A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for “Back Home from ISIS”, a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK
Podcasts on ISIS Returnees
“Back Home From ISIS” is a BBC documentary podcast. Along with the Caliphate series by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times, it is a great introduction to the problems that Western governments and societies face when ISIS members (former and current) leave the war-zone and return to their countries of citizenship. In the podcast, the BBC interviews an ISIS widow who returned to the UK after spending time in the Middle East and a Turkish prison.
The Caliphate podcast series focuses on an ISIS returnee to Canada. Abu Hussayfa, as he prefers to be called, discusses the time he spent in Syria and how he is trying to reintegrate into Canadian society. The podcast goes on to cover interviews with victims in the Middle East and an exploration of ISIS documents discovered while in the field.
As, or if, I find more podcasts related to the topic, I’ll come back and list them here.
Thoughts on ISIS Returnees
What do you do with ISIS when the Caliphate collapses? I had a conversation about this with members of a Facebook group called Muslims for Progressive Values. MPV is essentially an interfaith group with members who are Muslim, non-Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and/or secularist. The group discusses primarily Muslim and Islam-related issues. Someone posted a link to a story about a Glasgow student who had her UK passport stripped from her after the UK determined that she had traveled to Syria to be the wife of an ISIS member.
Stripping former (and probably current) members of ISIS of their citizenship for engaging in terrorism is a pretty solid move. It effectively prevents those people from entering a Western country that they’re ideologically at war with and carrying out attacks. It’s also a great punishment. If you don’t like “the West”, then why should you have the privilege of being a citizen of a Western country? And why would we give you access to a place you want to destroy?
I found out later that the UK is only doing this to people who hold dual citizenship, which is also fine, but that leaves the problem of what to do with people who only have UK citizenship (or single citizenship of any country). I believe that terrorists should be denied re-entry to their country of origin and should be returned to Iraq or Syria to be tried and sentenced for the crimes they committed there. Why should they get to avoid what could and should be a harsher sentence by being tried under the laws of a Western country?
Extraterritoriality and Justice
Another commenter in the MPV group disagreed and said ISIS members shouldn’t be left in Syria or Iraq because of the lower quality of the justice systems there, which seems absurd to me. In a way, it reminds me of when the Taliban refused to turn Osama bin Laden over to the US for trial and insisted that he be given a trial in a neutral third-party country instead. The same MPV commenter also expressed concern about Western countries “dumping” ISIS members on Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think Iraqis and Syrians see it that way. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but I believe they’d be happier having the ISIS fighters remain there so they can seek justice.
The idea that someone shouldn’t be subject to the laws and judicial system of a country where they’ve committed crimes is a colonialist mindset. It’s a status called “extraterritoriality”. It was weaponized and used against the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s to undermine the government’s sovereignty. Plus, it’s just common sense that you would face charges in the country where you committed a crime. It’s also an accepted international practice. If you commit a crime in a country and manage to flee, the government of the country where the crime took place requests that you be extradited for trial.
The quality of the judicial system where the crimes took place or how the penalties stack up compared to what’s common in Western countries shouldn’t matter. These terrorist jackasses traveled to the Middle East and tried to build a terrorist state on the burning remains of Iraq and Syria. They committed murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, theft, destruction of cultural heritage, and who knows how many other crimes against both individuals, groups, and the countries themselves. Why would they not be made to face justice in those countries for crimes committed both in and against those countries?
Let them hang
Why would we not want to allow victims to get justice? These days, the only people with a form of extraterritoriality are diplomats, who have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and prosecution unless that immunity is waived by the diplomat’s home country. Michael Fay got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994. He didn’t get a pass. Why should terrorists? If they get hanged, they get hanged. If they’re beaten to death by a mob that drags them out of the jail, well, that’s not a great way to die, but for an ISIS member? I don’t really have any pity.
A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11.
I really don’t understand what the point of this was. If the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 had no lasting impact on New York City, then why run people over with a vehicle? Sure, I’m aware of the whole “we can strike at any moment, you can’t live your lives normally, woooaahahahah” plan, but does it really even work? Is anyone actually going to just shut their apartment door and never go outside again because of this attack? Is New York City going to come to a screeching halt? Of course not.
So really, what was the point of running over some bicyclists? About two dozen families have been directly affected. The rest of the city will pause for a few days and then continue moving. I don’t say that to downplay the scope of the tragedy for those families. Their lives will never be the same and my heart goes out to them. But, what was done wasn’t significant enough to change anything about how the average New Yorker goes about their day.
Furthermore, what was really the point of stepping out of a truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun? Was this guy a moron or was he hoping to get martyred? Maybe that’s what this was really about. This guy was probably leading a mediocre life or felt like he was being treated unfairly in some way, and to compensate for that and increase his own sense of self-worth he committed himself to engaging in an act that he hoped would lead to his martyrdom. At least then his value would be recognized by someone. Maybe he wanted to die and that’s why he jumped out of the truck with what he hoped the NYPD would mistake for real firearms.
What kind of picture would that paint though? The heroic martyr, going into battle with the NYPD with a pellet gun and some paintballs. What a joke.
Sayfullo Saipov, the moron who was driving the truck, isn’t special because he attributed his nonsense to some dying political ideology in the Middle East. He isn’t a martyr. He’s a clown. And now, if he doesn’t die from the gunshot wound he received and deserved, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in jail where, if there’s any justice in the world, his fellow inmates will work him over regularly for the rest of his life.
This is a paper I wrote for an undergraduate history course called Modern Middle East. I was taking a very involved course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict at the same time, so my papers for the Modern Middle East class focused on Palestine and Israel as well. The paper was given 15/15 points. I’d like to have written more, but it was only supposed to be 5 pages. If I’d had more time (or a requirement for more pages!) I’d probably have written more about how the Arabs and Jews both deliberately exaggerated to the events at Deir Yassin to their own advantage, and detriment.
Deir Yassin Massacre Victims via Palestine Solidarity Project
Impact of the Deir Yassin Massacre on the Palestinian Exodus in 1948
In 1917, Britain conquered Jerusalem and ruled the region through a military administration. In 1920, the San Remo Conference awarded Britain the mandate of Palestine, which was sanctioned by the League of Nations in 1922. By 1947, the British had grown weary of the sectarian violence between the Zionist Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine and as part of an overall downsizing of their colonial holdings after the economic stresses of World War II turned over the Palestine Mandate to the United Nations, which decided, in UN General Assembly Resolution 181, to solve the problem by separating the parties through land partition.
The 29 November 1947 UN partition plan would have granted 55% of the land (much of it desert) to the Jews and 40% to the Arabs, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem falling under international control. The Jews accepted the plan, reasoning that it would provide them a foundation from which to build a Jewish state. The Palestinians, on the other hand, rejected the partition and launched a three day general strike followed by a wave of anti-Jewish terrorism in the cities and on the roads.
As British Mandatory rule drew to a close in early 1948, the conflict between immigrant Jews and native Arab Palestinians erupted into an open civil war. On May 14th, 1948, the day before the Mandate ended, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, changed the nature of the conflict by declaring the establishment of a Jewish state. The fighting between Jews and Arabs stopped being a sectarian struggle and evolved into a national struggle, not just between the new Israelis and the Palestinians, but between the newly formed Israel and the surrounding Arab states, who joined in the fighting. The war in 1947 – 1948 later became known as the War of Liberation to Israelis and as al-Nakba (“Disaster,” or “Catastrophe” in English) to the Palestinians and Arabs in the Middle East. The Arabs were soundly defeated, leaving the Israeli state in control of more land than originally granted to it by UN Resolution 181, which the Arabs rejected under the assumption that the combined powers of the Arab armies could defeat the Jews.
The conflict was a total defeat for the Palestinians. They not only lost control of a majority portion of the Palestinian Mandate territory, but they also failed to establish political independence. Only the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with larger boundaries than today) remained outside of Israeli control, but they were claimed by other countries who had participated in the war against Israel: Egypt and Jordan. After the 1948 war, Jordan retained control over the resource-rich West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.
Perhaps the worst blow to the Palestinians, however, was being driven from the land and being prevented from returning. During the fighting, Palestinians fled their homes in droves in advance of or during combat between the Jews and Arabs, or to evade Arab militias who abused villagers. A total of approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced by the 1948 war in Palestine, and the issue showed up time and again in peace talks in the form of demands for the right-of-return of refugees. Today, the number of refugees has ballooned to approximately five million as new generations of Palestinians are born in refugee camps and inherit the refugee status of their parents.
Many factors contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, including expulsion orders, such as those signed by Yitzhak Rabin (later a Prime Minister of Israel) that ejected the Arab population from Lydda; voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes to other countries to avoid loss of capital during the fighting; the flight of Palestinian leadership; and as a result of Israeli actions during the implementation of “Plan Dalet” (also known as Plan D). Plan Dalet would later become known as a very controversial strategic operation which aimed at:
gaining control over the territory assigned to the Jewish state and defending its borders, as well as the blocs of Jewish settlement and such Jewish population as were outside those borders, against regular, para-regular, and guerrilla forces operating from bases outside or inside the nascent Jewish State.
To its critics, especially those in Arab states, the plan called for nothing short of the ethnic cleansing of the land allotted to Israel in the 1947 United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 181, which partitioned the land of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.
Plan Dalet wasn’t necessarily a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestinians en masse. It was governed by military considerations and, given the nature of the war and the admixture of populations in Palestine, securing the interior of the Jewish state from ‘external’ threats required the depopulation and destruction of villages that housed hostile militias and irregulars. It was also common for roving irregular forces from other Arab states to impose on villages by demanding housing, since they were there fighting for their interests, supposedly. The people of Deir Yassin had decided to remain neutral in the conflict, refusing entry to outsiders, and worked out a system of signals with the nearby Jewish settlement of Givat Shaul to alert them that roving militias and irregulars were in the area. Deir Yassin hoped that by cooperating, their town would be spared the hardships of war. They would, however, be disappointed.
A widely implemented tactic by the Arabs was to cut off supply lines between the Jewish coast and Jewish population centers inside the country, like Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc. Opening up these supply lines became a priority. At David Ben-Gurion’s insistence, a force of 1500 Jewish troops was mobilized to take part in Operation Nachshon. No longer would the Jews passively protect their convoys with guards; they would instead conquer and hold the routes themselves, as well as the heights surrounding them. It was during Operation Nachshon that the Deir Yassin massacre occurred. The operational order of 3 or 4 April states that “all the Arab villages along the [Khulda-Jerusalem] axis were to be treated as enemy assembly or jump-off bases” and according to Plan Dalet, villages so defined, if offering resistance, should be depopulated (through forced migration) and destroyed.
It’s not clear why, but the Haganah command allowed two Jewish militant extremist groups to participate in Operation Nachshon, perhaps because of the importance of securing the routes and the need for able bodied fighters. Irgun Zevai Leumi (Irgun) and Lohamei Herut Israel (Lehi, aka the “Stern Gang”) were widely regarded as terrorists by British mandatory authorities and the Israeli defense establishment itself. For example, in 1946 the Irgun, acting under the direction of Menachem Begin, who would in 1977 become the Prime Minister of Israel under the Likud Party, ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel, which housed the British Mandate headquarters. The final casualty list included ninety-one British, Arab, and Jewish dead.
The result of the Irgun and Lehi’s participation in Nachshon was a massacre of civilians. Despite Deir Yassin’s non-belligerency agreement with neighboring Givat Shaul, Irgun and Lehi forces entered the town to occupy it and met with unexpectedly strong resistance from residents who probably felt betrayed by their Jewish neighbors. During the fighting, Irgun and Lehi forces blew up several houses and gunned down families in the streets. They also rounded up groups of unarmed residents of both sexes and murdered them en masse. Some residents were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem before being taken back to Deir Yassin to be murdered. A Haganah Intelligence Service report states that “whole families – women, old people, children – were killed.” The following day the author of the report added: “[Lehi] members tell of the barbaric behavior of the [Irgun] toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the [Irgun] men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward (we don’t know if this is true).”
Regardless of whether or not it was true, reports like the one above and the stories told by the survivors rapidly spread throughout the region, becoming headline news. Altogether, about 100 – 120 villagers died that day, but the event became amplified through gossip and the media to such a degree that it became extremely influential in affecting the flight of the Palestinian population. When trying to justify their actions after the fact, the Irgun cited the fear and panic the act caused and its beneficial impact on the Israeli war effort.
The massacre and the way it was emphasized and possibly exaggerated in the media strengthened the resolve of Arab leaders to aid the embattled Palestinians and defeat the Jews. It also caused problems for the Jewish forces when criticized by the Western media, but the most important aspect of the massacre was the role it played in increasing flight from the Palestinian villages. In Beit Iksa, fear caused the start of an immediate evacuation. The same occurred in al-Maliha and the residents of Fajja, near Petah Tikvah, Mansura, and near Ramle quickly called their Jewish neighbors and promised to not fight. In Haifa and surrounding villages, Palestinians heard rumors of Jewish atrocities at Deir Yassin and took flight. In the village of Saris, Arabs offered the attacking Haganah no resistance whatsoever, for fear of sharing Deir Yassin’s fate.  The fear of another Jewish massacre of civilians had an impact on the behavior of Palestinian villagers across the territory.
The British noted that whether or not all of those atrocities actually took place, the Haganah and the Jews had certainly profited from it and Jewish political leaders determined that the Deir Yassin massacre was one of two pivotal events in the exodus of Palestine’s Arabs, the other being the fall of Arab Haifa. The psychological impact of the massacre may not have been the main cause of the Palestinian refugee crisis, but it certainly increased the number of people affected, making resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict that much more difficult for generations to come.
 David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 95.  Ibid., p. 134.  Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 13.  Ibid., p. 145.  Tom Segev, One Palestine: Complete, p. 496.  Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p. 7.  “Palestine refugees”, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.  Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 429.  Ibid., p. 67.  The Pittsburgh Press, “British Halt Jerusalem Battle,” 1948.  Quoted in David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.  David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.  Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 164.  Ibid., p. 123; p. 114.  Ibid., pp. 90 – 91.  Ibid., p. 66.  Ibid., p. 233.  Ibid.  The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Accept Ultimatum,” 22 September 1948; The Pittsburgh Press, “Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told,” 30 July 1947; St. Petersburg Times, “Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists,” 19 September 1948; St. Petersburg Times, “French Uncover Plot To Bomb London,” 8 September 1947.  David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 129 & 259; The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Message Admits Guilt in Death Blast,” 24 July 1946.  Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p 237.  Ibid.  Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 238.  Ibid., p. 238.  Ibid., p. 239.  The Indian Express, “Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State: Azzam Pasha Outlines New Policy,” 21 May 1948.  Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 240.  Ibid.
“Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State.” The Indian Express 21 May 1948: 5. Web Archive. 18 May 2012. .
“British Halt Jerusalem Battle: Fresh Troops Pour into City To Keep Peace.” The Pittsburgh Press 3 May 1948: 1. Web Archive. 8 May 2012. .
“Irgun Accept Ultimatum.” The Glasgow Herald 22 Sep 1948: 5. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Irgun Message Admits Guilt In Death Blast: Communique Purported From Underground Claims Warning Went Unheeded.” The Montreal Gazette 24 Jul 1946: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists.” St. Petersburg Times 19 Sep 1948: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. New York: Beacon Press, 2007. Kindle edition.
Lesch, David W. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
McGhee, George Crews. On The Frontline in the Cold War: An Ambassador Reports. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997. Google eBook.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
“Palestine refugees.” n.d. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Web. 17 May 2012. .
Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001. Print.
“Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told: Sergeants Hanged, Underground Claims.” The Pittsburgh Press 30 Jul 1947: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
With globalization being so popular an idea these days, we often seem to forget that nations do have sovereignty over their own territory. That sovereignty comes with the ability to live in ways that don’t necessarily agree with our own values, expectations or religion and to create law systems that have a foundation on something other than a mirror of our (US) constitution. One example that comes to mind right away is the shocked reaction that everyone had when Egyptians decided they wanted to replace Mubarak’s tyranny with a government based on Islamic values.
I mention sovereignty because it seems to me that most of the world’s problems come from unrealistic expectations that ones’ own way is not only the best way, but the only way. If anyone doesn’t want our way, we use it as an excuse to force it on them for their own good while exploiting them for economic gain. In India, that behavior led to a revolution that, thankfully, wound up being more peaceful than it would have been due to the hard work of a man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma. In the Middle East, Western meddling planted the seeds that would eventually grow into global terrorism on a grand scale.
Tying Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation into modern day problems with terrorism was the focus of a class I took over Winter Session. It was 3 weeks of class, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, that culminated in an oral presentation and a 10 page paper after having read 3 books on Gandhi’s philosophy and 1 on the rise of religious terrorism. It was difficult, but educational. Looking at the paper now, I wish I’d had more time to directly compare Gandhi’s goals with bin Laden’s goals, and to compare their use of religion as a tool to achieve an end. Instead, I tried to explain the mentality of religious violence and how meeting that violence with more violence only perpetuates the cycle and, even worse, justifies and empowers the terrorist ideology of hatred. In a way, meeting violence with violence is cooperating with the terrorists, and after you read this you might have a better understanding of why.
[Sources and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]
The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City
On August 15, 1947, India acquired independence from the British Empire. The country’s road to freedom was paved not with violence, but with Satyagraha, a method of non-violent non-cooperation employed and promulgated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Mahatma (Great Soul) who expanded on this unique style of civil disobedience in South Africa. The word Satyagraha is a Sanskrit composite formed from satya and agraha. Satya implies love and agraha firmness, which is synonymous with force in terms of the force born of “Truth and Love or Non-Violence…” Gandhi didn’t claim to have invented Satyagraha. Rather, he just named it. Gandhi was certain of the existence of Satyagraha prior to his use of it by the very fact that the world still lived on, despite the constant warfare. He cited Satyagraha as the force that amiably dissolves the quarrels of millions of families daily and emphasized that the only reason it’s not mentioned in history books is because history itself is a record of the disruptions of Satyagraha, or ahimsa, which is the natural course of nature.
Mahatma Gandhi successfully used Satyagraha to fight for Indian rights in South Africa. He used it again to win independence from the British Empire for India. Dr. Martin Luther King adapted Gandhi’s ideology to his own movement and successfully fought for equal rights for African Americans. Without using weapons, Gandhi’s Satyagraha has been proven to work. So, does that mean it has applications for today’s modern war on terrorism? And how would we go about making the changes necessary to effectively employ this force against the ‘enemy’ and bring about a peaceful resolution of conflicts?
Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India
Gandhi said, “…if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong…we grow stronger and stronger every day.” Satyagraha is an ideology of empowerment that places emphasis on maintaining the moral high ground through “self-help, self-sacrifice and faith in God…” Naturally, this is something one must do oneself for it to work properly, which is why Gandhi said that Satyagraha is for self-help and declined the assistance of foreigners in fighting for India’s freedom, except insomuch as he wanted their attention and sympathy.
Gandhi believed that the process of Satyagraha could only happen if one maintained a total absence of violence, both in one’s actions and one’s thoughts. For Gandhi, a “struggle could be forceful…but it could not be violent,” so willing self-sacrifice played a key role in achieving one’s goal. Through non-violent self-sacrifice a movement gains both public sympathy and the admiration and respect of the aggressor, eventually inducing a change of heart and an amiable resolution to conflicts.
Most importantly, by not using violence, Satyagraha creates solutions that break the cycle of violence. Gandhi said, “A non-co-operationist strives to compel attention and set an example not by his violence but by his unobtrusive humility.” The moment violence is used the means become corrupted, which invariably leads to a corrupted end. Gandhi used this argument to counter the call for violent revolution against the British in India. He said that “by using similar means we can get only the same thing that [the British] got” and compared gaining morally pure rule through violence to planting weeds to grow roses.
A violent response escalates the level of violence used. Gandhi believed that winning independence through violence would leave India just as bad off as it already was, because it would mean that violent people would be assuming control of the country. He did agree that he would rather have bad home rule rather than suffer under a foreign master, but Gandhi’s goal was to achieve a free India that could initiate a new government with clean hands. To do this, Gandhi believed that India had to break with modern secular Western society. He described the materialism of Western civilization as a sickness. Britain’s industrialization, and all industrialization, relies on the exploitation of other countries. Engaging in industrialization would pollute India and India would become no better than the former masters’ whose yoke she had thrown off.
1993 World Trade Center Bombers
According to Mark Juergensmeyer, the advent of modern Western society has devalued religious belief, replacing theology with secular morality and the Church with the nation state. Social identity has shifted from religious affiliation to national citizenship. Some religious activists believe that “secular society and modern nationalism can [not] provide the moral fiber that unites national communities or the ideological strength to sustain states buffeted by ethical, economic, and military failures.”
In an interview with Mahmud Abouhalima, convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mark Juergensmeyer asked him what it was that secular America was missing that caused it to not understand him and others like him. Abouhalima answered, “the soul of religion.” He went on to compare secular life to an ink pen that was missing its ink. He said, “An ink pen, a pen worth two thousand dollars, gold and everything in it, it’s useless if there’s no ink in it. That’s the thing that gives life…”
Western societies may see secularization as a positive process, a freeing of the population from archaic dogmas, but people like Abouhalima and even Gandhi were adamantly opposed to separating religion from life. Without religion, Abouhalima would have no meaning in his life, and Gandhi would not have had the strength to free India. Thinking in those terms, any encroachment of Western society in the modern Middle East may be viewed by the locals as not only unbeneficial but harmful, and potentially as an attack on fundamental values and religion itself, which for Muslims constitutes a large portion of their everyday life and culture. Gandhi believed that all change has to come from within to be lasting. It cannot be forced upon people, and attempting to use violence through sanctions that cause hardships or through rhetoric and demonizing will have no effect but to draw sympathy to the victimized, even if their cause is wrong.
2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City
In today’s War on Terror, responding to terrorism with acts of violence empowers the terrorists by cooperating with their ideology of hatred, by affirming that the secular West is indeed evil and intent on destroying the religion and culture of the average person. Mark Juergensmeyer wrote that “many secular political leaders have described [the War on Terror] as a war that must be won—not only to avenge savage acts as the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, but also to allow civilization as the modern West has known it to survive.” In a war between civilizations where the existence of each civilization’s future is at stake, only one can remain at the end of the conflict. The sort of rhetoric being used to promote the War on Terror is one of absolutes and only further justifies the teachings of terrorists: that the US must be defeated for Islam and Islamic culture to survive. The immediate response after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City was to launch a retaliatory attack, but has that attack actually solved anything? Did we not in fact validate the terrorists’ ideology of hatred by destroying the lives of the innocent along with the accused through long-term warfare?
In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an Indian student in England, assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a political aide to Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary of State for India. According to Sankar Ghose, “Winston Churchill regarded Dhingra’s last words “as the finest made in the name of patriotism…” Gandhi had a completely different opinion of Dhingra: “It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk, a mad idea can also do so… Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. He gave his body in a wrong way, its ultimate result can only be mischevious.” Gandhi, a man so religious that his last words after being shot by an assassin were “Hē Ram (Oh God),” was absolutely opposed to violence in any form, for any objective, which makes it all the more surprising that terrorism today is most often tied to extreme religious views. In his own way, Gandhi was an extremist, but he was an extremist who used and advocated extremes of peace and love to achieve what he considered just ends. Today’s religious extremists are not so different from Gandhi, in that they go to extremes to ensure that their views are made known. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s goals were not that different from Gandhi’s.
In 1991, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, prompting a coalition force of Middle Eastern and Western nations (including the United States) to engage in military operations in defense of Kuwait. Military operations began on January 16th, 1991 with air and missile attacks on targets in both Kuwait and Iraq. After an unavoidable ground war, Iraqi forces were put into full retreat. On February 27th, 43 days later, President Bush declared a suspension of offensive combat. During the war, Saudi Arabia was used as a launching point for allied offensives against Iraq. After the war ended, the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained, further outraging some religious conservatives that consider Saudi Arabia to be the holiest of Islamic lands, being home to both Mecca, where the Ka’aba resides, and Medina where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community. The Ka’aba is the center of the Muslim world. Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. One of the five pillars of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba.
Osama bin Laden
Among those angered by the continued presence of US troops on Saudi soil was Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network. On August 3rd, 1995, he issued a message called “an Open Letter to King Fahd,” outlining grievances against the Saudi monarchy, notably calling for a guerilla campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. In July 10, 1996, a British newspaper (The Independent) quoted bin Laden as saying that Saudi Arabia had become an American colony. He also stated that the real enemy of the Saudi people is America. In August of 1996, bin Laden issued a document known as the “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The two holy mosques he references are Mecca’s Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were stationed, and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Osama bin Laden considered Israel to be a US puppet regime, so fault for occupying Jerusalem was transferred to the United States. In a CNN interview in 1997, bin Laden began to solidify his message with demands that may sound familiar to anyone familiar with India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. He said:
We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation…. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God’s word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries…. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country.
Almost a year later, he goes on to make the following demands:
For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. We–with God’s help–call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it… in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.
Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi both had similar goals. Both felt oppressed by foreign powers who meddled in local affairs, to the detriment of the native populations, and in both cases as a result of something Gandhi warned of: the need to exploit other countries to support the industrialization of modern Western culture.
The implied conflict for the survival of civilizations and the perceived attack on religion causes some religious activists to use violence to try to bring attention to their stated goals. From Gandhi’s teachings, we know that he could have in no way supported the terrorism of today to attain independence from foreign oppression, but it is reasonable to believe that he would have empathized with Osama bin Laden’s goal. When Gandhi condemned Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie, he didn’t condemn his goal; he instead called him a patriot and condemned the means he used. This is where terrorists like Osama bin Laden differ from Gandhi, in the means they use to reach their ends. The results of the two methods have been drastically different. Where India gained the sympathy of the world and won her independence through Satyagraha, Osama bin Laden’s use of violence has escalated out of control. Osama bin Laden himself has met a foul end and the Middle East has not been freed of foreign influence.
Gandhi believed that violence created a cycle, saying “Who lives by the sword must perish by the sword, and if the Asiatic peoples take up the sword, they in their turn will succumb to a more powerful adversary.” That teaching is just as applicable today as it was during his fight with the British. In 1998, when the US launched retaliatory missile strikes on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, the attack “provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots.” The attacks also increased bin Laden’s image as an underdog and damaged the United States’ international reputation. In July of 2002, an Israeli plane bombed the home of Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehada, wounding 140 people and killing 11 people, 7 of which were children. Another Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, responded by opening up targeting of terrorist attacks to all Israelis, including women and children. Violent actions only led to an escalation of the level of violence employed by each side. The only way to ‘win’ is by breaking the chain of violence. An example is the 1998 Omagh bombing by a fringe element called the “Real IRA”. The bombing occurred during peace talks that would stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Rather than retaliate with more acts of violence, the guilty parties were arrested and tried using the existing legal system.
So, what is the solution for stopping violence in the Middle East today? Rather than dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, the violent actions, the US should instead tackle the source of the problem. Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 understood this and “spoke about the necessity of dealing with the social and economic grievances that fueled the anti-American disaffection in the Middle East and elsewhere as a way of undercutting al Qaeda support.” Colin Powell was expressing an idea that Gandhi emphasized himself, in regards to responding to terrorism. Gandhi described Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie as being like a drunkard, caught in a “mad idea.” It’s that mad idea that we need to tackle: the belief in the Middle East that the United States is incapable of good and morally unambiguous behavior.
The first step is to stop responding to violence with violence. Violent action only succeeds in causing the conflict to escalate. That’s not to say that nothing should be done in the face of violent terrorist attacks. Even Gandhi didn’t believe in inaction. Gandhi believed that no one had a complete view of the truth and the very existence of a conflict was the proof. He believed that every conflict was an “encounter between differing “angles of vision” illuminating the same truth.” The key, then, is to take the moral high ground and understand that a response of violence will be satisfying in the short term, but will yield no real results.
The second step to solving the problem would be to address the problem of public opinion of the United States in the Islamic countries. After many years of duplicitous behavior on the part of the United States, finding a way to positively engage the Islamic community may be difficult without inciting suspicion and distrust, so it would be a gradual progress, in much the same way that Satyagraha was a gradual progress. The first efforts would have to be in areas that are politically and religiously neutral, such as providing medical care, basic literacy education in English and Arabic, building homes for the homeless, and acting in advisory capacities for social programs that would address other needs of the country. It’s a small step, but small steps add up and 30 years of providing education to the poor will mean more to them than bombing their fields to smoke out suspected terrorists. Additionally, we could take the biggest step towards having a friendly relationship with Islamic countries by respecting their sovereignty and allowing the people to determine their own futures through their own elected governments. Additionally, we could remove the US troop presence from Islamic countries and allow the people to fight for and affect their own social reforms. That would mean more to them than having the reforms handed to them with the help of Westerners. As Gandhi said, lasting change has to come from within.
One of Gandhi’s favorite quotes from Tolstoy sums up this policy best:
…if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbors by ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is conterminous with that of the whole world.
 M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 1, p. 3.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 6, p. 77.  Ibid., p. 79.  Ibid., p. 78.  Ibid., p. 81.  Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.  M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 15, p. 59.  Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 10.  Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 7, p. 102.  Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 22, p. 249.  Ibid., Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 229.  Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 70.  Ibid.  M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 171, pp. 364-365.  “Introduction to Islam”, describes Islam as a comprehensive way of life.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 18, p. 220.  Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror In The Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 233.  Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi, Chapter 10, p. 98.  Ibid.  “Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’: book”.  “1991 Gulf War chronology”.  Rosemary Pennington, “What Is The Ka’aba?”.  Osama bin Laden, “Osama bin Laden v. the U.S.”.  Ibid.  Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 10, pp. 132-134.  Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 71.  Barbara Elias, “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired”.  James Bennet, “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home”.  Henry McDonald, “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing”.  Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 234.  Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.  Ibid., p. 3.  M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 46, p. 112.
<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>”1991 Gulf War chronology.” 3 September 1996. USA Today World. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Bennet, James. “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home.” 23 July 2002. The New York Times: World. Web. 23 January 2012. .
bin Laden, Osama. “Osama Bin Laden V. The U.S.: Edicts And Statements.” n.d. PBS Frontline. Web. 17 January 2012.
Elias, Barbara. “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired.” 20 August 2008. The George Washington University: The National Security Archive. Web. 22 January 2012.
Gandhi, M. K. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). New York: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Gandhi. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2002. Print.
“Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’:book.” 29 January 2008. hindustantimes: news. Web. 22 January 2012. .
I saw this (above quote) in the news this morning when I was on my way to class, and it got me thinking. I’ve read previously that it’s pretty easy to wind up on this list. I read about a news anchor (or maybe it was a journalist?) that found out he was on the US Terror Watch List simply because he complained about the TSA and their ridiculous screening procedures. So, what does it really take to get put on that watch list?
In 2008, I took my first trip outside the United States since I was a kid. Back then, I was traveling because my dad was in the military and we lived in Germany for a few years. Great place, by the way. Some kids in the US go to a shitty local museum for a school field trip. We used to go to castle ruins that were hundreds of years old, or older. That was so much cooler it can’t even be measured, and it is probably one of the main reasons I’ve had a fascination with sword & sorcery novels ever since. Anyway, on that 2008 trip, I went to Singapore and then the Philippines. I had a really good time, but hit a minor speed bump on the way back into my own country.
When I was trying to re-enter the United States, I got asked questions about why I was in the Philippines. I didn’t even give the trip any thought beforehand, at least not in terms of making it back through customs, until that moment, and then it all sort of clicked together in my head. The Philippines is a hotbed of terrorism, especially in the southern islands, which is home to the comically acronymed MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front, not Mom I’d Like to F***). I spent about a week and a half there, so it must have raised a red flag when my passport was scanned at US Immigration.
What followed was a long discussion about why I was in the Philippines, what I did there, if I was planning on going back, and where I was going in the US. Not helping the situation, I was still in the US Army at the time and I was heading back to my duty station, fresh from a ‘dangerous’ country that’s full of people who want to blow things up. I’m just glad they didn’t have ‘enhanced’ (i.e. legal sexual assault) pat-downs or radioactive nudie machines back then or I’d have caused a scene and likely would have wound up being detained, as well as miss my connecting flight.
Later that year I moved to Asia, visited quite a few different countries in the region, including one that is ‘Islamic’ and even has shariah courts. I even lived in the Philippines for a while. When I re-entered my country, I again had a long discussion about my reasons for being there, coming back, etc., etc.
You might say, “But dude, you’re no one special. Why would they watch you?”
To that I’d say no one is really special until after they blow something (or some people) up, or try to. No one ever heard of those morons who flew planes into the sides of the World Trade Center buildings until after they did it right? Or that idiot that tried to detonate an explosive in Times Square, or that lunatic disgrace of a military officer that turned on his own in Fort Hood.
So, I wonder if my name is on that list, based on my past military experience and the fact I’ve visited certain countries? That’s kind of a scary thought.