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.

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EXTENSION OF MILITARY PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN

The extension of U.S. troops in Afghanistan comes as no surprise, for the Taliban and al-Qaeda have ramped up their terrorist efforts in that war-torn country. The governmental troops have had some recent success, but they are still ill equipped to defend the nation without the assistance of international forces. This position is the stance of the Obama Administration, and it appears to be a righteous one on the surface.

The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan since 2001, and its involvement in actions there makes the war against terror the longest combat endeavor in U.S. history! Part and parcel of the presence of American servicepersons in Afghanistan has been to train indigenous troops to become effective gatekeepers against guerrilla and terrorist insurgencies. For a decade and a half, the United States, Great Britain, and other countries in NATO and in the Mediterranean have been engaged in this confrontation. Why is it that such a long period of time has not fortified Afghan forces to counter rebellion? Why are we given an earful that another year before drawing down troops from Afghanistan will make a difference—especially when nearly fifteen years has not accomplished that goal yet?

We all have heard that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting the same result is a clear definition of insanity. Espionage, drone attacks, military presence, economic sanctions, and a variety of threats have not been able significantly to reduce the reign of terror in the world. Why are we determined to persist in failed foreign policies? Despite the fact the United States has not been attacked on its own soil does not mean that the world, including our country, is a safer place. Evidently, it is not.

Human beings make mistakes, and many of those mistakes are serious. Whereas mistakes are often transcendable and forgivable, and we understand and appreciate that fact, we must also dispose ourselves toward comprehending the necessity of the interplay of theory and practice and apprehending the lessons from our intermittent faux pas. In other words, George Santayana told us a long time ago that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

One thing we need to do at this time is to find creative ways to engage in diplomatic efforts with our opponents. After all, in this game of life, we are all culpable, imperfect, and self-serving. Surely, it would be in our selfish interests to make the world a safer place in which to live and to help others outside this nation to become fuller participants in the world. This position does not originate from naiveté. However, as long as we maintain an us versus them posture, we will not be capable of contributing to reducing violence around the globe. In addition, we have to own up to our own imperialistic methods that have perpetuated our economic stance in the world and perpetrated material dependency ubiquitously.

Yes, it means re-envisioning our character upon the global stage and how to make international relations a more harmonious process. The emergence of this new stance is something that will take a lot of reconfiguration and a more reasonable self-concept. American exceptionalism must be abandoned as the supercilious tomfoolery it always was, and a willingness to work cooperatively for the development of a synergistic global village must come to fruition.

This new vision of the United States can only happen through the coming together of like-minded individuals, the inculcation of others to this way of thinking, and holistic organization that focuses on massive, unrelenting constructive criticism of our government and its structures, processes, policies, and services. This proactive advocacy for a different worldview will take indefatigable work for a long period of time.

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REFLECTIONS ON THE DEATH PENALTY

Without exception, I am opposed to the death penalty.  Regardless of the heinousness of the crime, I do not believe state-sponsored killing is appropriate.  I am a nonviolence practitioner and hold to the pacifist faith; hence, my firm disagreement over capital punishment is coherent with my individual and social ethics.

Some argue in favor of the death penalty from a punitive perspective: the degree of justice must be commensurate with or proportional to the extent of the pernicious perpetration.  If a person kills another, especially in a premeditated manner and not out of self-defense, then the murderer should also lose one’s life.  This point of view seems fair and logical on the surface.  However, there are different forms of justice: retributive, procedural, procedural, and distributive, to name a few.  When determining what best suits a particular homicide, relevant types of justice should always be considered.  Killing the murderer is a tit for tat, quid pro quo, eye for an eye reaction to what horrifies or scandalizes us.  Ostensibly, it is fair; but decisions about fairness depend on values and morals, sociocultural ethos, emotional intelligence, context, and so forth.  Retribution might appear to be equal justice, but its goal inveterately remains revenge, i.e., getting one’s condign deserts.

I empathize with those who suffer loss; most of us do.  The unnecessary and sudden demise of a person is always tragic and can be understandably infuriating, yet vengeful killing does not accomplish anything constructive and gratification or fulfillment is utterly elusive.  It is not justice.  Rather, it is a weird kind of selfishness that cannot really satisfy for obvious and subtle reasons.  Any amount of punishment meted out against the perp will not bring back the dead.  The loss will always be sad and difficult.  Killing the criminal precludes the possibility of redemption.  And the state colludes with the posture of payback instead of exercises its transcendent moral and judicious authority.  Nothing is accomplished save another death, and the void among the mourners lasts as long as their memory cords lengthen.

Furthermore, I am not a fan of restorative justice in the sense of seeking to reconcile perpetrators with mourners.  That kind of appeasement is too saccharin for me, and unrealistic, in my opinion.  Perhaps, such conciliation might momentarily lighten the burdens of family, relatives, and friends, and assuage the guilt of murderers.  However, I think of these psychological maneuvers as cosmetic gestures and not germane to the provision of justice and fairness.  I guess I incline towards ensuring public safety, making bereavement services available to those in need of it, requiring due process under law for offenders, and balancing sentencing with rehabilitative services, education, and medical treatment.  Violence breeds violence, and one salient way to stop that vicious cycle is to offer effective alternatives that do not mirror the brutality of the offense or palliate the vengefulness of the bereaved.

So what next?  If not capital punishment, then what?  From my vantage point, the answer depends on what paradigm we use for our society.  I am not overly idealistic: I realize that malignancy and inhumanity abound in every place on this globe.  Nevertheless, I maintain that character can change and people who were once obstreperous and abusive can become disciplined and mannerly with intervention and assiduous effort.  Whereas I note that sentencing life without the possibility of parole has numerous supporters, I stand unconvinced that this ruling ought to be universal for all murderers.  Social facts and contextual circumstances must be examined together in order to analyze a situation comprehensively.  “Without the possibility of parole”—could such a sentence ever be too extreme, restrictive, and not generalizable?  I believe it could.  If we believe that people can actually change for the better, then peremptory sentencing must answer to the axiological, personalistic, and communitarian aspects of moral law.

In what type of society do you want to reside?  That is the fundamental question.  I want to live in a land where we work indefatigably to prevent the marginalization of people and afford every person the opportunity to participate fully in the body politic.  This endeavor requires us to remove the obstacles to success and continually to identify the causes and effects of lawlessness, chicanery, and resort to violence.  Once these ills are known, we could develop ways to eradicate them and, at least, shape a society in more wholesome, compassionate, and purposeful ways.

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OBAMA AT THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

All the negative hoopla about President Barack Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, February 5, 2015, should stop. First of all, it was a brief reference to the Crusades and the Inquisition, to which Obama alluded in demonstrating that even Christians have engaged in immoral violence. I do not believe that Obama really offended anyone, except those who do not understand their own humanity. Obama cautioned humility when referring to one’s faith, for as long as we are all on this side of the Jordan River, so to speak, we make many mistakes and commit many atrocities. We all need to do better—even Christians!

It is very peculiar that very few are making comments about Obama’s references to slavery and Jim Crow. Or is it? Of course not! Slavery and Jim Crow are too close to home—for the pernicious practices of those two historical facts were committed primarily by people who confessed and professed Christianity. Institutional discrimination that still continues to this day is perpetrated fundamentally by Christians. It is as if most of the commentators slamming Obama have no comprehension of lynching and treating human beings inhumanely in this country. Just because we now have the Internet and social media galore does not mean that the hidden killings of countless individuals of indigenous, African, and Latin descent is not as egregious as the horrific beheadings and burning of people by Isis.

I ask that you do an Internet search and discover the whole speech by Obama at the prayer breakfast. You will find that Obama received numerous applause throughout his remarks. In actual fact, his address was quite poignant, piquant, and moving, and I would suggest that everyone take a look at it. I do not necessarily like a head of state waxing religious or sharing one’s personal faith in public settings, so I did feel a bit awkward when I first perused his remarks. However, in light of all the criticisms levied against Obama, I want to lift up his statement as an example of what adherents to Christianity should consider and should do.

It is so easy to grab an excerpt of a person’s speech and to parade it around as if that is all the person said. Inevitably, doing so results in distortion or corruption of the original full comments—and that is, indeed, what has happened with Obama’s talk at the prayer breakfast. Whether the juxtaposition of Muslim extremists with Christian perpetrators of evil seems a bit untimely or ill-advised or awkward in some way, let us not forget that we can find people of murderous malevolence in all religions and in all humanity regardless of their philosophies or worldviews. Such is the nature of human affairs—but isn’t it great that such evil is not the practice of the majority of us?

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A KING’S VILLANELLE

I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong:
He’s left so many signs that tell his mind.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

His care for those who ached all the day long
Engrossed him humane solutions to find.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.

He spoke inspiring words to lift the throng,
Compelling them to treat each other kind.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

He read of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong;
With Jesus, Gandhi, Niebuhr, he aligned.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.

A revolution of values crooned Chong;
From Royce details of beloved he divined.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

I wish we all could hear his words so strong,
And share the melody he once opined.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

Happy Birthday, Martin!

Posted in Social Ethics

THE REAL KING

During the last three years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., was making some changes in his approach to realizing his vision of the beloved community.

After having received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964 and witnessing the Voting Rights Bill enacted into law the following year; King was acutely aware of the challenges ahead. Issues concerning educational attainment, Job training, employment opportunities, poverty, and militarization became increasingly important since the so-called cosmetic changes relating to interstate travel, public accommodations, civil rights, and the franchise had been tackled.  King recognized the road ahead would be difficult and more complex because dealing with the multifaceted dimensions of economic development is a task that would impact and call into question the very nature of American society and its role in the world

It is easier for many of us to focus on the earlier King. As long as he was addressing racial discrimination in its overt forms, he was all right with us. Allowing a person to sit anywhere on a bus or to eat at whatever restaurant of one’s own choosing was not a serious concession to make.

However, attacking the gap between the haves and the have-nots in all of its social forms, which became King’s focus in the latter part of 1965until his assassination in April1968, met with much resistance. Why? Because it would concentrate on more subtle types of racial discrimination and call into question the very structure and processes of the American capitalist and militarist system.

King believed that the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites could be closed not only by improving the quality of schools in ghettoized neighborhoods, but also by improving the socioeconomic and political options available to the poor. He sought the cooperation of businesses to offer on-the-job training to help reshape the economic conditions of impoverished communities and improve the changes of the younger generation to realize success in life.

Since the employment picture was bleak, King also advocated a guaranteed annual income so that the poor would be able to meet the needs of their families. King championed a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged to assist the indigent in becoming full participants in the fabric of our democratic republic.

In addition, King backed President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative. But because of the escalation of U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War, this endeavor was significantly diminished—much to King’s consternation. He believed that the war effort considerably diverted attention away from eliminating the concerns of the economically depressed and exploited, not to mention that the war sent young black men onto the battlefield abroad while they were continually locked out of equal opportunities at home.

King broadened the scope of his proactive concern for the poor by seeking by seeking to speak to all those who are economically strapped regardless of their racial and ethnic background. Thus was born the Poor People’s Campaign.

What King attempted to do was to gather people together in a tent city in the nation’s capital to bring the plight of the poor front and center. He wanted the Johnson administration and Congress to take seriously the War on Poverty by instituting steps to end economic injustice.

King was promoting a bold and dynamic nonviolent revolution that would take on the socio-structural problems of racism, poverty, militarism, materialism, and anticommunism. As a matter of fact, King had become increasingly convinced that the traditional tools of the civil rights movement—boycotts,sit-ins, demonstrations, etc.—were no longer effective in the new era of social action he was inaugurating.

He felt the time for depending on the largesse of the white population and for counting on governmental goodwill was over. Consequently, he was no longer averse to utilizing massive civil disobedience to sabotage the functioning of the social system until these structural problems were attended to and resolved. The world never got to see the radicalization of the Movement under King’s leadership. Today, we find the very things King desired to eliminate still plaguing us: racial and ethnic disparities in education, employment, economic class, health care, incarceration, home ownership, social mobility, and so forth. To honor King’s dream and to continue his search for the beloved community, we need to make a concerted effort to eliminate racism and poverty.

In 2015, 50 years after King’s decision to shift his focus and to wage a new nonviolent revolution, we should work together in creative ways to improve the lot of those who are suffering.

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CALIFANO MISREPRESENTS JOHNSON’S ROLE

Any representation of Martin Luther King, Jr., will always be hopelessly inadequate in my estimation—so enamored of the real deal am I!  I think the enactment by David Oyelowo is less than satisfactory; I feel he does not really capture the emotional intelligence, pathos, and warmth of personality that was Martin.  I realize that I am, perhaps, a bit unfair in my assessment, but I was less than thrilled by the acting in Selma overall.  I saw the film late at night after a long day of successive meetings, so maybe I was not in any condition to evaluate it properly.

The jumping back from the planning and beginning of Selma march to the September 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, depicting the murder of the four girls, was quite a shock and unexpected—since it was a year-and-a-half before Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965).  I’m not sure of director Ava DuVernay’s motivation for cutting to that tragic event, but it was certainly alarming to the audience and me.  However, maybe it was prescient.  For after the bombing of the church in Birmingham, a variety of activists began focusing on voting, including King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Even though a lot of attention was given to public accommodations in 1964, by the end of that year, the SCLC staff, through the encouragement of James Bevel and the invitation of Amelia Boynton, were inclined towards Selma and a multidimensional voting rights campaign.

What’s important here to realize is that the idea of focusing on voting was already underway in Mississippi.  After all, Freedom Summer was focused on registering blacks to vote.  The refusal to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City further brought home the necessity of demonstrating for elimination of de facto discrimination at election offices and at the polls.  Talk about a voting rights bill was happening long before the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy.

Consequently, the recent remark made by Joseph Califano that President Lyndon Johnson suggested a voting rights campaign to King in January of 1965 is preposterous.  Bevel had already proposed the idea and King and the SCLC staff had accepted it much prior to the latter’s conversation with Johnson to which Califano alludes.  Califano acts as if Johnson was a saint and was the lead orchestrator during this stage of the Civil Rights Movement.  That is absolutely false.  How soon Califano forgets that Johnson was opposed to King going into Saint Augustine, Florida, in the late spring of 1964 to continue to emphasize the need for passage of the civil rights bill.  Califano has a convenient amnesia that Johnson refused to seat the black delegation from Mississippi, despite King’s urging.  It was only through the dialogue between Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Joseph Rauh (among others) that suggested at least two persons from the MFDP be given a nonvoting seat.  Johnson was more concerned about reelection over Sen. Barry Goldwater, his Republican opponent, than the struggles for human decency being waged in the South.  Califano’s forgetfulness continues over Johnson’s initial conciliatoriness to Gov. George Wallace.  When an injunction was handed down against marching, Johnson was not supportive immediately after Bloody Sunday of the demonstrators to march unencumbered.  He was reluctant to federalize the National Guard.  How soon Califano forgets that King had to plead with Johnson to protect the marchers.  Some of Johnson’s staff was more progressive in this regard than the president.

In spite of the criticisms levied against the film, and regardless of my persnicketies about representations of King, I still strongly suggest people see Selma.  Most Americans since the generation of the 1960s are clueless about Jim Crow and the civil rights struggles starting during mid-twentieth century.  The film is not a documentary, but, rather, a popular screening subject to artistry, budgets, practicalities, and other creative and contingent factors.  Nevertheless, like all such projects—from media news to epic cinema—there is a mixture of fact and fiction, understatement and hyperbole, comic relief and melodrama.  Yet, because of our ignorance of past events or our revisionist histories à la Califano, watching the film can only enhance understanding of a part of our country’s development that ain’t too pretty and that can’t be denied!

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