Driving us ever closer to the brink of World War III and possible nuclear annihilation is the bi-partisan, seemingly all-American political position that we “never negotiate with terrorists.” That means having no diplomatic relations with the “bad guys.” “Terrorists,” we’re taught to believe, must be followers of Satan himself. (Witness Joe Biden’s “Gates of Hell” comment about the Islamic State.) Or, from a purely secularized perspective, they are obviously infected with extreme psychopathy. It seems that anyone who dares to talk about talking to “the terrorists” is regarded as an appeaser or even as a friend of “the terrorists.”
Yet at the same time going to war against other peoples, and inflicting torture, suffering, and death on innocents, is considered acceptable by Western nations if those wars are couched in terms of protecting freedom. You’re a patriot if you support your country when it goes to war no matter what the reason. You’re not a patriot if you express skepticism about those wars and their motives.
The immediate crisis is ISIS or the Islamic State. Yes, ISIS is a collection of radicalized, fundamentalist Islamic fighters (whom we helped to create) who use terror to advance their agenda. We should take them very seriously, for they are a threat to millions of innocent people, a threat even to the planet if they should get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. But bombing them, or for that matter any other so-called “terrorist” population is rarely the answer; indeed, bombing often produces more converts to the cause. And isn’t bombing itself a form of terror?
When will they ever learn–as the last line in Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” says–that we are no longer confronting conventional nation-states with armies controlled by dictators or military juntas. As Noam Chomsky asserts, the only way to stop terrorism is not to become a terrorist yourself.
Carrying that advice one step further, instead of demonizing the “terrorists” before blowing them to kingdom come, what if we diplomatically recognized Hamas, ISIS, and similar organizations? What if we invited them to state dinners at the White House and allowed them to speak before Congress? Finally, what if we gave them financial and humanitarian aid? (We’ve already armed them, indirectly, with weapons we liberally provided or sold to the Iraqi army and similar armies the U.S. military trained, only to watch them fold or switch sides.)
Since 9/11 the U.S. government has spent $3.3 trillion on invasions of countries and the global war on terror. Is it naïve to argue that we could appease most of the oppressed and disenfranchised people in the world who hate America by buying their friendship? Something tells me the price tag would be far less than $3.3 trillion; perhaps a thousand times less.
As John Lennon and Yoko Ono once sung, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Virtually nobody takes that seriously nowadays. Yet aren’t “outside the box” solutions what the world needs now?
The times may have been a’changin’ in Bob Dylan’s era but today we have fallen back to the tired, hyper-rational, “straight” way of thinking which Albert Einstein warned us about at the dawn of the nuclear age.
Rodney King, who was severely beaten by the LAPD after a traffic stop, came up with viable approach to solving the world’s most horrific conflicts when he said in an interview, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Even the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Iceland when Soviet and American nuclear weapons were almost eliminated seems surreal now in the light of Western geopolitics, driven as they are today by tired Machiavellian posturing and Kissinger-like Real Politik.
What we need today is less posturing about “the terrorists” and more attempts at peacemaking. For if peacemakers continue to fail, if we continue to ignore their advice, there may be no earth left for our children to inherit.
Richard Sahn is a professor of sociology and a regular contributor to The Contrary Perspective.