Parallel standards offer way out of violence

By Kristin Christman

One step to a change in Mideast relations is a change in the U.S. mindset

Ten thousand Americans are killed annually by drunk American drivers. Fourteen Americans were killed in December by two Muslims. So Donald Trump suggests banning — alcohol? No; he wants to ban Muslim immigrants. And Muslims don’t even drink.

Candidates’ tough talk is not about saving lives. It’s about ignorance. ISIS and Al Qaeda adhere to hijacked forms of Islam which reject Islam’s call for peaceful tolerance. Furthermore, the ability of ISIS to attract global followers doesn’t even stem from its intolerant ideology, but rather from its determination to resist foreign and sectarian domination.

It was the U.S. invasion of Iraq and anti-Sunni brutality of the U.S.-installed Shia government that led to ISIS’ following, not its ideology. The issue isn’t religion. It’s domination. If the U.S. wants to ban something, it ought to ban U.S. invasions.

The problem with the U.S. reaction to both 9/11 and ISIS is the U.S. belief in hammering out peace by controlling people. There has never been earnest effort at cooperative negotiation, as if this would be spineless appeasement or a pact with the devil. There has never been any reassurance on the part of the U.S. that it will discontinue its military, political, economic, and cultural intrusiveness in the Mideast.

Many factors contribute to Middle Eastern violence; U.S. policy is only one factor. But instead of adding more killing to the killing in vain attempts to achieve physical control over people’s minds, the most powerful step the U.S. can take is to change its own behavior to reduce tension within Middle Eastern minds.

Imagine the tables turned. Would you feel safe with the FBI being supplied by Egypt with weapons to suppress American civilians, the U.S. military trained on Saudi bases in Texas, a popular president deposed by Iran, U.S. oil fields managed by Iraq, Afghanistan invading to construct pipelines, and ads and movies everywhere featuring Middle Eastern products and values? The U.S. seems to think the Mideast should take all this without complaint.

We need to take leadership and make a proposal to Middle Eastern civilians, Al Qaeda and ISIS militants, and national leaders, while emphasizing that the proposal is made despite ISIS violence, not because of it. The proposal should describe U.S. unilateral actions but encourage the Mideast to adhere to parallel standards. Like this:

“If you choose to kill, torture prisoners, assault women, inflict inhumane punishments, or promote terrorism, we won’t support you.

“But for our part, we’re going to stop killing you, stop the invasions, night raids, bombs, drones, weapons shipments, and mistreatment of prisoners.

“If you want to dominate other genders, religions, and nations, deprive people of rights, or conquer the world, we won’t support you.

“But we’re going to stop dominating you. Any threat to freedom experienced by Americans from terrorists pales when compared to threats to freedom endured by Middle Eastern civilians as a result, in part, of 60 years of U.S. policy. Most Middle Eastern militants aren’t fighting to trample our freedoms but to gain their own.

“In various decades we’ve funded and armed several Middle Eastern leaders who’ve brutally crushed their people’s freedoms. We’ll discontinue this practice and stop CIA coups and regime changes of leaders who thwart U.S. government and business interests.

“We won’t make deals with one segment of your population while disregarding others. Instead of arming one side to fight another, we’ll strive to resolve conflicts. And we’ll respect humane governments, whether secular or religious, because both types are capable of kindness and cruelty, tolerance and intolerance.

“If you want to support corruption, kidnapping for ransom, oil wealth hoarding, drug trading, or war lords who extort money from civilians, we won’t support you.

“But our foreign policy will no longer be driven by desires for wealth and possessions. There will be no more Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan doctrines that treat the Mideast like America’s personal oil reservoir and provide for dirty deals, nor U.S. money and weapons to Middle Eastern security forces to suppress Islamists and other opponents of tyrants in exchange for U.S. access to tyrants’ oil.

“We’ll renegotiate fair trade terms and provide investment and aid that benefit your poor more than our rich, with none of our typical military, political, or economic strings attached.

“If you force people to convert, pressure women to conform to repressive dress codes or face a flogging, ignore women’s intellect, scorn them as inferior, or make women the scapegoated, beat-up targets of males’ tension, we won’t support such un-Islamic behaviors.

“But we’ll take pressure off the Mideast to convert to Westernization, secularism, materialism, conspicuous sexuality, and capitalism. We’ll stop inundating you with Western ads, movies, fashions, and luxuries and respect your aversion to bars, cinemas, and luxury hotels.

“If you kill reporters, falsify news, and hijack Islam to preach violence, we won’t support you.

“But we’ll quit the half-truths and aim for broad coverage of Middle Eastern and American perspectives on conflict and solutions. We’ll clarify that peace and violence are parts of both Muslim and Christian history. And we’ll correct false beliefs that violently spreading Christianity, Islam, and democracy is justified in the name of God, Allah, and Freedom.

“Some choose a militant path in search of noble purpose, employment, adventure, or camaraderie. Let’s channel these motives into non-violent, meaningful careers. Let’s develop Islamic forms of recreation, playgrounds, outdoor adventure, and scenic parks. Let’s make it our priority to help all people feel cherished.”

If we honestly address legitimate concerns motivating ISIS violence, can we attract away from ISIS those followers who don’t admire brutality and intolerance? Can we prove to ISIS followers they can achieve just goals without violence? Will our unilateral actions serve as a powerful role model and ease the tension that breeds violence and extremism?

This article was first published in the Albany Times Union on January 17, 2016.

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Kristin Christman

Kristin Christman has degrees from Dartmouth College, Brown University, and the University at Albany in Russian and Public Administration and is author of The Taxonomy of Peace

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