America’s Culture of Violence Hits Home



The Washington DC area, surrounding the capital of the world’s only remaining superpower, has witnessed its tenth (at the time of writing) random sniper terrorist attack within days against innocent citizens. Eight of the 10 victims are dead.

And it’s not an isolated outbreak. Acts of violence are on the increase among American school students, including gang warfare, theft, bullying, swarming, drug-related attacks, gun and knife attacks, and sexual and physical assault. Female students are now more likely to be involved in violent acts as well. With recent drastic cuts in education spending — especially for inner-city schools — fewer counselors are available for students most in need of therapies such as anger management.

But does this really surprise anyone?

Today, the U.S. spends more on its military power than on education, health care, the environment, and all other domestic programs combined. President George W. Bush’s proposed federal budget for 2003 asks for a $45 billion increase (to $396 billion) for the Defense Department, while freezing or cutting most other social programs.

Imagine the effect if the U.S. were instead to shift that $45 billion toward social and educational programs at home. But that’s an increasingly unlikely scenario in these war-mongering times.

It is regrettable that the current American administration is working only for the interests of rich and powerful Americans. Extremist right-wing political, religious and social ideologies, compounded by corporate greed and corruption, are endangering American security more than any level of terrorist attacks, and everyone is paying for it.

As if  last year’s traumatic 9/11 tragedy — followed by huge military expenditures, curtailed civil liberties, and now an impending war on Iraq — weren’t troubling enough, even more disturbing is a long list of the current American administrative actions in the last year alone that seriously impede the U.S. potential for building sustainable and just communities.

Last year, American research for renewable energy sources was cut by 50%; research on automobile efficiency was reduced; federal spending on libraries was cut by $39 million; field-testing controls on genetically engineered crops have decreased; $35 million to help doctors obtain advanced pediatric training was cut; marine protections have been cut; laws that would deny government contracts to companies in violation of workplace safety standards were suspended; oil/gas drilling, coal mining, and forest harvesting on national monument lands has been approved; rain forest conservation has been cut; public hospital funds to provide care for the uninsured have been cut by $86 million… and that’s only a small sample from a very long list of regrettable actions.

Unfortunately, the current American administration’s plan to support defense contractors at the expense of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens, shamelessly exploits an ideological climate in which the President apparently can do no wrong, and where other reasonable and peaceful proposals are labeled as supportive of  “the enemy.” It also relies on a serious misperception of what must be done to diminish the threat of terrorism. The most frightening scenario — one rapidly becoming fact — is that the more America is perceived as striving for global military domination, the more likely it is that major U.S. targets will be singled out for terrorist attack. Just as probable is a continued rise in America’s home-grown culture of violence.

It is sad that President Bush hasn’t yet realized that terrorism cannot be eradicated by military means; there is always a way for imaginative terrorists to hit back effectively. Confrontation through violence engenders still greater violence and there is no way out of this vicious cycle unless it is broken by genuine diplomacy. The major responsibility for replacing today’s global  ulture of violence with one of mediation, negotiation and arbitration rests on the shoulders of the United States of America.

Only the U.S. can create a new world order, one devoid of conditions which engender violent response. Violence cannot be eradicated through repressive measures. It is certainly true that terrorist operations inspire revulsion and anger, but exacting revenge will not bring an end to the scourge. To react to terrorism, however heinous, with counter-violence is to engage in “state terrorism,” which by no means eliminates its root causes.

Yet George W. Bush cannot or will not admit that the elimination of terrorism requires the implementation of a radically  alternative world system aimed at destroying the root causes of violence. He has opted instead for counter-violence. Yesterday, Afghanistan; tomorrow, Iraq — will xyz be next? who knows?

Has anyone asked recently what the Bush administration’s real priorities are, both at home and abroad? Why are the root causes of violence not being seriously addressed? Why are Americans killing fellow Americans at home, and others abroad?

One can only wonder and worry about the kind of legacy George W. will leave behind.

PS: Dear George;

Try creating conditions at home and abroad that will discourage and do away with violence altogether. This could win you  a Nobel prize and a lot more. Come on, George; you can do it!

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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