Some Questions to Consider in Responding to Terrorism

by Kenneth Cloke
October 2001 Kenneth Cloke
Ariel Dorfman, a writer tortured and imprisoned by terrorists who were officers in the Chilean military under Pinochet, wrote:

"How easy it is to kill someone you don’t have to mourn because you never dared to imagine him alive."

This is the essence of terrorism, but it is also the essence of war. Indeed, isn’t terrorism simply a form of warfare directed at civilians? Isn’t every war, regardless of its’ declared military aims, an assault on innocent civilians? During the 1920's, Mary Parker Follett, a founder of the field of mediation wrote:

"We have thought of peace as passive and war as the active way of living. The opposite is true. War is not the most strenuous life. It is a kind of rest cure compared to the task of reconciling our differences...From War to Peace is not from the strenuous to the easy existence; it is from the futile to the effective, from the stagnant to the active, from the destructive to the creative way of life. ...The world will be regenerated by the people who rise above these passive ways and heroically seek, by whatever hardship, by whatever toil, the methods by which people can agree."

There are so many unanswered questions. Here are some of mine: Is it possible to block terrorism without engaging in war? Do peace and understanding merely condone the use of terror, or give permission to kill more people? Can anything that be done to halt terrorism without multiplying the number of innocent victims, surrendering precious hard-won freedoms, and recruiting thousands of new terrorists?

Haven't countless efforts have been made throughout history to halt terrorism through military force, with the primary result that terrorism has hardened, deepened, and multiplied? What, in the end, shall we say about efforts to stop terrorism in Ireland, the Basque region, Sri Lanka, Angola, Haiti, Columbia, Algeria, Croatia, Macedonia, Lebanon and the Israeli occupied territories through military force?

Do we not harbor in the US people who seek to assassinate Fidel Castro, believe in killing Jews and African Americans, and want to block food deliveries to Iraqi children? What might we still do to encourage dialogue and peaceful engagement among those who are willing to die? Don't we ultimately have to learn how to talk to each other and live together in peace? How does war help us achieve this end?

Isn't terrorism an emotional response to the unwillingness of those in power to recognize some group's legitimate interests? Isn't it an effort to communicate the frustration caused by the failure of dialogue and the unwillingness to correct injustice? Isn't it a confession of the failure of political governments to promote listening, negotiation, and conflict resolution? Haven’t we contributed directly to this lack of listening? Haven’t we as a nation funded, supported and participated in terrorism ourselves? Don't we now need more listening, negotiation and conflict resolution rather than less?

Why did we not respond more strongly to the terror directed against Afganistani women and non-fundamentalist muslims? To the destruction of art, the wearing of armbands and the arrests of non-Islamic aid workers? Why were we silent when Israelis used terror against Palestinians? When Pinochet used terror in Chile, or Suharto in Indonesia?

Isn't what terrorists do different in scale, but not in kind, from what each of us does when we are in conflict? Do we not terrorize each other in countless ways? Are we not now bent on terrorizing terrorists? Isn't war simply a legitimized form of terror that ultimately harms innocent civilians and children far more than it does combattants, who are in any event mostly drafted against their will? Do we not now as a nation thirst for revenge, even if we are able to prevent ourselves from engaging in its worst excesses? What drives terrorists over the edge, and allows them to harm innocents, even take their own lives, in order to harm those they find culpable?

How should we engage in battle with our enemies? By trying to win at all costs? By using methods they use against us, and "fighting fire with fire"? Or by affirming our values and integrity in the ways we fight, and battling what made us enemies in the first place?

How should we respond to internal divisions and dissent within our own ranks? By preventative measures which ensure mass conformity? By purging and punishing those who deviate? Or by encouraging and supporting criticism, and seeing dissent as information and opportunity?

How should we respond to conflict, difference and opposition? By labeling it as heresy or treason? By contemptuous silence or ridicule? Or by applause and affirmation, celebrating the gift of a different perspective?

How should we respond to mistakes made by our supporters, or crimes committed in our name? By defending or justifying them in the name of common ends? By casting the perpetrators out or labeling them liars or false prophets? Or by acknowledging our common subjectivity, taking full responsibility, and having no name one can commit crimes in?

Finally, here are 10 questions to ponder before deciding to kill Osama Bin Laden:

1. Which is the greater evil, bin Laden or terrorism?

2. By killing bin Laden, do we in any way let terrorism off the hook?

3. Could you do it yourself -- not by pulling a trigger, but with your bare hands?

4. What would happen to you if you did? Would that be worth it? Who, or what, would have won?

5. What about all the little bin Laden’s who made him possible? Would you kill them as well? Where would you draw the line? Does not the line separating guilt from innocence run through every person? Through the entire world?

6. Could you imagine a fate worse than death for bin Laden?

7. What would you design as a form of poetic justice for bin Laden?

8. Why give him the lesser punishment and let him off the hook by killing him?

9. Who does his life belong to, his victims, or the government? If you gave his victims a choice between personally killing him and having him work for the rest of his life so their children could go to college, which would they chose?

10. Have we been complicit? What have we contributed to the rise and success of bin Laden? Shouldn’t part of our anger be reserved for ourselves? What should our punishment be?

Hasn’t it been demonstrated throughout history that there can be no lasting peace without justice? And doesn’t justice consist, as Aristotle pointed out centuries ago, in recognizing someone else’s self-interest?

These are a few of the questions we have been asked by tragic events -- not simply to answer, but to meditate over, examine deeply, discuss together, search for common answers, and allow everyone to answer differently. We now have a unique opportunity to act as a world community of nations, but will lose this opportunity by going it alone as we did with the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse emissions, or by going too far in our punishment of civilians, as we did in our boycott of food and medicine in Iraq.

The events of September 11 have created a world-wide opposition to terrorism that has the potential to reduce its’ horrible capacity to harm innocents. But unless we start to address these questions, we will increase rather than diminish it. By confronting these questions together, we may find ways to transcend the conditions that recreate terrorism every day, and live together with justice, and without war.

Biography


Kenneth Cloke is Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and a mediator, arbitrator, consultant and trainer, specializing in resolving complex multi-party conflicts, including community, grievance and workplace disputes, organizational and school conflicts, sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and public policy disputes, and in designing conflict resolution systems for organizations. He is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in the field of conflict resolution, and a published author of many journal articles and several books, including Mediation: Revenge and the Magic of Forgiveness and Mediating Dangerously: The Fontiers of Conflict Resolution . His consulting and training practice includes organizational change, leadership, team building and strategic planning. He is a co-author with Joan Goldsmith of Thank God It's Monday! 14 Values We Need to Humanize The Way We Work, Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job, Resolving Personal and Organizational Conflict: Stories of Transformation and Forgiveness; The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy, and The Art of Waking People Up: Cultivating Awareness and Authenticity at Work. His latest book, Journeys into the Heart of Conflict will be published in 2015.

He received a B.A. from the University of California; a J.D. from U.C.'s Boalt Law School; a Ph.D. from UCLA; an LLM from UCLA Law School; and has done post-doctoral work at Yale Law School. He is a graduate of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. His university teaching includes law, mediation, history and other social sciences at a number of colleges and universities including Southwestern University School of Law, Pepperdine University School of Law, Antioch University, Occidental College, USC and UCLA.



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