“We have to do something.”
In the face of the unimaginable horror of the past week, it is easy to understand why people all across the United States are crying out for action.
But we must remember that military action — violence and more death — is not the only action available to us.
Making peace is an action. Seeking justice is an action.
“But we have to show the terrorists that we are strong.”
Is the use of force — especially when the force being called for is likely to be so massive and indiscriminate as to bring more civilian death — a sign of strength? Or can people, and a nation, show strength through the wisdom to not repeat tragic mistakes of the past?
Although we may not like the label, the United States is an empire. And like empires of the past, the United States is quick to try to solve problems with its overwhelming military power.
But this problem will not be solved by force, by the “global campaign to wipe out terrorism” that officials are calling for. We should not forget the wiping out terrorism inevitably will mean wiping out many innocent people, which will only deepen the resentment of the United States around the world — especially the Third World — and strengthen the resolve of terrorists. It will not end terrorism but create new terrorists.
The problem of terrorism will be solved by making peace and seeking justice. That will not be achieved at the end of a gun, but by changing the posture of the United States in the world. We must move from claiming the right to make unilateral demands to truly multilateral engagement.
If the United States were to announce its intention not to avenge this attack with violence but with a new approach — one based in a commitment to a real peace in the Middle East based on real justice — the world would not see it as weakness. Such a declaration would be the ultimate sign of strength.
There is a difficult truth about the United States that we must come to terms with if we are to understand why we were targeted for this cruel attack: For more than three decades, the United States has been the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East, and until we reverse that position we will be the target of the frustration and anger of many people there.
Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 is at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East, and that occupation has been possible because of support the United States — through Republican and Democratic administrations. We call ourselves the architects of the “peace process,” but in truth we have for decades blocked the international consensus for peace, which has called for Israel to give up the occupation and demanded basic rights for the Palestinian people.
Since 1991, when the Bush administration made sure that a U.S.-led war would be the only response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the resentment of the United States among the people of the Middle East has only deepened. Our willingness to use massive and indiscriminate violence in that war, and our eagerness to establish what has become a permanent military presence in the region, has made us few friends.
Yes, we need to do something — but something to shift our policy in the Middle East from rule-by-force to the quest for justice. Nonviolence is not simply about refusing to make war; it also is about creating justice in the world so that war is not necessary.
The appeal of war is that it seems strong and promises results quickly. It makes us feel safe.
But if we are to fight a global war against terrorism, we will show the world our weakness and trade the promise of peace and justice for the illusion of victory.
Mr. Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.