Monday, September 04, 2006

Underlying Causes of Terrorism

Deep down, I long to be a pacifist. Although I accept the just war position as credible, I would love the simplicity of rejecting all violence. I would gladly march in step behind Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder with the banner of Christ unfurled. I search for nonviolent solutions, and I give serious consideration to the proponents of such. I am moved by the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil rights movement. I am emboldened by stories of Rosenstrasse where nonviolent protests by German family members won the release of Jews during the Nazi Regime. As a result, I was interested in reading David Cortright’s "Nonviolence and the Strategy against Terrorism."

Cortright begins by quoting Jim Wallis writing, "If nonviolence is to have any credibility, it must answer the questions violence purports to answer, but in a better way." The challenge is a world of Al Quaeda, Hezbollah, and a nuclear Iran. Can nonviolence provide a pathway to justice and peace? Unfortunately, I’m still searching. Cortright’s position does not satisfy.

Cortright’s response to terrorism hinges on two strategies. First, we should step up efforts of law enforcement and intelligence gathering. He writes,

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.
Whether these efforts are fully compatible with the principles of nonviolence is another debate. My guess is that Cortright would not allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use torture, for example, to gather information on terrorist groups. Beyond that, the problem of state-sponsored terror remains. We cannot send a squad car to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to pick up suspected terrorists. Likewise Iran will probably not honor our extradition requests. Force and the threat of force remain the staples of foreign policy. I’m still waiting for a credible alternative.

Second, Cortright suggests that we should address the underlying problems that leads to terrorism.

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 good question might be what constitutes legitimate political grievances? Poverty, injustice, the existence of Israel, the election of George W. Bush? Probably a better question might be why some peoples who face legitimate political grievances do not resort to terrorism? For example, blacks in Birmingham, Alabama at the height of segregation did not strap bombs to themselves and blow up buses. They had legitimate grievances, and they addressed them in another way.

Al Quaeda has released another video calling on Americans to convert to Islam or face the consequences. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has challenged President Bush to embrace Islam. Palestinian Muslims forced the conversion of Fox News reporters at gunpoint. Sadly, when I look at the underlying causes of the terrorism, one screams at me–totalitarian Islam.

Cortright seems downright oblivious to this underlying cause. Unfortnately, no solutions will be found unless we accurately understand the threat.

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