12 steps to respond to 9/11, because "we have to do something!"

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it… Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”, 1967

Last September I was struck by what seemed to be universal support for the US government actions against terrorism. It seemed to me that many of these actions were unlikely to achieve their stated goals and might even be counterproductive. The pain I felt and saw around me only heightened my concern that these actions weren’t addressing the problem.

When I questioned these actions, a common response was “but, we have to do something!” My feeling then, and now, was not to doubt that some action was needed, but that the US response was both wrong-headed in many ways, and not nearly enough. Even the idea of a “war on terror” seemed to reflect a lack of understanding of what terrorism is, how it arises, and the opportunities to do something about it.

I jotted down then a set of actions, which I thought would actually hold more hope of reducing terrorism. In an effort to keep this relatively brief, I hope I didn’t make the items too cryptic. It’s a very incomplete list; I might add tolerance education, anti-racism, comparative religions, health care, libraries and schools, infrastructure development, and a number of other things, but doing even what’s listed below would be a start. I’d welcome any questions, reactions, suggestions.

Are bombings and restriction of civil liberties all we can do to combat terrorism? Here are a dozen other ideas for things the USA could be doing, none of which are being implemented today:

  1. Educate: Institute major formal and informal education programs aimed at global understanding: history that is more than European and American experiences; investigations of the relations among globalization, new technologies, and economic development; dissemination of scholarship on world religions, economies, and cultures. Our lack of understanding makes it difficult to combat terrorism, and worse, serves as fuel for the hatred behind it.
  2. Establish proactive diplomacy: Concentrate on improved relations with among others, Muslim and Arab countries and peoples, not only when oil interests are concerned.
  3. Stop arms sales: Reduce, if not eliminate, global arms production and sales. The US supplies over half of the new weapons in the world today, and 2/3 of those sold to developing countries (see http://salt.claretianpubs.org/sjnews/2001/09/sjn0109d.html).
  4. Cooperate with the international community: Become a full partner in international efforts to improve the environment, reduce disease, and protect human rights. The US go-it-alone approach after 9/11 is exactly what infuriates many around the world. Very few of those people would condone, or even consider, terrorist acts, but the response to terrorism would be greatly aided if the US were viewed more as a partner, and less as an overlord.
  5. Support democracy: Establish a priority of supporting democratic governments and democracy movements. Where in the Middle East have we done that? Where in Africa? Asia? the Americas? All too often, the US sides with autocratic regimes, thus allying itself with the enemy of ordinary people.
  6. Alleviate poverty: Poverty, especially in contrast to conspicuous consumption, provides a fertile ground, if not justification, for a violent response. The US has the lowest percentage of GDP going to foreign aid of any industrialized nation in the world, currently 1/7 of the already low OECD target (see http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Debt/USAid.asp). What counts as foreign aid rarely goes to the areas of greatest need and allocations are often earmarked for buying military equipment from US manufacturers.
  7. Open dialogues: The opportunities for communication across countries, religions, and ethnicities, or even within communities, are limited by governments and the concentration of media control in a few corporations. The US could lead the way in promoting new and improved channels for communication, especially for groups that have little voice today.
  8. Conserve: The US foreign policy is inordinately shaped by our dependence on foreign oil. Even modest conservation efforts would reduce that dependence and allow a focus on other considerations for the long-term interests; this, in addition to the beneficial environmental effects.
  9. Improve literacy: Most people in every region of the world are against violence and seek similar goals related to family, culture, economic survival, and personal fulfillment, but their participation in decision-making is limited, because they lack the basic literacy needed for written communication and access to information. The US possesses the tools and resources to have an enormous, positive impact on world literacy development, which would, in turn, facilitate democratic and economic development, and lessen the support for terrorist responses to desperate conditions.
  10. Resolve conflicts: Not every conflict can be resolved easily, but the US has the stature, the political and economic clout, and in many cases the neutrality to play a major role in resolving conflicts before they become disasters. In Kashmir, Rwanda, Bosnia, East Timor, Sudan, and many other regions, we could engage as mediators and perhaps lessen the violence. Very often, conflicts far away are treated as irrelevant to USA interests, until they become all-too-relevant and nearly impossible to address.
  11. Protect the rights of women: When women’s rights to health care, education, and political participation are ensured, most societies show economic development, population control, reduced disease, and reduced violence. Aside from the intrinsic justice issue, culturally-sensitive support for progress in women’s rights will also protect against terrorism. In the long run, this will do far more than hiring more armed guards.
  12. Learn languages: It is difficult to do any of the items above without full communication, attentive to the nuances of culture and politics. The US educational system, which strives for monolingual learning, is swimming against history. Although English is used widely in the world today, there is evidence that other spoken languages are growing faster than English and writing in the thousands of world languages is expanding with the support of new digital technologies.

2 thoughts on “12 steps to respond to 9/11, because "we have to do something!"

  1. Very appropriate list, and I would add: Show hospitality. Go out of your comfort zone and meet that neighbour who is not local, who comes from “who-knows-where”. Take your kids with you to say hi and welcome him to the neighbourhood. That is a very small step to understanding, but if everyone would do the same, specially in towns that have been blessed with population diversity, that simple step would certainly make a difference.



  2. Pingback: Catch 22 in Iraq « Chip’s journey

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