Is the war on terror working? Not according to Scott Taylor, editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.
“Bombing Syrian villages does not make Canadian streets safe, and it is impossible to wage war against a tactic,” says the former Canadian solider and war correspondent.
Attacking Daesh’s forces in Syria and Iraq “will in no way impact the actions of the Daesh fanatics who are launching attacks in Europe,” he adds.
Taylor is not alone. Others say it is impossible to defeat terrorism with war. So what’s the alternative?
For George Lakey, it is non-violence.
In a year-old blog post that was making the rounds on Facebook recently, the Quaker activist and academic proposes eight non-violent techniques to address terror.
The first technique is economic development. “Poverty and terrorism are indirectly linked,” he says. “Economic development can reduce recruits and gain allies.”
Second is reducing cultural marginalization. “As France, Britain and other countries have learned, marginalizing a group within your population is not safe or sensible; terrorists grow under those conditions,” he says.
Third is nonviolent protest and unarmed civilian peacekeeping. He points to the success of the civil rights movement in the U.S., which overcame terror by the Ku Klux Klan and other groups through non-violence.
He also points to contemporary examples such as Peace Brigades International, which puts unarmed civilians between warring groups in places like Central America, Africa and Asia.
Fourth is what he calls “pro-conflict education and training.”
Terror, he says, “often happens when a population tries to suppress conflicts instead of supporting their expression.” Teaching people “skills that support people waging conflict to give full voice to their grievances” can reduce the urge to lash out violently.
Fifth is post-terror recovery programs.
“Not all terror can be prevented, any more than all crime can be prevented,” he states.
“Terrorists often have the goal of increasing polarization. Recovery programs can help prevent that polarization, the cycle of hawks on one side ‘arming’ the hawks on the other side.”
Sixth is seeing the police as peace officers.
“Police work can become far more effective through more community policing,” he says. “In some countries this requires re-conceptualization of the police from defenders of the property of the dominant group to genuine peace officers.”
Seventh is calling on governments to check their impulse to respond violently every time terror occurs.
“Governments sometimes make choices that invite—almost beg for—a terrorist response,” he writes, noting that “to protect themselves from terror, citizens in all countries need to gain control of their own governments and force them to behave.”
The last technique is negotiation.
“Governments often say ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists,’ but when they say that they are often lying. Governments have often reduced or eliminated terrorism through negotiation, and negotiation skills continue to grow in sophistication.”
According to Lakey, “each of these tools have indeed been used in real-life situations in one place or another, with some degree of success.” The problem, he says, is “persuading a government to take such a bold, innovative leap.”
For Paul Redekop, who teaches conflict resolution studies at Menno Simons College, Lakey’s ideas “make a lot of sense.” But while he believes the ideas are viable, he isn’t optimistic they will be accepted.
“They fall into the realm of prevention rather than reaction,” he says. “Preventive action always seems to be a harder sell than reaction, whether it involves a response to crime or health care or public safety like fire prevention, even though it is always more effective in the long run.”
Governments “often react to what they think the public wants, and a strong reaction is more dramatic,” he notes. “We can make governments take such an approach more seriously when we can make the broader public more aware of the effectiveness of non-violent responses.”
Will non-violence work against groups like Daesh or Al-Qaeda or any of the home-grown terrorist groups in Europe and other places? We won’t know until someone tries.