A NON-VIOLENT RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE
Violence begets violence, but what constitutes a non-violent response to an act as violent as the terrorist attacks on September 11th?
A non-violent response is a careful, patient response. It is not a rush to judgment, followed by a call to arms. What happened in New York and Washington on September 11th was horrible. Temperate, non-violent responses will only show those events up in stark relief while disproportionate, violent responses will drown their horrific nature in a festival of mutual killing and destruction.
A non-violent response would preclude an attack-unto-the-last on Afghanistan and other territories suspected to be the hiding-places of terrorist groups implicated in the September 11 bombing. In this instance, a decade of civil war has already reduced much of Afghanistan to rubble and drought has brought great misery and deprivation to those Afghans that remain in this beleaguered country. Moreover, the restrictive policies of the Taliban government have, far from rebuilding its human resources and infrastructure, weakened them further. The first question to ask would be: what remains to be destroyed in Afghanistan? The second, what is to be gained? Those responsible for last week's events will have fled by now, the Taliban government will seek cover and it will be the ordinary citizens-those who could not leave that will pay. They have nothing to lose, but their assailants will lose not just their moral high ground, but also their humanity.
One thing that bothers me is the thought that when our countries conduct air raids in other places, what we watch are visuals that look like fireworks. The righteousness and romance of war are captured for us by live broadcasts. However, we do not get to see the havoc they wreak. I have voiced this concern to people around me in recent days and been told, "Well, that is because they don't let us show it, they don't let us into their countries afterwards." There may be a grain of truth to this, but whatever the reason, we only catch glimpses of the aftermath of our actions on television. Since television seems to be what moves us to thought and action, in this day and age, the fact is that our strikes and our attacks always seem to be sanitary and causing little collateral damage or grief. Of course, a moment's consideration reminds us that this cannot be the case. However, not seeing what we cause, allows us to believe that for anyone to hold us responsible for his or her misery cannot be right. What happened on September 11th was wrong, unequivocally so. But without then saying, that events like that are anyone's 'just desserts', we must acknowledge that oftentimes anger and hatred of that magnitude take, at least in small measure, the witting or unwitting contribution of the target. Let us leave no room for that in the future.
A non-violent response would preclude the escalation of tension through the movement of troops in a threatening fashion, causing anxiety and war-hysteria among peoples caught in the crossfire. What we are viewing on the streets of Pakistan is not just protest, but anxiety. Ask Europe what war does to daily life-there are still those alive who lived through the Second World War. At minimum, temporary disruptions and inflation, and more likely, much, much worse by way of retaliatory violence against Pakistan, possibly from either side as the militant groups in Kashmir back the Taliban government and Osama bin Laden in this war. That threatens President Musharraf, but more urgently, it threatens ordinary Pakistanis, for whom life is already difficult.
A non-violent response is not a response that creates a precedent for others to rush to violent reaction in similar situations. Does the immediate and angry US response then legitimize the Sri Lankan airforce bombing the north and east of the island, in order to 'smoke out' and eliminate terrorism? The terror, anxiety and grief of September 11th in the US are the ground reality for people the world over. The response made here contributes to the responses others will make in their settings. What is unacceptable in other cases is unacceptable in this one.
A non-violent response does allow intelligence-gathering and punitive action against specific offenders, given that we accept the reality and inevitability of states and invest them with the right to punish as a way of maintaining order. However, a truly non-violent response goes beyond the crime and punishment process, asking, "Why are they doing this?" Understanding the causes of someone's alienation allows us to address more than its manifestations. Several experts have pointed out that capturing one Osama bin Laden will not end the problem. What will end the problem, or begin to do so, is to ask this question, to understand this alienation and address its root causes. Why has the US become a target? What makes individuals who appear like you and me, angry to the point of taking such action? What makes someone resort to violence? What makes violence seem viable and effective, and to what end? A non-violent response goes to removing the root causes-is it poverty and unemployment? Is it the memory of some other war, some other loss? Is it grief? Is it jealousy? is it the lust for power?
A non-violent response on the part of other states would preclude their using this situation to further their narrow interests. India, for instance, has had concerns about terrorists for a long time and the government feels vindicated by the forceful rhetoric emanating from the US today. This accounts for its immediate willingness to work with the US on this campaign. However, there is a litany of questions Indians need to ask themselves about the causes of the violence that they seek to battle, about their own efficacy in dealing with this problem and about the rights and wrongs of how they frame and understand violent situations. Democracies that take pride in their political values bear a greater responsibility for acting in accordance with those values. Setting aside the 'who did what to whom' of South Asian regional politics, this is a time for Indians to show sensitivity to the horrible situation in which Pakistanis find themselves.
What sort of a choice was President Musharraf faced with in this situation? Take your pick of cliches: a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep sea, the frying pan and the fire . It does not matter what the Pakistani government has or has not done. The price in any situation will be paid by the Pakistani people-as it has over the years. The escalation of violence over the years in Pakistan, the heavy social, political and economic cost of supporting the largest refugee communities in the world and the problems of drug abuse will not go away overnight. Perhaps the Pakistani government has turned a blind eye or even aided militant insurgents in Kashmir, as the government of India alleges. What Indians need to recognize is that Pakistan is also paying for this alleged assistance-whether in the street protests that beleaguered President Musharraf's government this week, or in the 'Talibanization' of its youth, or in the random violence-bomb blasts hither and yon-that one reads about in the newspapers often.
To press home one's advantage may be consistent with realist international theory, but realist international relations theory was written by academics in the west who do not have to live with the consequences of the policies they advocate. A better way is perhaps to found more locally. "Go home today and return tomorrow," is a response I remember from Rama's battle with Ravana in the Ramayana. To not battle a fallen warrior is part of the war ethic of the old Indian epics. Those who did, were in fact regarded as cowards. Many Indians, including the government, clearly regard themselves as occupying the moral high ground. This is the time to give that claim credibility.
Understand Pakistan's situation, and let South Asia rally to meet this threat. If the US responds with violence against Afghanistan, Pakistan will be in the frontline of this war. Whether this means more refugees sneaking in, greater activity in the arms bazaars, or attacks against civilian and military targets in Pakistan, there is no denying that Pakistanis are already caught in the cross-fire. A non-violent response means that we do not get to say, "You had it coming." It is no more appropriate in India's dealings with Pakistan than it has been to Americans affected by the events of September 11th. On the South Asian sub-continent, there is no zero-sum game. The losses of one are not the absolute gains of another, and the relative gains they offer are illusory and fleeting. India cannot thrive in the face of a devastated and internally torn Pakistan. This is a simple sub-continental reality. A non-violent response entails stepping in and asking, "How can we help? What can we do to ease the losses that you will face?"
To those who want to make this a religious war, I will say finally, that a non-violent response is consistent with any religious and cultural tradition that you pick. Yes, seeking justice and vanquishing evil form the plot of many a myth or parable. But let us not forget that forgiveness, compassion and fairness also universally characterize virtuous behaviour. And let us remember that justice does not mean vengeance.
To wake up to bad news, to hear gunfire, air raid sirens and bomb blasts routinely, to go to work and not know if you will return, to plan a trip and never arrive, to have your rights and privileges limited in the name of security, to live every moment a little in dread and a little in defiance those of us who have been spared this must eternally be grateful. What we have recently experienced is a glimpse, a reminder that that other reality exists. Let us respond by seeking to understand why this is still so and how we can stop it. I write this because I cannot bear the prospect of perpetuating this cycle of violence, death, destruction, grief, anger and retribution. Let this end¾here, now, with us.
New Haven, 9-25-01