One the worst terrorist attacks in modern times occurred in Paris yesterday. As usual, the focus is on eliminating those responsible. Little time is spent considering what the reasons behind such acts might be. And the reasons that are advanced are superficial and don’t get at the root causes.
There is absolutely no justification for such acts, which are against the most fundamental beliefs a Quaker has, including the sanctity of all life and the presence of that of God in every single person.
But if we don’t understand what is causing this transnational surge in terrorism, it will only continue to spread. I don’t believe terror organizations can grow significantly simply by subjecting people to their violence. That might work for small groups of people for a short period of time. But the size and durability of the terror groups today indicate they are filling some significant needs. When people become desperate for the essentials for life, they will turn to whoever will help them. The recent history of Syria is a clear example. Several years of severe draught combined with the repressive response by the Syrian government to the food crisis led to both the mass migrations of people out of Syria, and swelling of the ranks of terror groups.
There are two possible responses. One is to expand the military response, including more spying (including more domestic spying and attacks on civil liberties) and drone and other military attacks. That just feeds the terrorists’ narrative of the United States being the aggressor/repressor because it is the truth. Our use of drones on civilian populations is reprehensible. Reports indicate over 90% of those killed by drones are not the target. The civilian population is terrified by the buzz of drones circling overhead, knowing at any moment a missile might be launched. Yes, our drones by definition make US terrorists. Just imagine yourself in that situation, with drones buzzing above your head, and launching attacks in downtown Indianapolis that take out a few of your friends as collateral damage. We will not make any progress in addressing terrorism as long as we employ the terror tactics of drones.
The other possible response is to address the root causes. Addressing the needs for food, water and shelter are how to both do the right thing, and keep people out of terror groups.
Quakers emphasize looking at our own lives, to see what we are doing that might be contributing to injustice. We need to do the same thing on a national level if we ever hope to begin to address terrorism. Much of that comes down to materialism. The current situation in the Middle East is the direct result of the United States, for the first time in its history, attacking, unprovoked, another country, Iraq, for its oil (materialism). And the result of our use of torture during those wars. Fortunately, the first thing President Obama did on taking office was to state the truth about the United States’ use of torture, and acted to stop that.
Now the drone strikes have to stop. And we have to do a better job of addressing these humanitarian crises. At the moment two ways to do that are (1) to ask your Senators to co-sponsor and support Senator Chris Murphey’s bill for emergency appropriations to provide humanitarian relief to Syrian refugees, Senate Bill 2145, the Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, and (2) support Sen. Cardin’s forthcoming Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act that permanently authorizes the Atrocities Prevention Board. This legislation would, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) coordinate prevention and response across the U.S. government. The Atrocities Prevention Board is a high-level working group to ensure coordination between the Pentagon, State, Treasury, Homeland Security, Justice, USAID, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, CIA, Director of National Intelligence, FBI, and National Security Council. And help prevent violence: the Atrocities Prevention Board has mobilized staff and funding for violence prevention and mitigation in the Central African Republic and Burundi. It continues to do long-term prevention work in other countries.