[thechat] An Attack of Sanity?

Marlene Bruce marlene at digitizethis.com
Wed Oct 10 12:46:06 CDT 2001

Please read this (that includes you, dear Scott).



This document was drafted by an experienced Mennonite mediator. He 
speaks a lot of truth about what sustains the conditions for conflict 
and terror. This is an excellent piece of logical writing. For our 
society this is "thinking outside the box" -- for a time such as 
this! I ask you to read and share it with other people you know.


[September 11th] has indeed changed our world, but the response that is pending
seems to be the same old way.  Read the following and consider passing it on
to others.  How can this message get out to our political leaders before it
is too late to respond in a more productive way?

This is a first draft.

John M. Lederach

The Challenge of Terror:
A Traveling Essay

John Paul Lederach

So here I am, a week late arriving home, stuck between Colombia, 
Guatemala and Harrisonburg when our world changed. The images flash 
even in my sleep. The heart of America ripped. Though natural, the 
cry for revenge and the call for the unleashing of the first war of 
this century, prolonged or not, seems more connected to social and 
psychological processes of finding a way to release deep emotional 
anguish, a sense of powerlessness, and our collective loss than it 
does as a plan of action seeking to redress the injustice, promote 
change and prevent it from ever happening again.

I am stuck from airport to airport as I write this, the reality of a 
global system that has suspended even the most basic trust. My 
Duracell batteries and fingernail clippers were taken from me today 
and it gave me pause for thought. I had a lot of pauses in the last 
few days. Life has not been the same. I share these thoughts as an 
initial reaction recognizing that it is always easy to take pot-shots 
at our leaders from the sidelines, and to have the insights they are 
missing when we are not in the middle of very difficult decisions. On 
the other hand, having worked for nearly 20 years as a mediator and 
proponent of nonviolent change in situations around the globe where 
cycles of deep violence seem hell-bent on perpetuating themselves, 
and having interacted with people and movements who at the core of 
their identity find ways of justifying their part in the cycle, I 
feel responsible to try to bring ideas to the search for solutions. 
With this in mind I should like to pen several observations about 
what I have learned from my experiences and what they might suggest 
about the current situation. I believe this starts by naming several 
key challenges and then asking what is the nature of a creative 
response that takes these seriously in the pursuit of genuine, 
durable, and peaceful change.

Some Lessons about the Nature of our Challenge

Always seek to understand the root of the anger. The first and most 
important question to pose ourselves is relatively simple though not 
easy to answer:

How do people reach this level of anger, hatred and frustration? By 
my experience explanations that they are brainwashed by a perverted 
leader who holds some kind of magical power over them is an escapist 
simplification and will inevitably lead us to very wrong-headed 
responses. Anger of this sort, what we could call generational, 
identity-based anger, is constructed over time through a combination 
of historical events, a deep sense of threat to identify, and direct 
experiences of sustained exclusion. This is very important to 
understand, because, as I will say again and again, our response to 
the immediate events have everything to do with whether we reinforce 
and provide the soil, seeds, and nutrients for future cycles of 
revenge and violence. Or whether it changes. We should be careful to 
pursue one and only one thing as the strategic guidepost of our 
response: Avoid doing what they expect. What they expect from us is 
the lashing out of the giant against the weak, the many against the 
few. This will reinforce their capacity to perpetrate the myth they 
carefully seek to sustain: That they are under threat, fighting an 
irrational and mad system that has never taken them seriously and 
wishes to destroy them and their people. What we need to destroy is 
their myth not their people.

Always seek to understand the nature of the organization. Over the 
years of working to promote durable peace in situations of deep, 
sustained violence I have discovered one consistent purpose about the 
nature of movements and organizations who use violence: Sustain 
thyself. This is done through a number of approaches, but generally 
it is through decentralization of power and structure, secrecy, 
autonomy of action through units, and refusal to pursue the conflict 
on the terms of the strength and capacities of the enemy. One of the 
most intriguing metaphors I have heard used in the last few days is 
that this enemy of the United States will be found in their holes, 
smoked out, and when they run and are visible, destroyed. This may 
well work for groundhogs, trench and maybe even guerilla warfare, but 
it is not a useful metaphor for this situation. And neither is the 
image that we will need to destroy the village to save it, by which 
the population that gives refuge to our enemies is guilty by 
association and therefore a legitimate target. In both instances the 
metaphor that guides our action misleads us because it is not 
connected to the reality. In more specific terms, this is not a 
struggle to be conceived of in geographic terms, in terms of physical 
spaces and places, that if located can be destroyed, thereby ridding 
us of the problem. Quite frankly our biggest and most visible weapon 
systems are mostly useless.

We need a new metaphor, and though I generally do not like medical 
metaphors to describe conflict, the image of a virus comes to mind 
because of its ability to enter unperceived, flow with a system, and 
harm it from within. This is the genius of people like Osama Ben 
Laden. He understood the power of a free and open system, and has 
used it to his benefit. The enemy is not located in a territory. It 
has entered our system. And you do not fight this kind of enemy by 
shooting at it. You respond by strengthening the capacity of the 
system to prevent the virus and strengthen its immunity. It is an 
ironic fact that our greatest threat is not in Afghanistan, but in 
our own backyard. We surely are not going to bomb Travelocity, Hertz 
Rental Car, or an Airline training school in Florida. We must change 
metaphors and move beyond the reaction that we can duke it out with 
the bad guy, or we run the very serious risk of creating the 
environment that sustains and reproduces the virus we wish to prevent.

Always remember that realities are constructed. Conflict is, among 
other things, the process of building and sustaining very different 
perceptions and interpretations of reality. This means that we have 
at the same time multiple realities defined as such by those in 
conflict. In the aftermath of such horrific and unmerited violence 
that we have just experienced this may sound esoteric. But we must 
remember that this fundamental process is how we end up referring to 
people as fanatics, madmen, and irrational. In the process of 
name-calling we lose the critical capacity to understand that from 
within the ways they construct their views, it is not mad lunacy or 
fanaticism. All things fall together and make sense. When this is 
connected to a long string of actual experiences wherein their views 
of the facts are reinforced (for example, years of superpower 
struggle that used or excluded them, encroaching Western values of 
what is considered immoral by their religious interpretation, or the 
construction of an enemy-image who is overwhelmingly powerful and 
uses that power in bombing campaigns and always appears to win) then 
it is not a difficult process to construct a rational world view of 
heroic struggle against evil. Just as we do it, so do they. Listen to 
the words we use to justify our actions and responses. And then 
listen to words they use. The way to break such a process is not 
through a frame of reference of who will win or who is stronger. In 
fact the inverse is true. Whoever loses, whether tactical battles or 
the war itself, finds intrinsic in the loss the seeds that give birth 
to the justification for renewed battle. The way to break such a 
cycle of justified violence is to step outside of it. This starts 
with understanding that TV sound bites about madmen and evil are not 
good sources of policy. The most significant impact that we could 
make on their ability to sustain their view of us as evil is to 
change their perception of who we are by choosing to strategically 
respond in unexpected ways. This will take enormous courage and 
courageous leadership capable of envisioning a horizon of change.

Always understand the capacity for recruitment.  The greatest power 
that terror has is the ability to regenerate itself. What we most 
need to understand about the nature of this conflict and the change 
process toward a more peaceful world is how recruitment into these 
activities happens. In all my experiences in deep-rooted conflict 
what stands out most are the ways in which political leaders wishing 
to end the violence believed they could achieve it by overpowering 
and getting rid of the perpetrator of the violence. That may have 
been the lesson of multiple centuries that preceded us. But it is not 
the lesson from that past 30 years. The lesson is simple. When people 
feel a deep sense of threat, exclusion and generational experiences 
of direct violence, their greatest effort is placed on survival. Time 
and again in these movements, there has been an extraordinary 
capacity for the regeneration of chosen myths and renewed struggle. 
One aspect of current U.S. leadership that coherently matches with 
the lessons of the past 30 years of protracted conflict settings is 
the statement that this will be a long struggle. What is missed is 
that the emphasis should be placed on removing the channels, 
justifications, and sources that attract and sustain recruitment into 
the activities. What I find extraordinary about the recent events is 
that none of the perpetrators was much older than 40 and many were 
half that age.

This is the reality we face: Recruitment happens on a sustained 
basis. It will not stop with the use of military force, in fact, open 
warfare will create the soils in which it is fed and grows. Military 
action to destroy terror, particularly as it affects significant and 
already vulnerable civilian populations will be like hitting a fully 
mature dandelion with a golf club. We will participate in making sure 
the myth of why we are evil is sustained and we will assure yet 
another generation of recruits.

Recognize complexity, but always understand the power of simplicity. 
Finally, we must understand the principle of simplicity. I talk a lot 
with my students about the need to look carefully at complexity, 
which is equally true (and which in the earlier points I start to 
explore). However, the key in our current situation that we have 
failed to fully comprehend is simplicity. From the standpoint of the 
perpetrators, the effectiveness of their actions was in finding 
simple ways to use the system to undo it. I believe our greatest task 
is to find equally creative and simple tools on the other side.


In keeping with the last point, let me try to be simple. I believe 
three things are possible to do and will have a much greater impact 
on these challenges than seeking accountability through revenge.

Energetically pursue a sustainable peace process to the 
Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Do it now. The United States has much 
it can do to support and make this process work. It can bring the 
weight of persuasion, the weight of nudging people on all sides to 
move toward mutual recognition and stopping the recent and 
devastating pattern of violent escalation, and the weight of 
including and balancing the process to address historic fears and 
basic needs of those involved. If we would bring the same energy to 
building an international coalition for peace in this conflict that 
we have pursued in building international coalitions for war, 
particularly in the Middle East, if we lent significant financial, 
moral, and balanced support to all sides that we gave to the Irish 
conflict in earlier years, I believe the moment is right and the 
stage is set to take a new and qualitative step forward. Sound like 
an odd diversion to our current situation of terror? I believe the 
opposite is true. This type of action is precisely the kind of thing 
needed to create whole new views of who we are and what we stand for 
as a nation. Rather than fighting terror with force, we enter their 
system and take away one of their most coveted elements: The soils of 
generational conflict perceived as injustice used to perpetrate 
hatred and recruitment. I believe that monumental times like these 
create conditions for monumental change. This approach would solidify 
our relationships with a broad array of Middle Easterners and Central 
Asians, allies and enemies alike, and would be a blow to the rank and 
file of terror. The biggest blow we can serve terror is to make it 
irrelevant. The worst thing we could do is to feed it unintentionally 
by making it and its leaders the center stage of what we do. Lets 
choose democracy and reconciliation over revenge and destruction. 
Lets to do exactly what they do not expect, and show them it can work.

Invest financially in development, education, and a broad social 
agenda in the countries surrounding Afghanistan rather than 
attempting to destroy the Taliban in a search for Ben Laden. The 
single greatest pressure that could ever be put on Ben Laden is to 
remove the source of his justifications and alliances. Countries like 
Pakistan, Tajikistan, and yes, Iran and Syria should be put on the 
radar of the West and the United States with a question of strategic 
importance: How can we help you meet the fundamental needs of your 
people? The strategic approach to changing the nature of how terror 
of the kind we have witnessed this week reproduces itself lies in the 
quality of relationships we develop with whole regions, peoples, and 
worldviews. If we strengthen the web of those relationships, we 
weaken and eventually eliminate the soil where terror is born. A 
vigorous investment, taking advantage of the current opening given 
the horror of this week shared by even those who we traditionally 
claimed as state enemies, is immediately available, possible and 
pregnant with historic possibilities. Lets do the unexpected. Lets 
create a new set of strategic alliances never before thought possible.

Pursue a quiet diplomatic but dynamic and vital support of the Arab 
League to begin an internal exploration of how to address the root 
causes of discontent in numerous regions. This should be coupled with 
energetic ecumenical engagement, not just of key symbolic leaders, 
but of a practical and direct exploration of how to create a web of 
ethics for a new millennium that builds from the heart and soul of 
all traditions but that creates a capacity for each to engage the 
roots of violence that are found within their own traditions. Our 
challenge, as I see it, is not that of convincing others that our way 
of life, our religion, or our structure of governance is better or 
closer to Truth and human dignity. It is to be honest about the 
sources of violence in our own house and invite others to do the 
same. Our global challenge is how to generate and sustain genuine 
engagement that encourages people from within their traditions to 
seek that which assures the preciousness and respect for life that 
every religion sees as an inherent right and gift from the Divine, 
and how to build organized political and social life that is 
responsive to fundamental human needs. Such a web cannot be created 
except through genuine and sustained dialogue and the building of 
authentic relationships, at religious and political spheres of 
interaction, and at all levels of society. Why not do the unexpected 
and show that life-giving ethics are rooted in the core of all 
peoples by engaging a strategy of genuine dialogue and relationship? 
Such a web of ethics, political and religious, will have an impact on 
the roots of terror far greater in the generation of our children's 
children than any amount of military action can possibly muster. The 
current situation poses an unprecedented opportunity for this to 
happen, more so than we have seen at any time before in our global 

A Call for the Unexpected

Let me conclude with simple ideas. To face the reality of well 
organized, decentralized, self-perpetuating sources of terror, we 
need to think differently about the challenges. If indeed this is a 
new war it will not be won with a traditional military plan. The key 
does not lie in finding and destroying territories, camps, and 
certainly not the civilian populations that supposedly house them. 
Paradoxically that will only feed the phenomenon and assure that it 
lives into a new generation. The key is to think about how a small 
virus in a system affects the whole and how to improve the immunity 
of the system. We should take extreme care not to provide the 
movements we deplore with gratuitous fuel for self-regeneration. Let 
us not fulfill their prophecy by providing them with martyrs and 
justifications. The power of their action is the simplicity with 
which they pursue the fight with global power. They have understood 
the power of the powerless. They have understood that melding and 
meshing with the enemy creates a base from within. They have not 
faced down the enemy with a bigger stick. They did the more powerful 
thing: They changed the game. They entered our lives, our homes and 
turned our own tools into our demise.

We will not win this struggle for justice, peace and human dignity 
with the traditional weapons of war. We need to change the game again.

Let us take up the practical challenges of this reality perhaps best 
described in the Cure at Troy an epic poem by Seamus Heaney no 
foreigner to the grip of the cycles of terror. Let us give birth to 
the unexpected.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

John Paul Lederach
September 16, 2001
jpbus at aol.com

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