Preventing Terrorism: A New Approach

 

The anniversary of 9/11 is a day you see lots of postings of the words “Never Forget.” But I almost did forget. This year is the first year since 2001 that the anniversary of 9/11 has snuck up to me. I woke up this morning and saw a blurb on 9/11 and I had to look at my calendar to see what day it was. Is it September 11th already, I asked myself. How did I miss this? I looked at my calendar to learn it was only the 10th. How is that possible that after 24 years of having my life consumed with thinking about terrorism and fighting it, that this year’s anniversary caught me by surprise? I was struck by a brief thought, maybe the war on terror is over? That momentary departure from reality came to a screeching halt as I remembered all the recent terrorist attacks I had heard about in the news. Yes, Muammar Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden are dead. The Pakistani who tried to blow up the car bomb in Times Square has been convicted and is behind bars. Thank God for that. The world is a little safer place. But make no mistake, since the decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the security situation has deteriorated, not improved.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the wars to be over. I have seen first hand the destruction in war torn countries. I was in Afghanistan on International Peace Day 2011 teaching conflict resolution on the very day that the Peace Ambassador was assassinated. This happened within days of the attempted bombing of the US Embassy in Kabul. The news of the Peace Ambassador’s death came from a student in my class who announced the news to us within minutes of it happening. There I was teaching young leaders how to resolve conflict more effectively, while some terrorist was assassinating the premier advocate for peace in Afghanistan. Those young leaders were eager to change their country for the better. After years of war, corruption and insecurity they felt a deep sense of need for change, for peace and security. Who could blame them? I was excited as some of the students began to discuss how they might use their new mediation skills to resolve not only work and family conflicts, but even conflicts between nations and tribes.

Despite what the news portrayed, most people I met in Afghanistan were concerned about the US troop withdrawal and the deteriorating security that had continued since the early withdrawal. They talked about how the US presence and humanitarian and development NGO’s that followed, had improved the country, not destroyed it. In fact, to many it was the only thing holding the country together.

In my journeys I have found that there is a lot of mis-communication about who America is and what we believe. I can’t tell you how many people I have met in places like Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan have been surprised to hear that I don’t hate them. For years, they have been exposed to fundamentalist rhetoric that America hates them and as such used that to stir up extremist movements. Terrorism really isn’t a religiously motivated thing, but a hate motivated thing. Sure you see terrorist chanting “God is great” in Arabic as they burn down mosques or attack aid organizations. But religious zeal in and of its self isn’t enough to catalyze someone to kill innocent people. There is something deeper that must happen. They must be brain washed and taught to hate. It is not altogether different from the methodologies of the KKK or other hate organizations. They create a cycle of bigotry. When people hear about terrorist acts on the news, they get offended and decide to respond in kind. Maybe they don’t act out in violence. Instead, they respond with hate filled words. The result is a circle of hate that never ends. Hate breeds hate.

Our tendency as humans is to generalize and make judgments about whole classes or groups of people based on our experiences with one. We assume all Christians believe a certain way, and the same to be true with Muslims. The only way to prevent these generalizations is to meet someone from that people group personally. Face to face interaction and dialogue, is the only way to break down stereotypes. That coupled with sharing those stories of positive encounters and meetings through the media is the most effective way to combat the ignorance and hate.

Although the war on terror is not really over, I do believe it is time for new strategies. While we continue to focus on intervention of terrorist cells and networks, we should also begin a prevention campaign. What if the US spent more money on people-to-people diplomacy? We could have regular exchanges of Americans and residents of conflict ridden who spend time learning from one another and developing friendships. We should also take public relations money and develop a grass roots campaign of American thought leaders targeting terrorism head on, both domestically and internationally. We should be enlisting the assistance of progressive thought leaders in developing nations to combat hate and terrorism through an coordinated advocacy campaign. By beginning with the younger generation, you can really change things. There are those people around the world who are ready to be the change they desire. We just need to rally together and help them.

Next 9/11 I would like to propose a different day. Rather than a day of sadness, of thinking about loss and death, perhaps we can make it a day of redemption. Let’s take the tragedy and turn it around for good, by focusing on positive relationships being built between people and cultures around the world. Let’s develop a coordinated effort of people around the world overshadowing all the negative press that permeates the news. One of the primary motivations in attacking innocent civilians is to create fear. So, let’s respond in the opposite spirit by responding in faith toward one another. Where there has been hate let’s go overboard in responding in love. Let’s speak out against the hate and evil and reward acts of love and acceptance. Then, I believe we will begin to see some inroads made into the war on terror. In the end love always wins!

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