George Lakey, Quaker Speak - As an experiment, because I was teaching at Swarthmore College, I decided to offer a course called “Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism,” and see if anybody would come. We had to lottery the course, there were so many students who were excited about this different approach.
Each student had to choose a country that is currently threatened by terrorism; get to know that country—its strengths, its weaknesses; and develop a defense strategy against the threat, a strategy that would be nonviolent in character. That was their term paper for the semester.
There were eight different tools that I discovered in my research that have been used, actually, by various nation-states as defense modes. For example, one of those tools is economic development. Do economic development in the area where the prime recruiting ground is for terrorists, because terrorist are very often motivated by economic injustice, and economic oppression. If you turn that situation around and provide plentiful jobs, a lot of the people that would otherwise decide on a career of terrorism will get a job and, you know, be straightforward citizens.
What terror does—even the threat of terror to some degree—but what the actual act of terror does is traumatize the people most affected and the people that know them. The trauma, then, takes political form and increases that nation’s likelihood of doing stuff to the attacker that increases the amount of the attack. That’s what happened on 9/11. The U.S., by its response to Afghanistan, and then Iraq, increased the total number of terrorists available in the world, increased Osama Bin Laden’s prominence. It was just amazing… the U.S. decided to be the primary recruiter of terrorists against itself. But it did that ... because the trauma itself forced the U.S. into doing this mad thing that anybody pragmatic would not want to do. So, another tool of these eight is to go right into a healing mode for the people who were traumatized. In this case, in the U.S., it was really the whole population that was traumatized by the 9/11 experience.
It’s hard to summarize those tools, because it took a whole semester to really lay them out, so that students would have enough ability to operate with them. They did. They did fantastic papers. In the meantime, the Pentagon heard about this, and asked me to come down. And so, I went down and met with a policy unit of the Pentagon that had to do with responding to terrorism. These were professionals in the field. I’m not a professional in the field of terrorism, but there they were.
So, I laid it all out and I said, in the beginning, the one reason that I want to lay out these eight for you, is not only because the students—who are definitely not experts, they’re undergraduates—were able to make so much sense for the defense planning for the various countries that they chose, including Israel, including the U.S., including Indonesia and other countries that were threatened. Not only were the students able to write papers that made so much sense but also, you, as experts, I’m hoping for you to show more about how synergies will happen by the combination of the eight. Because, yes, there are countries that have tried number two and number five but what if you take all eight, and forget about the military response, just say, instead of a military response, we’ll have a nonviolent response. Use those eight synergistically with each other, so that the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. I want you, as experts to give me that kind of feedback.
Instead, what I got from their point of view was the U.S. government doesn’t operate that way, the U.S. government doesn’t operate in terms of systemic alternative approaches. There’s no way that our politics can handle that. It’s way too polarized. The way that ideas get before the president, and certainly an alternative of this scope would have to go before the president, the way that proposals get to the president trims them out, makes them subject to the lowest common denominator among the various agencies that are involved, and there’s no way that that kind of package, as promising as it is… In fact, what the experts said, “We have no problem with anything that you have said, but that kind of systemic shift is beyond the capacity of the United States government.”
So, I was grateful to the course, which I have taught a couple of times since, not only as an indication of how undergraduates can do brilliant work if they’re given a toolbox that’s appropriate, as opposed to the toolbox that’s inappropriate, called the Pentagon. And, also, that I learned second lesson, that the U.S. government is configured in such a way that it can not make a creative nonviolent response that would be far more effective than the response that we have been making.