The war on terrorism presents many difficult questions for those who would wish to practice nonviolence. The goals of combating terrorism and at the same time maintain a nonviolent stance seem diametrically opposed, especially when considering the problem of terrorism from a national perspective. It is easy to preach nonviolence when one has the largest army in the world protecting them; it is more difficult to maintain that stance when the responsibility for the safety of an entire nation is placed on your shoulders. This is the problem facing the president right now, and unfortunately he has chosen to engage in war as a means of securing the nation, but this is neither the best course ethically or in a practical sense. A nonviolent means of nation security offers America the best hopes of curbing terrorism.
The use of violence in order to achieve the goal of security is doomed to fail, especially when presented with the problem of terrorism. There are two reasons why, the first is a practical reason, terrorism requires very little human power in order to carry out. It only took 19 men to destroy the twin towers and part of the pentagon. Timmy McVeigh and a small number of conspirators were able to destroy the Oklahoma City Building. Terrorist are able to use such small numbers because they appear to be average citizens up until the moment they commit their crimes. This makes it very difficult to stop terrorism because it is no longer as easy as identifying someone in a different color uniform. Thus, as long as there are people in the world willing to commit violence there is very little that can be done prevent it.
The second reason why violence is doomed to fail is that even if the threat of violence only prevents violence, it does so only to as long as the threat exists. It is basic deterrence theory, but there are a number of problems with this. First, the threat of retaliation must constantly be present, the minute the threat ceases to exist is the minute those who were deterred will strike. In turn a state is dooming itself to use violence and war as its policy. Secondly, deterrence is only capable of stopping someone from acting if the person who is threatened is afraid of the consequences. Obviously the threat of bodily harm isn’t going to stop someone who isn’t afraid to die for their cause, this is why both terrorism and nonviolent resistance works.
In fact violence in the vast majority of cases it will only beget violence. One only needs to take a quick look at the recent history of the world to see this principle in effect. It is the reason the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are fighting each other, it is the reason why America attacked Afghanistan and why Al Qaeda attacked America. Both sides in a conflict feel as if they have been wronged by the other and demand revenge. This leads to one side seeing it’s response as just, while it is seen as aggression by the other side causing the other side to think it is just in retaliating, creating a vicious cycle of violence. With each successive revenge response, fuel is added to the fire and the division and hostility between the two sides is further entrenched.
Still the problem of terrorism exists, and even though violence is mostly incapable of solving this problem, it is still a superior choice when compared with inaction. The questions then becomes how does a country engage is self defense while maintaining the basic ideals of nonviolence? The answer to this question is simple, we only need to look at the teaching of those who have practiced nonviolence in the past, and with a little creative thinking we can apply these teachings to our own efforts to ward off terrorism.
No policy is going to achieve the perfect nonviolent solution; even Mahatma Gandhi himself admitted
In life, it is impossible to eschew violence completely. Now the question arises, where is one to draw the line? The line cannot be the same for everyone. For, although, essentially the principle is the same, yet everyone applies it in his or her own way…If I wish to be an agriculturist and stay in a jungle, I will have to use the minimum unavoidable violence, in order to protect my fields. I will have to kill monkeys, birds and insects, which eat up my crops. If I do not wish to do so myself, I will have to engage someone to do it for me. There is not much difference between the two. To allow crops to be eaten up by animals, in the name of ahimsa, while there is a famine in the land, is certainly a sin. (Barash, 189)
This is not to be mistaken for a license to kill, rather Mahatma Gandhi is advocating the minimum amount of violence necessary to protect the United States. Even arresting someone is an act of violence, no terrorist will willingly walk into a jail cell. We must carefully balance the need to protect lives with the moral implications of committing violence.
Any attempt to completely adopt nonviolence as a means to end terrorism is bound be met with resistance from the general public but this does not mean the elements of nonviolence cannot incorporated into the efforts against terrorism. Mahatma Gandhi faced the same challenges while fighting for India’s independence but to this challenges he responded
To say it is impossible because it is difficult, is again not in consonance with the spirit of the age. Things undreamt of are daily being seen, the impossible is ever more possible. We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence. (Barash, 186)
In order to incorporate nonviolence into the efforts against terrorism it requires an entire change in the way of thinking about security. Mahatma Gandhi said “Violence is needed for the protection of things external, nonviolence is needed for the protection of the Atma, for the protection of one’s honour.” (Barash, 185) This represents the way of thought that must be adopted if one is to practice a nonviolent security policy.
In order to adopt this frame of mine one must have patience, changes will not come overnight no matter what type of actions are employed, be them violent or nonviolent. One must understand that suffering will be involved, but this is not necessarily a direct result of adopting a nonviolent security policy. In all likelihood there will be more attempts at terrorist actions against the United States, this will happen whether or not the use of violence is threatened.
Despite these consequences, one must be vigilant in maintaining a nonviolent stance even through the suffering caused by future terrorist attacks. Although the reasons for accepting the deaths and destruction are new, the ethic of dieing for what you believe in is not. Since the inception of this country people have die for higher ideals. They died in the revolutionary war for freedom from British “tyranny”. They died in the civil rights movement for equality. People have been and are willing to die for their ideals, the only difference between a nonviolent security policy and the one we have now is that nonviolence takes the higher moral ground and refuses to inflict the same pain and suffering on the attackers.
Thus the defense of a nation changes from being actively aggressive to that of being actively passive, but this change does not mean that no actions can be taken in order to curb terrorism, rather there are a number of methods the United States can employ to make it more difficult for terrorists to carry out their attacks. These methods require very little violence and in the long run will do more to curb terrorism then aggressive action like the war in Afghanistan or a war in Iraq.
The first thing the United States must do for a nonviolence security policy is redefine the entire way of approaching the problem of terrorism. As of now the administration has chosen to wage “war on terrorism.” This puts terror organizations like Al Qaeda in the same realm as geopolitical states. This way of thinking totally ignores the nature of terrorist organizations; they are not tied to boundaries like a state is, rather they are more like a multinational corporation, they exist in many different countries with the ability to change their center of operations. Thus by concentrating on a single country it diminishes the resources and attention put on other parts of the world, increasing the chances that an attack will spill through.
Thus focusing on countries like Afghanistan and Iraq is only dealing with part of the problem. No one will deny that the war with Afghanistan drove Al Qaeda out of that area but physically being located in Afghanistan is not necessary for the operational functionality of Al Qaeda or similar groups. With today’s communication technology, it is just as easy to operate an organization out of Antarctica as it is New York. (Iceowl i'm looking at you ;0)
The real key to stopping terrorism is infiltrating and dismantling the network that exists before it is capable of carrying out another attack. In order to do this it takes global cooperation by all countries where terrorist cells operate. Already we are seeing heavy resistance to the current military tactics from even our closest allies. The way to cultivate global cooperation for the efforts to curb terrorism is to reframe the way we approach the problem from one of a military problem to one of a criminal problem.
This mind frame changes everything, not many people in the world, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds will support a war in order to curb terrorism, but you would be hard pressed to find many people even in those worlds who would say that those who helped perpetrate the September 11 attacks should not be brought to justice. With this goal of bringing the criminals to justice through the court system it becomes much easier to get authorities in other countries to cooperate.
This is because terrorism is a global problem, not one that is isolated to the United States. Already we can see this from the many bombings that are taking place around the world. Many countries regardless of religion or predominate ethnicity have been victims of terrorism. The bombing of a night club in Bali, the continuing IRA activities in northern Ireland, and the Moscow theater siege are just a few of the most recent attacks.
When the United States responds to the problem with military force it is interpreted as an act of imperialism. On the other hand when the efforts are presented as an effort to maintain law and order, even countries that have traditionally been enemies of the United States will have a vested interest in maintaining the rule of law. Not only would great international pressure be placed on any country harboring terrorists, but also it is in the country’s best interest to maintain the legitimacy of law and in turn the legitimacy of their own authority.
The cooperating of foreign countries is key in the battle against terrorism because the nonviolent actions necessary to curb terrorism require global actions. For example, one of the best ways to help stop terrorism is to cut off the terrorist’s money supply. President Bush has already taken this action, but this was limited to the United States and the states within the European Union. By cultivating a nonviolent global effort to freeze the bank account of those who support terrorism you can dramatically cut if not eliminate the money necessary to run terrorist organizations. The problem is that President Bush has chosen to spend his political clout to push a war with Iraq through the UN rather then push measures such as this.
This step can be taken further though, often times the money used to support many of the terrorist organizations comes from America itself in the form of our dependency on oil from the middle east*. If measures were pushed through that where designed to dramatically reduce oil use in the United States not only would it reduce the amount of money that will eventually end up in terrorist hands but also reduce the need to exercise military power in oil producing countries, removing one of the main gripes that many terrorist groups lay against America.
In addition to policy actions, the United States must begin the listen to the rest of the world. Nonviolence is more then just not waging war, it is also trying to resolve the roots of the conflicts that exist. Destroying the terrorist network is not enough, rather the issues that gave rise to the networks in the first place must be addressed. Until this happens more terrorists are bound to arise to take the place of those who are arrested. Only with listening and trying to understand where the terrorist are coming from can there ever be hope of resolving the conflict, but charging into war leaves no hope, it will only perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Only when we adopt a nonviolent security policy will we have a chance of ending the violence that surrounds us in the world but in order to do so we must adopt nonviolence in our hearts not just our minds. We have to accept ideals wholeheartedly, and when we do it becomes easier and easier to continue down this path. Good will towards others can spread like a wild fire. What today may start as a small movement one day could engulf the world. We only need to look to look towards history to see this, Martin Luther King Jr in America, Mahatma Gandhi in India. What they have preached has continued to grow even after their deaths. There is no reason why the principles of nonviolence and the US response to terrorism are incompatible.
*This is not ment to imply that all terrorists are arab or muslim, rather a recognition that military bases in the holy land of religion that has a huge portion of the world's population is going to piss a lot of people off.
In the spirit of Node your homework i present a paper i wrote for a psychology of peace class i took during the Fall of 2002. A small warning, it is America-centric. Also, your feedback would be appreciated
Barash, David P. Approaches to Peace Oxford University Press, New York 200