Violence and Terrorism
It has disturbed me for a long time that we do a lot of looking at the dead and wounded bodies coming downstream, and railing at the perpetrators of the violence, but we don’t talk so much about what's going on upstream, and WHY people are committing these atrocities? What’s motivating them? While I don’t feel qualified to speak of the complexities and intricacies of violence and terrorism, I have a deep sense that our approach is not working, and that we must find another way to end violence. I know I am not alone in this. I’ve read several articles (linked below) that present explanations for and solutions to turning this epidemic of violence around that flesh out my overview.
For decades we have pushed our consumer culture, our economic and political system on the rest of the world in what Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the “strategy of dominance.” I believe this has created much of the hostility and violence toward the West, and America in particular.
The “American Dream” for the World!
Promoting our American “brand”—our fashion, our food, our lifestyle, our entertainment, our religion, our stuff, our consumer culture, our economic system, our media, our advertisements—all over the world is one force of domination. Corporations promoting our consumer culture are always looking for new markets, and have now inserted our stuff and our values into just about every remote region of the planet. Once a new infrastructure is established in “undeveloped” regions to open these new markets, cheap foreign goods become available and are made more desirable than local products through advertizing. Younger people are drawn to new, glamorized urban centers to compete for jobs while the local communities they leave can no longer be self-reliant and self-supportive. The process creates poverty, competition and tension that did not previously exist.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of Local Futures, says, “I am convinced that becoming connected to the global consumer economy doesn’t just exacerbate existing tensions, in many cases it actually creates them. The arrival of the global economy breaks down human-scale structures, destroys bonds of reciprocity and mutual dependence, and pressures the young to substitute their own culture and values with the artificial values of advertising and the media. In effect this means rejecting one’s own cultural identity and rejecting oneself.”
With so-called “free-trade agreements” (like NAFTA and TPP) governments continue to undermine cultural identity through policies promoting a worldwide monoculture for the benefit of global corporations and banks. These policies lead to more poverty, alienation and frustration for those people who are already disenfranchised.
When people who have been impoverished for decades discover that the “American Dream” is not possible (we would need four planet Earths for all people to live like we in the U.S. do), they are naturally frustrated and angry, particularly at Americans who seem to have it all, according to advertising and the media. Ironically, the “American Dream” is not even possible for most people in our own country anymore. We have cooked up a recipe for violence, and then lay the blame on “those people.”
Terrorist groups offer these disenfranchised young men, who have lost self-respect and hope, and feel alienated, a chance to do something meaningful, and perhaps change their situations. If they join up they believe they can at least regain their sense of dignity and self-worth.
The U.S. and Rise of ISIS
The second huge force driving especially young men to join terrorist groups is the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Our invasion and the ensuing war and economic sanctions, killed over a million Iraqis. Their homes, livelihoods and family members were destroyed and killed, so why wouldn’t they want to join a terrorist group to retaliate? We showed little care and respect for the lives of those Iraqi people caught in this terrible act of war. Collateral damage we called it. Worse still, the invasion and war were justified by the falsely concocted presence of weapons of mass destruction.
In his article “The U.S. and the Rise of ISIS” Stephen Zunes says, “The rise of ISIS (also known as Daesh, ISIL, or “the Islamic State”) is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. While there are a number of other contributing factors as well, that fateful decision is paramount.” He describes that interviews with ISIS prisoners show how younger recruits were drawn not by religious zealotry but by bitterness over how they and their families had suffered under the U.S. occupation and the corrupt and repressive U.S. backed government in Baghdad.
Is it any wonder that the West and America are the prime targets for attacks by terrorist groups?
The Way Forward
Many others can speak with considerable experience and expertise on ways to end violence; I stand with those who express the urgent desire to change the way we approach ending violence. It seems to me that strategies fall into two categories: spiritual and practical.
ON A SPIRITUAL LEVEL we need to understand where people who commit hateful acts are coming from. We need to put ourselves in their place, consider what grievances have motivated them to violent acts. We condemn their acts but we need to respect them as part of the human family. Peter Gabel (“Humiliation is the Root of All Terrorism”) says, “Empathy can be only about crawling inside a person’s perspective for the sake of helping to anticipate and head off future attacks.” We say we are a Christian country, but we don’t hear too much these days about loving our neighbor, much less our enemy, and rarely do we hear that we are in part responsible for the rise of violence.
ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL we can adopt what Rabbi Lerner describes as a “strategy of generosity” as opposed to a “strategy of dominance.” He proposes a Global Marshall Plan, which, among other things, would rebuild communities, infrastructure and economies of countries which have been destroyed by war and poverty. We would focus on developing local, self-reliant communities, which Helena Norberg-Hodge describes as “localization,” as opposed to “globalization." We would absolutely NOT RATIFY THE TPP, and would renegotiate existing trade treaties to benefit people and the environment rather than multinational corporations. We would GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. We would initiate Truth and Reconciliation processes to reconnect with people who have been marginalized and abused. We would make illegal the manufacture, sale or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons.
Obviously we need to defend ourselves from attacks as best we can, but let us also focus at least as much energy on preventing them in the first place so we start decreasing the number of bodies coming downstream.
The world is in a transition and these recent acts of violence are painful reminders of the need for transformation at all levels of society, from personal to planetary.
Stephen Dinan. The Shift Network
These are all excellent articles.
I especially recommend “Globalization and Terror” by Helena Norberg-Hodge
for her broad and insightful view of the problem.
"Initiate Truth and Reconciliation Processes", YES! magazine
The following articles can be found at Overcoming Isis; An Ongoing Tikkujn Forum:
"Introduction to Tikkun’s Approach," by Rabbi Michael Lerner
"Humiliation is the Root of All Terrorism," by Peter Gabel
"The U.S and the Rise of ISIS, "by Stephen Zunes
"Empathizing with ISIS: An Unthinkable Necessity Explained," by John McFadden
"Fighting Terrorism with Love," Philip McKibbin
Photograph: "The Knotted Gun" by Carl Fredrik Reutersward
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