The ethics of the war against terrorism

Charles Webel , Professor in Peace Studies, proposes combating terror with dialogue and negotiation instead of the force of arms. 

15 years ago 19 people hijacked four passenger jets and carried out the 9-11 attacks, killing almost 3,000 people in the United States. This Sunday its victims will be remembered. But this is also a time to rethink how the Global War on Terrorism that George W. Bush began has worked and if the tackling violence with violence is effective.

Charles Webel is a Professor and Dept. Chair of Peace Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. In an article for Tikkun this is what he did, analyze the 'ethics and efficacy of the war on terrorism.' He's known to be active in progressive peace and social justice movements since his teen-age days and has been four-time Fulbright Scholar.

He argues the US-led counterterrorist strategy should be reexamined because it has shown to be ineffective in reducing violent acts that Western leaders brand as "terrorist." He puts the term in quotation marks as it has several meanings, there's no official nor universal accepted definition.

But there's Terrorism from Above, when nations or their surrogates use violence in attempts to control, weaken or eliminate rival political parties or ethnic or other sub-national groups.  And Terrorism from Below, when any actual or threatened politically motivated attack on noncombatants, also soldiers, police and political leaders.  

Webel concludes it is a social construction, an interpretation of events and their presumed causes and to classify a person as a 'terrorist' depends largely on the perspective of the person or group using these terms.

Weather form below of from above, the perpetrators usually claim their actions are legitimate, ethical and necessary to promote a greater good. This is the case with the Global War on Terrorism.

Nonetheless, since the GWOT began terrorists attacks have increased outside the US. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). There has been an increases up to 900% since 2000 in the global number of people who have died form terrorist attacks perpetrated by non-state actors.

The countries most victimized are Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, India, Ukraine, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and the Phillipines, stated the report.

In a joint report called Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the War on Terror, experts reported there's been officially 1.3 million lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone, since the GWOT began. Unofficial estimates are expected to surpass the 2 million and they don't look at other countries targeted by the US- led war.

The majority of the victims of contemporary terrorism from below are Muslims and don't occur in the west. Only 0.5% of deaths from TFB occurred in the West since 2000, and 2.6% of the victims are westerners, although figures might have changed after the wave of attacks in Europe.

Despite common beliefs, Islamic Fundamentalism has not been the main cause of terrorism in the West during the past decade.  80% of the deaths by lone-wolf terrorists in the west have been driven by right-wing extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and by political extremism and other forms of supremacy.

Besides the violence caused by terrorist activities, refugee activity and forced displacement have increased making it the greatest cause for Internally Displaced People. Also, the costs of the GWOT are extremely high. According to Official US government sources, $1.7 trillion dollars have been spent or are budgeted for from 2001-2016. This figure is supplemental to the budget for the Department of Defense and other departments that support the GWOT.

According to a Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government 2013 report the actual cost of GWOT from 9-11 until early 2013 was approximately $6 trillion and according to the 2016, Global Peace Index the price tag on global violence added up to 13.6 trillion in 2015. Instead, investments in peacekeeping and peacebuilding were only $15 billion.

Webel's proposal is to fight terrorism in another way, through dialogue. A study on "Defeating Terrorist Groups" by Seth Jones and Martin Libicki gives many examples of terrorists groups that cooperating with governments on collective or individual agreements, ceasefires, peace settlements have been more successful in achieving their political goals than through the use of force alone.

"Sustainable peace and lasting conflict resolution involve the development and implementation of effective strategies and policies that de-escalate the cycles of violence, promote universal human rights and justice for all, and institutionalize effective nonviolent methods of conflict prevention and transformation. International efforts will be needed to increase “peace literacy” in decision-makers and the general public," writes Webel.

He suggests efforts to encourage best practices in journalism are also helpful because it provides essential support for non violent conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding policies and practices.

"Instead of fighting fire with fire, of combating terror with greater terror, why not try the power of dialogue and negotiation instead of the force of arms? What do we have to lose?"


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