British parliament voted to support Prime Minister David Cameron to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Within less than twenty-four hours, the attack had begun. This type of unilateral response is bad foreign policy, for it does not show any intention of seeking a unified coalition of countries in anti-terrorist activities or consultation with the United Nations’ peacekeeping endeavors. Singular military action does not bode well for the future formation of partnerships to confront and eliminate international conflict.

It is always time to search for alternatives to violence and to find effective approaches to terrorism and other kinds of warfare.  This research should not be left up to pacifists, who are attacked and ridiculed.  Rather, this exploration should be conducted continuously by the two houses of Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government.  When we do not try to discover and put to use these nonviolent means, we increase the possibilities of new and different sorts of killing in the world. The hard work needs to be done on an ongoing basis to address and hopefully redress—as well as prevent—the heinous atrocities taking place around the globe.

About mdbwell

Pres., Project for the Beloved Community, Inc.; B.A.--Wesleyan University; M.Div.--Yale University; Ph.D.--Boston University; Summer Study--Harvard University; Social ethicist; Ordained minister; Advocate for the poor
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