Nonviolence: Most Adaptive Response to Terrorism

Article excerpt

To talk of a nonviolent response to terrorism might seem absurd. The global war on terror has become what experts call a "hot conflict"--that season of warfare when the killings take on their own perverse momentum. Last summer, during three weeks in July, terrorists launched attacks in London, the Egyptian resort of Sharm-al-Sheik and the coastal city of Netanya; in Iraq, suicide bombers and cars exploded on a near daily basis. For many people, reports of July's attacks and others like it evoke anger, despair and apocalyptic musings about the future. For Tom Hastings, they are graphic reminders of the urgent need to stop the cycle of violence and try another way.

"Nonviolence is the most adaptive response for the survival of the species," he said.

The director of Peace and Nonviolence Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, Hastings is the author of Nonviolent Response to Terrorism. His book, which began as a bullet list written after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, discusses nearly two dozen methods of opposing terrorism without resorting to violence. The strategies range from the immediate interventions of negotiations and sanctions to more long-term responses of halting the global arms trade and reducing over-consumption among the rich. NCR spoke with him earlier this summer.

According to Hastings, any nonviolent reckoning with terrorism requires opposing it in all its forms. He pointed out that contrary to popular perception, Muslim militants are not the only terrorists. Terrorism by definition involves "the use of or threat to use violence against civilians or civilian targets," he said. In other words, most acts of war. There is state-sponsored terrorism as well as the "terrorism of the irregular" and it is the former that has exacted the highest death toll.

"The vast, vast majority of terrorism is practiced by nation-states against their own citizens," he said. The casualty numbers from the Sept. 11 attacks, "as horrific as they were," pale in comparison to the number of people killed by their own governments in Guatemala and El Salvador, he said.

Americans need to understand their own complicity in terrorism before they can honestly deal with it, said Hastings, who lists the Vietnam War, the use and possession of nuclear weapons, and the current war in Iraq as examples of American terrorism.

He thinks the only way to end the terrorism of the Iraq war is for the United States to unilaterally withdraw and negotiate. So many atrocities have already happened in Iraq, he said, that the only response worse than a withdrawal and cease-fire would be to continue the violence.

"Negotiation is how wars always end," he noted. "The terrorists are rehabilitated and brought to the table. So why not skip to the end part now?"

The we-don't-talk-to-terrorists maxim is a fallacy, Hastings argues in Nonviolent Response to Terrorism. History is full of examples of governments meeting secretly or openly with terrorists. The Reagan administration negotiated arms-for-hostages with Iranians. South Africa's apartheid regime met with militants from the African National Congress.

Negotiations do not address the root causes of war or terrorism but they can help a conflict "cool off," he says. …