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Violence Begets Violence

May 6, 2010

Last night, celebrating Cinco de Mayo, my friend Geoff and I were discussing the recently foiled “terrorist” plot in New York City. Geoff, who is Chair of the board of directors for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), was a 12-B in the US Army. 12B, also known as sappers, is military jargon for combat engineer. Sappers blow things up; they are demolition experts. Geoff and I both agreed that the “car bomb” would have been laughable if it happened in Iraq, where car bombs are unfortunately common.

If we rolled up on something like that in country, it would have induced laughter, not fear. When initial laughter and jokes subsided, we would have set off the fire works for fun. Then, the propane tanks would have become target practice–just to see if they really would explode. In essence, this would have been a complete joke.

But not in America—not on “our soil.” Here, the 24 hour media runs with it. Pictures of the accused terrorist are strung across the papers, internet and TV screens; chatter of Pakistan being a “terrorist training ground” become ubiquitous; Senators McCain and Lieberman echo cries to revoke citizenship and civil liberties for accused–not even convicted“terrorists” (Red Scare, anyone?); and people all over the country fill with fear and panic.

I find myself wondering where these cries of terror were when Andrew Stack III flew his plane into an IRS building in Texas? Or when Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on students at Virginia Tech, killing 32 and wounding dozens of others?  Terrorism was barely a part of American vernacular when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and wounded nearly two dozen others in the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre. In each of these cases, acts of terrorism were committed, right? Am I missing something here?

Apparently to be a terrorist in America, one must be Muslim or somehow affiliated with the Middle East. [Pause here for bitter irony: the first man who noticed the smoking vehicle in New York City, Mr. Aliou Niassa, and quickly alerted another vendor who called police is a Muslim immigrant from Senegal]

My point is this: let’s not be so hasty to react. Short of a military police state, which no one wants, the best ways to prevent acts of terrorism are good intelligence and utilization of the justice system. Let’s also not ignore the fact that attacking and occupying foreign countries not only causes more anti-American sentiment abroad–not less–but also causes blowback.  An escalation of drone attacks in Pakistan will not make us safer at home; drone attacks in Yemen will not makes us safer at home; continuing the military empire abroad will never make us safer here in the good ol’ US of A.

Violence begets violence.  Continually forcing our will on others using military means to protect “American interests” will ensure attacks on this country continue. That is a blunt fact. Until the United States withdraws its military from far away lands, terror will persist. For when America terrorizes, it will be terrorized.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2010 10:46 pm

    Basic Physics very action has a reaction. The Bush Regime’s efforts to Americanize the Globe has failed and bankrupt our nation The right wing says we have to eliminate Islamic beliefs! wrong it has always been about Oil. Drill baby drill has put our environment at the highest risk ever. Oil will peak in 2012, then what? stand up and speak out Save our planet. LOVE & PEACE Tim Nolan

  2. William Roberson permalink
    May 12, 2010 12:12 am

    It is interesting how language is used, depending on what side one is on. With each succeeding conflict, the media euphemisms become more negative. The colonists fighting the British in the Revolutionary War were called patriots. Southerners in the Civil War were referred to as rebels. Mid-20th century fighters for social change, especially in Latin America, were dubbed guerrillas. Activists in the U.S. were often labeled commies or worse. Now those who actively oppose U.S. policies are called terrorists.

    In effect, the actions of all of the above inspired terror in innocent victims, so all were by definition terrorists. For many Iraqis and Afghanistan citizens who have been innocent victims of U.S. war policy, we are terrorists. Whether it is thugs flying jets into N.Y.C. skyscrapers or the U.S. government invading Middle East nations, it is all terrorism. War or violent conflict is by nature terrorism, judging by it’s effects on innocent victims.

  3. mary jane mcconnell permalink
    May 12, 2010 2:32 pm

    Yes we are fighting to “get rid” of villians who will forever hide. The real villian is lack of love and understanding of our fellow man. If only we could all just try harder to understand and open our hearts. Yes our government is only following in the footsteps of a horrible villian-the previous administration that decided that we needed to “protect our oil rights” and take over Iraq. But they did what they believed to be right and it wasn’t. I will forever pray for peace. Mary Jane P.S. Thanks Tim Nolan for letting me know about this site.

  4. Joanne Baek permalink
    May 12, 2010 4:21 pm

    The sentence that sounds most like a conclusion in this article does not really match either the rest of the article nor the comments: “Short of a military police state, which no one wants, the best ways to prevent acts of terrorism are good intelligence and utilization of the justice system.” The idea that either intelligence or a police state are the BEST ways to prevent terrorism is very short-sighted at best, and surprising in an article which kind of seems to be about having wider understanding. Perhaps the author means the best way to prevent specific ACTS of terrorism without bothering to address root causes or stem further increase of terrorism…

    The best way to not have terrorism is to be actively engaged in creating its opposite, an active involvement in helping one another have best lives possible. There is a profound need to be communicating what it would be like if we were engaged in helpful and caring policy, belief, and behavior instead. I’m not saying this well. If I were saying it well I would be describing international examples where mutual benefit and peace arose from helping meet basic needs and more, giving all people lives worth living and opportunities for participation in continually making things better. But I don’t know those stories so I can’t communicate them. Maybe “Three Cups of Tea” (about Greg Mortenson’s school-building work in Pakistan) is the best example I can myself suggest.

    The rest of the article makes worthwhile points, but the brevity and conclusionary quality of the sentence I quoted makes it the quotable one–and I hope it isn’t really what the author would have us take as the core of his ideas to stop terrorism.

    Gosh, am I saying anything worthwhile? I think maybe not. Maybe I should quit hoping that others more articulate and informed than I will write clearly about the ways of peace, kindness and helping, and including only secondarily the failure and impossibility of cruelty and aggression, prejudice and exclusion to provide solutions. Maybe I just have to realize that what is hard for me is hard for others too. Even harder is to actually make a transition as a nation to the kinds of policies and approaches that are opposite to what we are doing now, the present systems being what creates terrorism.

    The author mentions the shootings at Columbine. Would intelligence and the justice system, or even a military police state have prevented this or other tragedies like this? I think not, and that it is more likely that conditions were already too far from the caring and supportive environment that all students need from the school system and adults and peers in general. The prevention of terrorism lies in people having lives that are satisfying and going forward. The prevention of terrorism lies in people knowing they are cared about. and knowing and finding that others are available to help when assistance is needed. That’s not just the prevention of terrorism, it is also peace and global community.

  5. Matt Southworth permalink
    May 12, 2010 6:20 pm

    Joanne-thanks for the comment. A lot of what you say embodies how I feel about this issue, but one can only fit so much in a blog.

    The quote you raise isn’t a central point. In fact, this blog is not written with a central point; rather it’s a piece designed to raise several points in the hopes of generating dialog such as your comment.

    You also raise a part of this picture often discussed in peace building circles–the idea of micro or macro solutions to conflict. Certainly, compassion and empathy are needed virtues in our evermore connected global world. It is also true that these values should be taught long before students are carrying out acts of violence in schools. I don’t have all the answers in this regard, but I have some ideas.

    I’m happy to continue the conversation via email: matt@fcnl.org. Thanks again.

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