Giving Birth to the Unexpected

For 20 years I have worked as a mediator in violent situations from Northern Ireland to Somalia, from Colombia to Nicaragua, from the Basque country and Tajikistan to the Philippines where cycles of revenge seem hell-bent on perpetuating themselves and those involved find ways of justifying their part in the cycle. Some lessons emerge from these settings for the challenges of terror.

First, recognize that cycles of violent anger are built on perceived threat to survival and direct experiences of exclusion over time. Stopping the cycle requires one guidepost: Avoid doing what they expect. They expect us to lash out. They need disenfranchised people to perpetrate the myth that they are fighting a mad system. We need to destroy the myth, not their people.

Second, understand that their organization has as a central purpose: Regenerate thyself. They operate through autonomous cells, strict secrecy, and a refusal to engage the enemy's strength. Many political leaders believe they can end this violence by getting rid of the perpetrator. This focus on the person rather than the system gives life to terror. We are faced with something more like a virus: It enters unperceived, flows with the body, and creates harm from within. Our strategic response must remove the sources that attract and sustain recruitment. You do not shoot at this kind of enemy. Massive military response creates the environment that reproduces the virus. You respond by strengthening the capacity of the body to prevent the virus and strengthen immunity.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2001
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