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I teach peace and conflict studies. When I teach about the possibilities of a nonviolent response to terrorism, I try to cover many aspects of this complex topic. One of the main strands is the idea that the objectives of al Qa’ida, as stated by Osama bin Laden on several occasions in the 1990s, were not at all unreasonable, but their methods, we agree, were grotesque.
What bin Laden said they wanted ended:
~Military aid to the corrupt governments of the Middle East
~UN sanctions on Iraq, even though Saddam was still his enemy, since the bulk of those suffering were children and other innocents
~Military aid to the Israeli Defense Force who enforced the occupation of Palestine in contravention of UN resolutions
~Infidel troops in holy lands
In the 1990s most of us in the peace movement would have completely agreed with bin Laden on his objectives and obviously were horrified by his methods, which were indiscriminate and seemed to vacillate from insurgent attacks on the military—no more or less objectionable than our Founders’ tactics in the American Revolution—to ghastly, immoral attacks on civilians culminating in 9.11.01.
Now view our current situation from the standpoint of, say, a village in Yemen that has experienced US drone or US war jet attacks. Listen to this—it takes almost 17 minutes, but please listen. Even Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan, who has years of fawning platitudes to the US military, cannot work around this outstanding reportage by NPR correspondent Kelly McEvers. Conan gives the US military line and McEvers counters effectively by a combination of direct observation and analysis. The facts are complex, but the cowardliness and backfire results of US air power directed against ‘militants’ in villages are abundantly clear. This lesson was learned in Vietnam and has been forgotten. As documented in the NPR segment, the blowback or backfire is inevitable.
As Aung San Suu Kyi said, it’s karma, which is like starlight. It may take a long time to get here, but you know it’s on the way. The Yemeni children who now swear revenge for the death of those killed by US air strikes are just more ticking time bombs we’ve created by our technical prowess coupled with lack of morality.
So, too bad there is no Yemeni Gandhi to stand up to American state terror, which only leaves us with Yemeni al-Qa’ida on the Arabian Peninsula. Oh wait—we do have the nonviolent Arab Spring leaders such as Tawakul Karman, who showed how to oppose the violence of insurgents, the violence of al-Qa’ida, and the violence of US air strikes. And too bad there is no US Gandhi in charge of a foreign policy that would make recruiting almost impossible for al-Qa’ida. Actually, we do have Kathy Kelly, founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and Kelly has been acting with principled nonviolence in opposition to US violence for decades.
Supporting these leaders and their movements and withdrawing our support for the US military while encouraging Yemenis to withdraw their support for al-Qa’ida is a tall order—and is the most effective way to win in our human struggle against terrorism from above or below, from angry dispossessed or brutal states. Nonviolence is the slowest and most ineffective method—except for all the rest.
Tom H. Hastings teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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