Like This House Needs More Fire ...

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Paris and Beirut were brutally attacked by ISIL terrorists on Friday, and people are talking about how France and the world should respond. French President Francois Hollande has declared that "this is an act of war", which is a disturbing echo to anybody who remembers how eagerly US President George W. Bush embraced the word "war" after the attacks of 2001.

Pacifists know that an escalation to a national declaration of war is exactly what the world doesn't need right now. But we're having a hard time being heard, and louder voices are yelling that thoughtful and well-informed problem-solving is useless in crises like this. As one friend said to me yesterday: "pacifists are incapable of getting tough."

Well, I don't think pacifists are incapable of anything at all, and I agree that there comes a time to get tough. But we're going to have to start by getting tough on anybody who is ignorant enough to actually believe that we can reduce terrorism by attacking the Middle East AGAIN. It was the last invasion that created ISIL in the first place.

We pacifists don't like to call anyone "stupid". It's not a nice word. And it's not even technically accurate because, incredibly, many people who are calling for an international coalition to "crush ISIS" and "nuke them" and "bomb them back to the stone age" are actually well-educated. Some of them hold important positions of responsibility that require solid skills of judgement.

And yet it takes a special degree of blockheaded ignorance and willful blindness to look at the history of terrorism from the Middle East and believe that the situation can be improved by adding more war. If you are one of the people who believes this, it's a good bet that you also believe that ...

  • Eating lots of junk food and getting no exercise will make you thinner and more healthy.
  • Smoking lots of cigarettes will help you prevent lung cancer.
  • Letting the air out of your car's tires will give you a smoother ride.
  • Smashing your finger with a hammer is a good way to cut your fingernails.

And so on, and so on. We pacifists don't like to be mean. But we do need to make sure our voices are heard in times when other voices get loud, and one thing needs to be heard very clearly right now: ISIL is the product of war. ISIL was born in war, is fed by war, thrives in war-torn conditions.

If we want to combat and defeat ISIL, and if we want to end the horrible problem of global terrorism, the last thing we should do is invade Iraq again. ISIL was created because we invaded Iraq in 2003. If we invade Iraq again, we will be helping ISIL. We would kill lots of innocent people, but we would barely manage to harm ISIL. The only thing we would gain is the shallow satisfaction of pretend victory, which is something we've had plenty of already.

Get smart, people! Do you remember President Bush in his Air Force aviator costume strutting onto an aircraft carrier to announce "Mission Accomplished" after the last invasion of Iraq? That "Mission Accomplished" was the mission that created ISIL. And now the same gullible people are suggesting another round.

So, what can we actually do to defeat ISIL? Here's the smart answer, the practical pacifist answer: we must contain our enemy, infiltrate our enemy, outfox our enemy, diminish our enemy.

This is a frustrating answer because it doesn't provide the emotional catharsis of "nuke them!". However, unlike "nuke them", this answer actually works. We need to continue to combat war with peace. If we attempt to combat ISIL by military action, we will be feeding ISIL. We will be giving them sustenance, credibility, fundraising opportunities, growth. If we take their bait — and that's exactly what their Paris attack is — we will make them stronger.

Taking the terrorist's bait is we got ISIL in the first place.

Can anybody really be so ignorant as to believe that we can defeat ISIL with more bombs, more weapons, more guns, more boots on the ground? It takes a special kind of willful stupidity to believe this. And yeah, pacifists are capable of getting tough. We need to get tough, because we will not let this willful stupidity get the better of us again.

Please support Pacifism for the 21st Century, the important new project brought to you by the folks who brought you Literary Kicks, if you'd like to respond to the terrible news from Paris in a way that will actually help to solve the problem of global terrorism and work towards a better world. Thank you.

3 Responses to "Like This House Needs More Fire ..."

by Jim H on

"An act of war" is not an entirely wrongful characterization. The bad guys want to provoke us into a war against them which they can leverage into a larger war against all Islam from which they hope to emerge all-powerful because they are the most radical and most militant. But, simply because it may be a true characterization does not mean an all-out war is the appropriate response.

One interesting feature of recent US strategy in the Mid-East is the slap down of Bibi's war-making bloviation and the denuclearization of Iran. This step towards normalization of relations opens the door to, horrors, an alliance with the Persians against DAESH in a policing action—something, Vietnam notwithstanding, that is better than all-out full-blown warfare. No one seems to see that that's what is working. Encourage Muslims who are facing an existential threat to contain and control other Muslims who clearly have them in their sights. That's not saying pacifists should remain pacifistic by pitting others against each other. Rather, it's refusing to escalate what is an intramural affair into a global conflict by over-reacting.

Terrorism is a difficult case for pacifists. The use of citizens as hostages and victims is intended to be inciteful—and it is clearly working. You only have to listen to the braying of the international right wings from Bush & Cruz to Le Pen to the Gov. of Alabama. How then do measured pacifists respond? Gandhi relied on British state occupiers ultimately having a sense of shame (plus overwhelming numbers and economic costs). MLK relied on the shock of decent whites at the scenes of dogs and hoses attacking church ladies on their six o'clock news. DAESH has no shame & will conduct its war to create its own theocratic empire against soccer fans and pop music fans out on peaceful Saturday nights.

What's the right response? The bad guys have global ambition—certainly major regional ambition.

Thanks for a thought-provoking essay, and continued best wishes for your project here.

by mnaz on

I agree with your thinking here. I think most people still don't realize, even with hindsight, how much of a "hostile takeover" the Bush/Cheney gang really was in terms of foreign policy. I tried to point this out on the old boards here and other other sites from '03-07. Cheney and crew set up a "Special Planning" office in the Pentagon for the main purpose of building a fraudulent case for starting a war. Even respected military figures such as Scowcroft, who tried to warn us that war would do more damage than good, and that as many (or more) terrorists would be created as killed, were shut out and even ridiculed. Scowcroft had a hell of a time even getting his article published--anywhere.

And though Bush & Co. tried to tie the invasion to 9/11, there was a central driving philosophy behind the war-- "neoconservatism." A lot of Bush's cabinet members and policy strategists were straight out of hard right-wing Likud Party think-tanks. The Israel/Palestine conflict is a lot more central and damaging to the entire Middle Eastern situation than people realize, and it pisses me off that anyone in high office who dares utter a word of criticism of the Israeli government's actions is generally attacked pretty severely.

by Levi Asher on

Thank you, Jim H. and Mnaz. I appreciate the feedback and commentary.

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