Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Can a Policy of Nonviolence Result in Voiolence?

It's hard to cross a public square in Chicago (and many similar places across the country) or surf the web without encountering anti-Bush / anti-Iraq protesters. One of their common slogans is "violence begets violence", and they implore us to seek nonviolent means of adjudicating international crises. But is violence more likely to be brought about through non-violent means than through direct intervention, i.e. war?

In the online magazine TechCentralStation Dr. Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist from Knoxville, Tennessee reviews the new book An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (David Frum & Richard Perle) , and turns a critical eye to much of the criticism some reviewers have heaped on the work. Her premise, that non-confrontational approaches can in fact bring about the results these protesters seek to prevent, is a compelling and all too often overlooked aspect of the peace advocacy movement.

Over-Humanizing the Enemy

Dr. Smith notes that primary criticism of David Frum and Richard Perle's book stems from their dehuminzation of the enemy, their simplistic reduction of Islam to a factor of malevolent "Evil", and their failure to examine the root causes of Islam's hatred of The West. Her metaphor, that of the violent criminal patients she works with, is not a perfect one, but it merits further examination. After all, aren't the violent tendencies one (a terrorist) not dissimilar to another (a violent criminal)?

(S)ome Americans seem to believe that if we can "feel our enemies' pain," then we will be on the path to enlightenment and peace. This belief could not be further from the truth ... for some anxiety-ridden patients who need faith in themselves, the technique of empathy and support works. However, for those patients with serious violent tendencies, just the opposite is true. With those patients, I've found that setting clear boundaries and making judgments about their immoral behavior works like a charm.

Dr. Smith also makes compelling points about how politicians and academics have impotently approached the problem of politicized violence since modern terrorism's inception in the 1970's. Giving terrorists what they want has resulted in further violent acts against those who acquiesce, and last week's suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem bears this out. After all, Israel had already agreed to release hundreds of jailed Palestinian terrorists in exchange for one kidnapped businessman and the bones of a few IDF soldiers.

Surprisingly, Israel released the jailed Palestinians anyway.

Dr. Smith's piece is good food for thought as we approach the November elections. Do we want to continue on this inarguably difficult course with George Bush, or are we more comfortable going back to Clintonian diplomacy with a democrat as President? Read this article before you make that decision.

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