Practical Problem-Solving

By Kristin Christman

The US government torture revealed in the recent Senate report is the latest symptom of foreign policymakers’ preoccupation with threats, force, and control rather than practical problem-solving.

9/11 was a wake-up call to humanely tend to significant issues, but counterterrorism was instead dumbed down to mean “degrade and destroy terrorists”. A rapid analysis of the aggressive and defensive roots of violence would have pointed policymakers towards effective solutions.

Terrorists are portrayed as bloodthirsty, and some are. Some have a sadistic penchant for bloodletting and mutilation. But numerous terrorists are enraged precisely by the killing and torture at the hands of their governments or the US government.

Kamal el-Said Habib of Egypt, a participant in Anwar Sadat’s assassination, vividly describes the horrendous torture of political prisoners in Egypt. Prisoners hear the screams of comrades undergoing torture; the torture incubates violent movements and heightens determination to seek revenge and justice. Yet US taxes have supported brutal dictators and funded their internal security forces.

Many Americans may view 9/11 as an unprovoked first strike against the US, but others view the conflict as having been brewing for decades. With regard to the Al Qaeda/US conflict, Kamal explains that 9/11, while despicable, was one more move in a war that began in the 1990s, when the US quietly declared war on Islamists by enabling Mid-Eastern despots’ internal security services in Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to kill and imprison tens of thousands of militants.

The war against terrorism is portrayed as Freedom Fighters vs. Those Who Hate Us For Our Freedoms. But terrorists are not homogenous, and while some would be tyrants, many others fight precisely because they abhor tyranny. Islamists, those Muslims who wish their governments to be based on the Sharia, are varied, and the definition of an Islamic government and desired characteristics of daily life within an Islamic nation range from benevolent and pluralistic to cruel and despotic.

Some would create a repressive Saudi Arabian or Taliban-style government with invasive laws, beheadings, and repression of women. Yet many Islamists seek to develop democratic forms of government based upon relevant Islamic principles of shura, ijma, and maslah, and they view the US as hypocritical for its anti-Islamist bias and repression of democratic movements.

9/11 pilot Mohammed Atta was characterized in youth as never wanting to hurt even an insect. As a graduate student, he was frustrated that he could not readily pursue a career in civil engineering to help fellow Egyptians, because his beard and social views were considered sufficient by Egyptian police to brand him worthy of arrest.

Atta was enraged that his government would not help Cairo’s poor but instead built luxury hotels for tourists as it opened up to Western market capitalism. Did his caring for Cairo validate 9/11? Never. His actions were evil, but there were ideas in his head that could have been channeled positively.

Ataturk’s drastic Westernization of Turkey threatened cultural values and triggered the 1928 formation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a non-violent, social organization. Do US presidents have no comments on Westernization’s positive and negative effects? Do presidents think it more relevant to discuss bombs?

Sayyid Qutb heavily influenced future terrorists by writing “The America I Have Seen,” a popular essay filled with his negative impressions of the US during his 1948 trip. Were his impressions accurate? Skewed? Cynical? If his work is so potent, why aren’t US leaders springing to cooperatively discuss his observations with Mid-Easterners?

Many terrorists have previously experienced alienation due to Westernization, urbanization, migration, lack of representation, class differences, lack of familial love, or ostracism abroad. Gender segregation and perceptions of females as pernicious, filthy temptresses further undermine positive human relations. Yet how can bombs possibly have the power to alleviate alienation?

Zacharias Moussaoui, the 20th terrorist, was infuriated by the homelessness and uncaring classist society within England and alienated by anti-immigrant sentiment in France. Terrorist bombers in England and fighters joining ISIS from Australia also were goaded by alienating prejudice abroad.

During Lebanon’s Civil War, many Muslims, such as Hicham Shihab, were outraged by perceived US partisan support for Lebanese Christians. Many are convinced of a US-Zionist crusade against Muslim nations. Don’t US invasions reinforce these feelings?

Hashmatullah, without a telecommunications technician job, joined the Taliban to get a paycheck. Abu Suhaib in Pakistan found war to provide purpose and relief from boredom. Wouldn’t non-violent employment and adventurous recreation programs help more than bombs?

Are the above descriptions a defense of terrorists’ killing? Never. Why could these men not have chosen non-violent remedies for their problems?

Yet why, instead of fighting back with fruitless violence, could the US not have helped Mid-Easterners non-violently address their concerns? If on the morning of 9/11, Atta had decided not to pilot a plane but instead chose to write a letter to the US government asking for help with the physical and economic suffering in Egypt, how would the US have responded?

Providing people with a caring audience to hear their grievances and offer them opportunities to non-violently remedy their problems would be a positive sign of US foreign policy evolution.

Kristin Y. Christman is author of The Taxonomy of Peace: A Comprehensive Classification of the Roots and Escalators of Violence and 650 Solutions for Peace, an independently created project begun the September of 9/11 and located online.   She is a homeschooling mother with degrees from Dartmouth College, Brown University, and the University at Albany in Russian and public administration.

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