Character: Build It Here
No Excuse for Violence
When asked why he joined the Taliban, a young man in Afghanistan replied, “I didn’t join the Taliban because I was poor. I joined because I was angry.”
Anger is a normal human emotion. How we manage our anger makes the difference between war and peace on any scale.
Two days ago, a most heinous violence befell Paris, France, the city that the whole world equates with love and beauty. Over one hundred people were massacred and twice that many were seriously injured in a well-orchestrated plot carried out in six venues across the city where friends and neighbors were out for a Friday evening of fun and entertainment. The slaughter was carried out by a highly coordinated team moving with military precision. The killers believed in their mission of retribution, as one survivor noted in the BBC article, “One of them said: ’You have killed our brothers in Syria, now we are here’ and began shooting at the crowd.”
Humans find myriads of reasons to justify doing harm to one another, ranging from “This beating will teach you to behave” to “An eye for an eye.” Yet, history proves that violence begets violence.
The word ‘violence’ comes from the French word, véhément, with a Latin root meaning ‘impetuous, deprived of mind’. There is nothing mindful about violence. Humans are irrational beings. We tend to react first and regret our mindless actions later. Violence deprives its victim of the freedom to live in peace. Freedom is not easily defined because it is a concept entwined by relativity. The dictionary defines it as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants to without hindrance or restraint.”
Violence is the opposite of freedom as fear is the opposite of love.
Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization focused on building peace, released a research report in September of this year addressing the issue of what drives violence: “From Jordan to Jihad: The Lure of Syria’s Violent Extremist Groups”. They conducted an assessment within three Jordanian communities where recruitment is high for Jihadist fighters. The PR Newswire carried an article about the report. Here is the introduction from that article:
Relatively large numbers of Jordanians have been drawn to violent causes in Syria and Iraq, with some estimating the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan contributes more fighters per capita to ISIS and Al-Qaeda than any other country. Understanding the reasons why Jordanians are choosing to fight for violent extremist groups could go a long way toward helping to prevent future recruitment.
Here are the key recommendations from the report:
1. Broker a political solution to end the crisis inside Syria in order to stop the flow of foreign fighters. The number of foreign fighters inside Syria now tops Afghanistan in the 1980s, making Syria the training ground of choice for today’s violent jihadis. Efforts to counter violent extremism and stem the flow of foreign fighters will prove futile if detached from a comprehensive political approach to end the crisis in Syria.
2. Focus future prevention programs on social networks, not demographics. Recruitment is rooted in the cultivation of a tightly-knit, collectivist identity. Prevention efforts should focus on providing community-based alternatives: incorporating youth into peaceful groups, mentorship, and creating opportunities for youth to build individual identities and positive family connections.
3. Support, educate and partner with peaceful local actors – particularly wives and mothers – to dissuade potential recruits. Trusted community voices are the ones most likely to foster peaceful views and offer positive role models. Educating them about the reality of the war in Syria – of Sunnis killing Sunnis – may resonate even among those who are broadly supportive of the conflict. Local tribal leaders and imams, for instance, are valuable shapers of opinion. And mothers’ groups, in particular, have much to offer in blunting the appeal of extremists.
4. Where possible, facilitate spaces where former fighters can serve as prevention advocates and mentors within communities and universities.
5. Increase political and financial support for programs that address governance gaps that drive extremism.
The article from the PR Newswire goes on to relate an interesting finding from Mercy Corps:
The most common justification for joining the war in Syria was to protect Sunni women and children. Nearly all those interviewed identified crimes committed by Shi'ites in Syria against Sunni women as the predominant rallying cause.
I see a paradox there. Protecting their women is simply an excuse for violence. Women around the world deal with way too much violence, domestically and within their own neighborhoods, including suffering as victims of rape during conflict. Using war to bring about protection for the women makes no sense and is logically unacceptable which is the definition of a paradox.
The third recommendation from the report by Mercy Corp stood out for me where it emphasized the need for women and mothers to take the lead in their communities to cultivate peace, particularly among the youth.
I am a mother who worked hard to raise peaceful children. The tide of rising violence in our world pushed against my daily struggle to help my children overcome the barrage of violent events from playground fights to violent entertainment to local drive-by shootings to reports on the evening news of terrorist attacks in random places all over the world. Every night I put my children to bed with stories that would give them courage to be a force for good in their everyday dealings.
When my children were young and often engaged in irrational behavior that led to childish acts of violence, I would sit the opposing parties down and tell them that it takes a great deal more strength to respond with mildness, than to react with rash violence. I can still remember their faces as they softened in relief, and of course, all involved wanted to think of themselves as the stronger one.
Frederick Douglass may have said it best, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
What’s a mother to do? Teach your children how to resolve conflict before they start school. And join together with other mothers in your community to maintain a dialogue for peace among the youth. Peace is not a quality of life that can be easily installed. Peace is a state that requires constant cultivation, much like a well-tended garden that blooms in beauty, peace has to be held dear, as dearly as we hold our babies. That is where peace takes root, and where freedom grows.
To learn more about the successful ways that people around the world are resolving conflict in their communities, browse through Mercy Corps’ website under the heading, “Our Work” and scroll down the page to “What We Do”. Look under the topic, “Conflict Management” and you will be amazed to find dozens of stories about the hard work that people are doing all over the world to build a more peaceful life for their families and their communities.