Working towards peace and sustainability

Fool Me Once . . .

Violence, in general, is deeply disturbing. Random, senseless violence—taking the lives of innocents—is particularly troubling. Events in Paris, in which 129 people were murdered, therefore, have ricocheted wildly through our body politic, sparking fear, revulsion and heightened Islamophobia.

We’ve seen everything from governors attempting to block even thoroughly vetted Syrian refugees from being settled in their states, to calls for all out warfare and dramatic increases in military spending, troop levels and more. We’ve had presidential candidates calling for the registration of all Muslims, the closing of Mosques, and even applying a religious test, requiring Christian identity, to qualify for refugee status.

If you’re experiencing a sinking feeling of déjà vu all over again, you are not alone. We saw our fellow citizens stampeded into supporting disastrous wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11. Neither of these wars, nor the numerous other U.S. wars in primarily Muslim nations (Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, etc.) have enhanced our security. In fact, they’ve served to create far more enemies than they’ve eliminated. They’ve led to massive loss of life, primarily non-combatant civilians. They’ve dislocated millions, while thoroughly destabilizing one of the most geopolitically strategic and volatile regions in the world. And they’ve been phenomenally expensive. 

Even though the chance of dying in a domestic terror incident is infinitesimal, the need to prevent such acts has been used as a rationale legitimating a surveillance state that has resulted in unprecedented intrusions into every citizen’s privacy. And incredibly, the Right simultaneously bores down on so-called “Islamic Terrorism,” while opposing even the most modest gun safety initiatives, so all any aspiring terrorist—be they Muslim, Christian or what have you—seeking guns need do is visit a gun show.

While the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” would not be in existence if not for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many on the Right blame President Obama for ISIS. They propose major escalation of the war, including sending in ground troops. Those with one tool, a hammer, view every situation we face, no matter how complex, as another nail.

More war will mean more death, more destruction, more fear and more enemies. Bombing ISIS sites in Iraq and Syria has been a grand game of Whack-A-Mole, with more “collateral damage” than actual attainment of objectives. Anyone thinking our nation can assume the moral high ground need only consider for a moment that, according to official documents, as reported in The Intercept, so-called “targeted killing” by drones in Afghanistan ends up killing people other than the intended target nearly 90 percent of the time.

Some might assert that “terrorists” intend to killing innocents, while the U.S. CIA and military end up doing so accidentally. The distinction loses much of its meaning, however, when U.S. officials know that their actions are regularly killing non-combatants, including women, children and the elderly, yet they continue to drop bombs from on high. While images of the victims of terror attacks in Paris are more readily seen, those dying in places like Yemen, Somalia or Pakistan are no less dead, and their loved ones no less bereft.  

Most Americans want a peaceful future. What we need to recognize is that exterminating an enemy is not a path to peace. Belligerence toward Muslims is certainly not an answer. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, kind and caring humans who, in my experience, are hospitable and welcoming. While there are violent extremists, the same is true for Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. When we demonize Islam, and when our government intervenes in Muslim counties, we drive recruits to the jihadis.

We have a choice. Extend and expand the permanent war and the Military-Industrial Complex will thrive, while millions suffer the agony and dislocation of war. End the pursuit of geopolitical domination and pursue instead a ratcheting down of conflict through negotiations, arms embargos and sustainable development programs, and we will have a chance at a peaceful future.

Please consider that the Syrian conflict would never have reached the point we’re at today, were it not for the U.S. insistence, back in 2012, to exclude the Iranians from negotiations and to make the exit of Assad an à priori condition for talks. Let’s learn from these mistakes and pursue peace rather than power.

And part of manifesting peace is creating a vibrant peace economy at home. Looking at our current political reality, perhaps the greatest irony we face is that those most eager to see more money and resources devoted to weapons, militarism and making war, are also those likely most reluctant to adequately fund investments in real security.

Real Security includes protecting our climate and the balances of nature that make planet Earth habitable. The biggest cheerleaders for war also generally oppose investing in people, providing livable wages to all workers, making quality education freely available to all, assuring healthcare for everyone, etc. They obviously do not recognize that a clean, sustainable environment and a strong, healthy and well educated population are our greatest strengths. If we prudently invest the funds saved by turning away from war, we can address serious threats to our security, and this will be a true win-win.
This post was written by Peaceworks Director Mark Haim.