Few in American politics or mainstream media seriously advocate means by which to end the War on Terrorism. Some are eager to see Phase Two expand violent conflict to Iraq or other additional targets. Many assume that the War on Terror won’t end for years, maybe decades.
Nobody knows if our bold new war will make America any safer from terrorist attacks than we were on Sept. 10. In a world where enormous harm can be unleashed not just by nation-states but by a few committed individuals, security may not be achievable by brute force. Dominating other nations - whether by military, political or economic force - cannot make us safer from individual extremists; nor will the abandonment of and/or incarceration of significant numbers of our own citizens. Police state thinking is one way to address security, but it is not the “American way.”
Many Americans show a new willingness to discuss and perhaps try new policy ideas, to consider different ways of solving seemingly insoluble problems — and to find ways to avoid similar problems in the future. How can we, as individual citizens, join that effort? Here are ten suggestions:
1. Know ourselves.
How did you feel about September 11? The U.S. attacks that have come since then? The War on Terrorism? Continued murder-suicide bombings abroad? Expanded security and law enforcement powers at home?
These are not simply political questions; they are also personal and emotional questions. The answers frequently involve anger, fear, despair, rage, a sense of powerlessness — or more positive responses, such as hope, compassion, love, energy, and resolve.
In assessing changes we want to see happen in our community and the world, it’s helpful to have a clear sense of what we want, why we want (or need) it, and where we’re starting from, emotionally as well as politically. Frequently, the journey involves both. The clearer we see ourselves, the more effective a political advocate we will make.
2. Educate ourselves on the issues. [See Sidebar at end of article]
To stop terror and avoid war, we must first understand what causes it, and what approaches have succeeded in the past. So far, America’s “War On Terrorism” seems to focus chiefly on the movement that spawned the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks: radical, violent-fringe, conservative Sunni Moslems, raging forth from an area that stretches geographically from Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia. It can only help us to learn more about the history, culture, religions, and economies of those parts of the world. It is incumbent upon us to examine the West’s historic and current relationships with Islam. If we fail to understand how conditions, from colonialism through global economic changes and geopolitical rivalries, have contributed to poverty, desperation, hatred, admiration, jealousy, freedom, repression, and religious fanaticism, then we inevitably will fail to address these problems meaningfully.
Part of how we’ve gotten here is the West’s tendency to impose our own cultures, values, and expectations on these regions without taking the time to understand where the people we’re dealing with are coming from. In the U.S., we also tend to be unusually oblivious to history — our own, and that of other peoples. People interested in stopping terror and avoiding war cannot afford to repeat those mistakes. If we do so, we will only mirror and amplify the hatred and narrow intolerance that breeds bombers.
To learn about foreign affairs, events or policies, don’t rely on solely U.S. media. For information about current events in Central Asia, for example, it’s essential to check British and Middle Eastern media, to understand both the reality on the ground and how U.S. actions are being received elsewhere in the world. These media outlets are surprisingly accessible and rewarding. And public libraries are a treasure trove. Watch the changes in public opinion in different part of the world as U.S. government policies evolve. Even propaganda outlets advocating jihad can be sources of information; our goal should be to approach most information with a healthy skepticism.
3. Make changes in our own lifestyle that help reduce America’s need for foreign oil.
It’s difficult to separate America’s political policies from our culture and our lifestyle. The United States, for example, considers the Middle East critically important in large part because of our need for oil and other non-renewable resources; the less we need them, the less likely it is we’ll go to war there, regardless of terrorism.
That means examine our own consumption of non-renewable resources, and find ways to reduce or replace them. The technology for things such as hybrid cars, solar, wind, and tidal energy, and the like has become increasingly widespread and affordable. Our use of them, and conservation of non-renewables, makes it more likely that U.S. policy toward the peoples of that region will not be driven as fully by America’s economic interests.
Similarly, it’s hard, in our economy, to separate the work we do and the money we spend from America’s corporate behaviors and government policies. But not buying products, or investing in stocks, of companies that profit from human misery — or buying products from countries that abuse their own people — contributes to an America, and a world, where such priorities aren’t taken for granted. And, someday, may be considered entirely unacceptable.
4. Develop a closer, more respect-ful relationship to the Islamic world and other cultures
As the world shrinks, this should be our goal with all cultures and religions. For the purposes of our current War on Terrorism, it is particularly important that, much as Christianity and Judaism have learned to live in greater harmony after two millenia of tension, Western cultures and religions must find and develop our common interests with the Islamic world. We should demand no less humane an approach from our Muslim neighbors.
Just as with any minority or “other,” the more we each work with and understand people of the Islamic faith in our own lives and communities, the less they will seem strange and threatening and the more we will recognize each other as individuals and as human beings.
Do we know, in our own life, people from any parts of the world that the United States is in conflict with? Have we talked with them about it? It is important to recognize that the vast majority of people of all faiths, are peace-loving and essentially decent. The more clearly we can demonstrate our common humanity to each other, the more isolated and discredited the terrorists will become.
Don’t be afraid to speak out, and to learn: talk with (not to) our neighbors, our friends, relatives, co-workers, classmates. Learn from the people we disagree with, but don’t shy away from voicing our opinions in places where they’re unpopular — and remember to listen.
6. Take it to the community.
Call in to radio and television talk shows. Write letters to the editor and opinion articles for our local community newspapers. Visit their editorial boards. Set up community forums, teach-ins, and panels. Our goal is to educate the public, to air out differing opinions, and to force politicians to go on the record with their beliefs. Table at community events. Write and circulate flyers including information on the issue, lobbying and contact information, event dates, and powerful graphic images. Circulate petitions whose signatures we can use both to notify people of future events and to lobby elected officials or other prominent community figures. The signature lists we generate may become our database for recruiting volunteers to help organize events. Take out ads in our local newspapers. Make our advocacy visible, so people will think — even if local media is hostile — that our cause is not an isolated one. Set up and publicize our own web site or list-serve.
In a time when some are suspicious of or even hostile to advocacy – no matter the cause — taking our case to the community does two things. It not only helps advance our particular ideas, but reinforces the right of every citizen to participate in our democracy.
7. Donate for Social Causes in Developing Countries.
Collecting money for survivors’ families or to rebuild the World Trade Center, can salve the wounds of a horrific act. One can also donate where it is equally needed: to the countries whose crushing poverty helps incubate terrorism. A more economically just world will be one with less terror. Donate our own money, or organize events where our whole community can pitch in and help: benefits, readings, raffles, auctions, walk-a-thons, and so forth. Consider working jointly with a Third World community center.
8. Publicize and oppose racial profiling, the curbing of civil liberties, and backlash against immigrants.
This is both a local and a national issue, involving everything from new INS and Justice Department programs and regulations to local police behavior and cases of isolated bigotry. While this is in many ways a separate issue, bear in mind that it’s easier for our government to pursue a counter-productive military-oriented solution if more of the public hates and fears people who look like “the enemy.” Civil liberties revoked in an emergency are rarely restored afterward; and when a precedent is set whereby constitutional rights can be denied to any one group, any other group could be next. Let’s work together to avoid the kind of “strongman” regime that has crushed civil liberties in many nations.
9. Lobby Congress and the White House –
to pursue policies that minimize civilian deaths; rethink our national defense and foreign policy priorities; and change global economic institutions and trade agreements so that they create less, not more, poverty and death.
Attacking Osama bin Laden and the Taliban would not end terrorism. “Terrorists” can live, and operate, anywhere; military force can take away training camps, but it cannot take away fervor, desperation, hatred, or the conditions that lead to them. Demand more effective policies. Send a letter (preferably handwritten) or card, make a phone call (faxes and e-mails are less effective, but better than nothing), go to the forums of public officials, visit their offices. Much of our ability to minimize future terrorist activity depends not just on better security at home, but policies abroad that work consistently to promote the ideals of freedom, democracy, self-determination, and economic opportunity that America ideally stands for.
Special interests often keep the White House and Congress from doing the right thing; it’s up to us, the public, to require that when they act in our name, they treat others the way we would want to be treated.
10. Love each other –peace begins at home.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for the Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State!. He also writes a daily column for the online publication WorkingForChange. For more Geov, go online to www.eatthestate.org, or www.workingforchange.com
A Few Good Web Sources For Alternative Perspectives On The Islamic World From Around the World Contributed by Geov Parrish (listed in alphabetical order)
English language versions of Islamic newspapers:
Islamic Regional news:
• www.afghan-network.net (based in California but news from home country) • www.afghanweb.com (numerous links and Afghan news) • www.al-jazeera.net (Al-Jazeera, the now-notorious Pan-Islamic Qatar TV station) • www.allafrica.com (AllAfrica Global Media, news coverage of Islamic Africa) • www.irna.com (The Islamic Republic News Assoc., fundamentalist viewpoint) • www.islamonline.net/english/ (pan-Islamic site of news, opinion, and culture) • www.memri.org (Middle East Media & Research Institute) • www.payamemujahid.com/ (online weekly from inside Afghanistan) • www.rawasongs.fancymarketing.net (Revolutionary Assoc. of the Women of Afghanistan)
Daily European News & TV:
• www.bbc.co.uk (BBC) • www.dailytelegraph.co.uk (Daily Telegraph) • www.guardian.co.uk (Guardian, London) • www.independent.co.uk (Independent, London) • www.ireland.com (Irish Times) • www.londontimes.com (London Times)
Other Western voices:
• www.debka.com (DebkaFile, a website devoted to Middle East intelligence) • www.eurasianews.com (scores of links) • www.iwpr.net (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) • www.mwaw.org (Media Workers Against War) • www.wombatnews.com (Wombat International News, a Japanese site)
Alternative U.S. Media:
• www.alternet.org (AlterNet) • www.commondreams.com (Common Dreams) • www.counterpunch.org (CounterPunch) • www.eatthestate.org (Eat the State!) • www.fair.org (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) • www.indymedia.org (Independent Media Center) • www.inthesetimes.com (In These Times) • www.thenation.com (The Nation) • www.theprogressive.com (The Progressive) • www.workingforchange.com (Working Assets) • www.zmag.org (Z Magazine)
Anti-war, Hunger, and Charity:
• www.wfp.org (United Nation’s World Food Program) • www.oxfam.org.uk (Oxfam) • www.bread.org (Bread for the World) • www.christian-aid.org.uk (Christian Aid) • www.interaction.org (American Council for Voluntary International Action) • www.scn.org/activism/calendar (local peace calendar) • www.antiwar.com (independent, libertarian-oriented site) • www.objector.org (Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors) • www.scn.org/activism/wwfor (Western Wash. Fellowship of Reconciliation) • www.nacc.info (Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia) • www.peaceaction.gen.wa.us/ (Peace & Justice Alliance, formerly Peace Action) • www.wpsr.org (Wash. Physicians for Social Responsibility) • www.warresisters.org (War Resisters League)