Anyone for Proactive Nonviolence Against Terror?

12/27/2011 12:23 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2012

Proactive nonviolence is a concept often already well-known and accepted in many American religious circles. Before saying anything about some prospects for proactive nonviolence in North America, it would be silly not to recognize that much fine and important work is already being done by American men and women of religion in the realm of proactive nonviolence. My purpose for writing here is to point to its importance and relevance as a countermeasure to terror, hopefully to encourage more support for those Americans already active in nonviolence, also wishing to encourage any others who might already have a seed of interest in nonviolent countermeasures to terror.

My own discussions with a few Americans about the prospect of utilizing active nonviolence against terror has received support but also often received a response of immediate calls for violent action against terrorists by legitimate government authorities. I will make no statement here on what the U.S. government should or should not do militarily or with defensive or proactive countermeasures. (For more on defensive and proactive countermeasures to terror, see Walter Enders and Todd Sandler, "The Political Economy of Terrorism," Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006, pp. 84-110.) My response to this general attitude found with many civilians is that, whatever opinion one might have regarding official military action and whether or not one agrees with officially sanctioned violence, proactive nonviolence is already being done by North Americans and their numerous projects and efforts can be supported, expanded and complemented to good effect. In addition, using more nonviolent proactive countermeasures to terror, we might find that the major potential for proactive nonviolence is yet unrealized. Because there are inevitable resource limits to violence, nonviolent proactive countermeasures to terror may be able to achieve more where violent countermeasures stop or fail. We can be absolutely sure that violence fails in certain important respects: violence does nothing to heal hurt and improve relations between communities.

Different arguments can be made for proactive nonviolence. However, my main concern is more with the individuals whom I meet. Almost daily I see evidence all around me in North American society that ordinary citizens want more solutions for dealing with hurt. All I have to do is listen to ordinary Americans talking candidly about their views of Muslims or mention related topics and I too often hear deep grief, anger, bitterness and resentment going back to 9/11. When I encounter these deep emotions, I believe that most of these folks are actually not Islamophobic and don't want to be. I also believe that these Americans do want more ways to show their opposition to terror and to any anti-American or other bigotry. Certainly at least everyone who feels "ripped off" and hurt by the events of 9/11 and any other similar events can consider proactive nonviolent options. Nonviolent proactive countermeasures provide that possibility for ordinary citizens and nonviolence can assume many different forms.

Without wishing in any way to diminish the scope of numerous different possibilities for nonviolence projects, my own immediate thoughts lead to the importance of a discussion of healing. Healing from the hurt of terror should be considered as a major part of nonviolent counterterrorism. This healing has often already been happening in many different ways, in professional mental health venues, in churches, in other houses of worship and other locations. In addition to the more recently developed knowledge and skills of the mental health professions, approaches to assuaging grief and transforming suffering are a longstanding specialty of major religious traditions. These therefore have often been the venues where Americans have dealt with hurt.

We can already see simpler examples of nonviolence and healing all around us and clearly many Americans have no intention of being passive. Nowadays I do not wonder about anybody who flies an American flag from their family car or pickup truck, nor do I question what I once thought were too many car bumper stickers, these seeming sometimes a bit wacky. I assume that these folks are doing what they need to do and what they can do. Indeed, sometimes it is, quite simply, the simplest stuff that works. Healing is by itself one important aspect of nonviolence but we could also ask, "Aren't all nonviolent proactive counter-measures to terror ultimately part of a process of healing?"

In all these words, hopefully what is simply being said is that these naturally existing good trends of healing and other forms of nonviolence can be expanded to good effect. However, I will refrain here from suggesting any larger strategies for how these potential nonviolence activities would best unfold for wider benefit. It is probably sufficient now to point to nonviolent proactive countermeasures to terror generally and better not to inadvertently imply any necessary limits beforehand with respect to different citizens' individual initiative and thinking on nonviolence. Any broader mapping of the different options constituting nonviolent proactive countermeasures to terror should be explored more in discussion with some of these different North American nonviolent activists, utilizing their experience and talents. In the long run, proactive nonviolence may well be the way with the greatest potential, the winning choice for individuals dealing with hurt and suffering and for others who oppose terror on moral grounds.