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Parallel Standards Offer Way Out Of Violence: Ease the Tension That Breeds Violence And Extremism



By Kristin Christman, New Age Islam

23 January 2016

10,000 Americans are killed annually by drunk American drivers.  14 Americans were killed in December by 2 Muslims.  So Donald Trump suggests banning - alcohol?  No! He wants to ban Muslim immigrants.  And Muslims don’t even drink. 

US presidential candidates’ tough talk is not about saving lives. It’s about ignorance.  ISIS and Al Qaeda adhere to hijacked forms of Islam which reject Islam’s call for peaceful tolerance.  Furthermore, the ability of ISIS to attract global followers doesn’t even stem from its intolerant ideology but rather from its determination to resist foreign and sectarian domination. 

It was the U.S. invasion of Iraq and anti-Sunni brutality of the U.S.-installed Shia government that led to ISIS’ following, not its ideology.  In other words, the issue isn’t religion.  It’s domination.  If the U.S. wants to ban something, it ought to ban U.S. invasions.

The zeal of candidates to demonstrate their toughness against terrorism is maddeningly ignorant, because it is their very determination to degrade and destroy ISIS and exert US military power and political control over the Mid-East that breeds desperation, violence, and extremism and attracts even more followers to ISIS. 

The US views 9/11 terrorists and ISIS followers as purely evil.  Yet followers of ISIS, like 9/11 terrorists, are not homogeneous, and their motivations range from aggressive to defensive.

Consider terrorist motivations behind actions such as 9/11.  Some motivations are aggressive and illegitimate:  sadism, low empathy, domination preoccupations, black-and-white thinking, underdog biases, hostile interpretations of Islam, boredom, and beliefs in killing’s usefulness. 

Yet some motivations are defensive, and while the violence is not legitimate, the motivations are:  Rage over anti-Islamist repression, foreign political interference, anti-Muslim prejudice, Westernization, secularism, urbanization, social alienation, unemployment, capitalism’s callousness towards poverty, the Persian Gulf War and sanctions, US invasions and drones, US treatment of prisoners, US military bases abroad, suffering from Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians, fear of Western-Zionist crusading domination, and baseless arrests, torture, and execution of thousands under dictators, often financed and armed by the US.

Why not address the legitimate motivations?  The following of terrorist groups and ISIS will then plummet.  Certainly, those who fight for aggressive reasons will continue to inflict gruesome violence, but we can then all work cooperatively to arrest this much smaller group.  After all, how could any of these motivations possibly be remedied by US violence?  How could a violent US response possibly nurture peace, love, joy, trust, health, and justice when communities are pulverized, violence is role modelled, and underlying causes of conflict are ignored?

The problem with the U.S. reaction to both 9/11 and ISIS is the U.S. belief in hammering out peace by controlling people.  There has never been an earnest effort at cooperative negotiation and addressing legitimate motivations, as if such action would be spineless appeasement or a pact with the devil.  There has never been any reassurance on the part of the U.S. that it will discontinue its military, political, economic, and cultural intrusiveness in the Mid-East. 

Many factors contribute to Mid-Eastern violence; U.S. policy is only one factor.  But instead of adding more killing to the killing in vain attempts to achieve physical control over people’s minds, the most powerful step the U.S. can take is to change its own behaviour to reduce tension within Mid-Eastern minds. 

Ironically, the best way to address our fears and keep ourselves safe is to address our opponents’ fears and help them feel safe.  Repeatedly, the failure to address enemy’s fears has been the fatal formula driving war. 

Imagine the tables turned.  Would you feel safe with the FBI being supplied by Egypt with weapons to suppress American civilians, the U.S. military trained on Saudi bases in Texas, a popular president deposed of by Iran, U.S. oil fields managed by Iraq, Afghanistan invading to construct pipelines, and ads and movies everywhere featuring Mid-Eastern products and values?  The U.S. seems to think the Mid-East should take all this without complaint.

We need to take leadership and make a proposal to Mid-Eastern civilians, Al Qaeda and ISIS militants, and national leaders, while emphasizing that the proposal is made despite ISIS violence, not because of it.  The proposal should describe U.S. unilateral actions but encourage the Mid-East to adhere to parallel standards.  Like this:

“If you choose to kill, torture prisoners, assault women, inflict inhumane punishments, or promote terrorism, we won’t support you.

“But for our part, we’re going to stop killing you, stop the invasions, night raids, bombs, drones, weapons shipments, and mistreatment of prisoners.

“If you want to dominate other genders, religions, and nations, deprive people of rights, or conquer the world, we won’t support you.

“But we’re going to stop dominating you.  Americans are allegedly in the Mid-East “fighting to defend our freedoms”, but any threat to freedom experienced by Americans from terrorists pales in comparison to threats to freedom endured by Mid-Eastern civilians as a result, in part, of 60 years of U.S. policy.  Most Mid-Eastern militants aren’t fighting to trample our freedoms but to gain their own. 

“In various decades we’ve funded and armed several Mid-Eastern leaders who’ve brutally crushed their people’s freedoms.  We’ll discontinue this practice and stop CIA coups and regime changes of leaders who thwart U.S. government and business interests.

“We’ll stop interfering in the political processes in your nation, cease hand-picking Western puppets as your leaders, stop pressuring your leaders to follow our will and support our wars and economic deals rather than follow the will of their own citizens. 

“We won’t make deals with one segment of your population while disregarding others.  Instead of arming one side to fight another, we’ll strive to resolve conflicts. And we’ll respect humane governments, whether secular or religious, because both types are capable of kindness and cruelty, tolerance and intolerance.   

“If you want to support corruption, kidnapping for ransom, oil wealth hoarding, drug trading, or war lords who extort money from civilians, we won’t support you.

“But our foreign policy will no longer be driven by desires for wealth and possessions. There will be no more Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan Doctrines that treat the Mid-East like America’s personal oil reservoir and provide for dirty deals:  U.S. money and weapons to Mid-Eastern security forces to suppress Islamists and other opponents of tyrants in exchange for U.S. access to tyrants’ oil. 

“We’ll renegotiate fair trade terms, open up to dialogue about a New International Economic Order, and provide investment and aid that benefit your poor more than our rich, with none of our typical military, political, or economic strings attached. 

“If you force people to convert, pressure women to conform to pre-Islamic dress codes or face a flogging, ignore women’s intellect, scorn them as inferior, or make women the scapegoated, beat-up targets of males’ tension, we won’t support such unislamic behaviours.

“But we’ll take pressure off the Mid-East to convert to Westernization, secularism, materialism, consumerism, salient sexuality, and capitalism.  We’ll stop inundating you with Western ads, movies, fashions, and luxuries and respect your aversion to bars, cinemas, night clubs, and luxury hotels. 

“We’ll initiate cooperative discussion of the pros and cons of Westernization, American cultures, Mid-Eastern cultures, the writings of violent extremists such as Sayyid Qutb, urbanization, industrialization, and the effect of various educational systems on intelligence, human relations, and inner peace. 

“If you kill reporters, falsify news, suppress dissent, and hijack Islam to preach violence, we won’t support you. 

“But we’ll quit the half-truths and aim for broad coverage of Mid-Eastern and American perspectives on conflict and solutions.  We’ll stop ignoring dissenters and vilifying opponents and instead open up, not to the verbal warfare of debate, but to the peaceful art of cooperative dialogue. 

“Any ideology can be warped by cruel, obsessed, or paranoid minds, and any ideology can blossom within kind hearts.  We’ll clarify that peace and violence are parts of both Muslim and Christian history.  We’ll correct false beliefs that violently spreading Christianity, Islam, and democracy is justified in the name of God, Allah, and Freedom. 

“We understand that some join militant organizations because they are searching for meaning in life and noble purpose, or they are frustrated by lack of career opportunities and boredom.  Let’s work cooperatively to direct the noble motive towards effective, peaceful action.  Let’s develop non-violent, meaningful career paths in the Mid-East and US, including careers in green energy, environmental protection, poverty reduction, cooperative dialogue, and solution-oriented journalism.

“We recognize that lack of joy, fun, and inner peace as well as mental illness can also factor into American and Mid-Eastern violence.  Let’s work cooperatively to create more places and more time for recreation, including Islamic forms of recreation, playgrounds, rollerblading rinks, environmental parks of natural beauty, and outdoor adventure.  Let’s ensure that people in the US and the Mid-East have non-aggressive, caring help in handling depression, anxiety, PTSD, paranoia, and other negative mental states.

“If you want to create a love of your nation, your religion, your sect, or your gender that is based upon hatred of others, we will not support you. 

“But we will value your lives and feelings as much as our own.  Many people, including Muslims, feel alienated in the West, and we’ll strive to create societies whose goals of material, academic, and professional success never eclipse the priority of ensuring that all people feel welcome, safe, peaceful, loved, and cherished.

“Peace requires, not merely treaties and formal commitments, but love, friendship, respect, and caring.  We’ll shift our budget to support, not primarily an army of warriors and an arsenal of weapons, but talented Americans dedicated to helping others at home and abroad by means of genuine friendship, understanding, respect, dialogue, and cooperative negotiation.”

If we honestly address legitimate concerns motivating ISIS violence, can we attract away from ISIS those followers who do not admire brutality and intolerance?  Can we prove to ISIS followers they can achieve just goals without violence? Will our unilateral actions serve as a powerful role model and ease the tension that breeds violence and extremism?

Or is it too late?  Have we left, unaddressed, the causes of terrorism for too long? 

Paris climate conference attendees know they must reduce Earth’s heating before it reaches the tipping point, the point of no return.  Have we reached that tipping point with terrorism?  Are we drawing near to a black hole of hatred and violence?

Black holes have enormous mass and gravity.  In astronomy, the event horizon is a spherical boundary around a black hole.  Inside the event horizon, the escape velocity needed to break free from a black hole’s gravitational field is faster than the speed of light.  There is no escape, for nothing in the universe travels faster than light.   

Along the edge of the event horizon, the escape velocity equals the velocity of light.  Just outside the event horizon, the gravitational pull of the black hole is enormous, but it is possible, with tremendous strength and velocity, to overcome the gravitational pull and avoid being sucked into the black hole.

With hope, courage, and determination, we must continue together to add to the velocity of our intellect, our hearts, and our will in order to attain the escape velocity that will enable us to leave behind the gravitational field of the state of war and violence, to keep us out of that black hole, and to pull us up and out into space where we can see the starlight clearly. 

Kristin Y. Christman has degrees from Dartmouth College, Brown University, and the University at Albany in Russian and public administration.  She is author of The Taxonomy of Peace:  A Comprehensive Classification of the Roots and Escalators of Violence and 650 Solutions for Peace, freely available online at