What to Do About ISIS
Editor’s Note: Tikkun seeks to present a range of views that you wouldn’t hear in the mainstream media, without necessarily endorsing those perspectives. Please remember that Tikkun‘s own position is articulated only in our editorials.
In my view, the important article by David Swanson that I’m sharing below may be underestimating the venality and murderous nature of the ISIS coalition that he describes. Unlike Hamas and unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS appears to have genocidal intent toward Christians and Shia Muslims (and possibly also toward Sunnis who don’t share their perspective and almost certainly toward Jews).
On the other hand, I know that I don’t know who they really are or even what they are really doing. I’ve read enough lies about previous run-up to wars in the Western media to know not to believe anything I read, but only to consider that the media’s account is one possible way of viewing the reality.
I also know that the gruesome accounts of murders committed by ISIS are shocking to a U.S. audience in part because the far greater number of people killed by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East, South East Asia, Central and South America have never been presented in an honest way to the American people. Most of us have not heard the gruesome details or stories of the families that have lost loved ones as a result of U.S. military and CIA actions.
Accounts of how ISIS members used waterboarding on their captives have been told in a way that dramatizes the inhumanity of a tactic that was used on many, many of those held by the United States in Guantanamo and in more secret detention and torture facilities run by or contacted by the United States around the world.
Yet U.S. feelings of rage about waterboarding were never directed at those who perpetrated and those who approved that torture, so people like George W. Bush and former vice president Cheney and the many under them in the chain of command who carried out these outrageous acts have never been brought to trial.
When it’s ISIS that commits these abuses, we are encouraged to think of their actions as reasons for war; when it’s our U.S. leaders who commit the same abuses, we don’t even think it sufficient reason to put them in prison!
On the other hand, my outrage at acts that we in the U.S. have committed does not diminish my outrage at what ISIS is doing, if the media accounts are even partially correct, and my desire to want to stop them before more people are murdered. But how? Not in a way that will have even worse consequences, in the way that the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein’s (who should have spent the rest of his life in prison) led to the growth of ISIS.
Our inclination always at Tikkun is to ask the following question of any group espousing hateful ideas (including haters among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalist movements; followers of secular right-wing or fascist groups; and those who adhere to the ultra-nationalistic, ultra-militaristic tendencies within American and Israeli nationalism, as well as any other kind of nationalism): What are the underlying needs that these movements are speaking to that might be legitimate needs of the people who respond to them? And how do we then develop strategies to separate those legitimate needs from the fascistic, racist, or irrational ways that people seek to meet those needs through these hateful and sometimes violent movements?
These are the questions that I’ve answered in some detail in my books The Politics of Meaning, Spirit Matters, and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. The goal is not to excuse outrageous and murderous acts, but to figure out how to disempower the murderers, whether they be American, Iraqi, Chinese, Russian, Israeli, or from Hamas. The goal is to ensure that their followers don’t move on to some other equally terrible movement or murderous sect or religion or nationalism once these particular murderers are gone.
If you read those books you’ll see why I’m inclined to think that Swanson is moving in a good direction but lacks some of the psychological and spiritual tools necessary to make his strategy successful. One of those tools is a Global Marshall Plan (please download it at tikkun.org/GMP and read the full 32-page brochure). The problem with mentioning the GMP is that people immediately think it’s primarily about giving money. But it’s not. It is predicated on a strategy of showing respect and genuine caring for the well-being of all people on the planet. This caring would be conveyed partly through money, but more importantly through a fundamental transformation brought about by the Western world in adopting the New Bottom Line laid out in detail at tikkun.org/covenant.
Without that approach, the United States will have no tools for dealing with ISIS, and so inevitably the people of this country will fall back onto violence and war making.
“Fine,” you may say, “but what are we supposed to do NOW? Don’t you realize that these people are a real menace?” That may be true, but the reason it’s true is because people always go to that formulation—the one that led us into a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first place without having any idea of what could replace him. Without that alternative, Swanson’s point is that we created the preconditions for the rise of ISIS.
So, truth is, I don’t know what we should do with ISIS in the short run, except to follow some of the steps that Swanson proposes, other steps that are defined in the Global Marshall Plan and in the Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Spiritual Covenant at spiritualprogressives.org, and yet others that I’ll propose in a subsequent article within the next few weeks.
While these steps may not be sufficient, I know for sure that taking any other path that doesn’t also include these steps is bound to simply recreate the set of circumstances that have led us into the current mess. The one thing I’m sure about: if some kind of intervention is justified, and I think it may be, it should be genuinely led by the United Nations and not by the United States. And it should not occur solely at the initiative of the United States.
If the people of the world are ready to take some action, let us follow their leadership rather than intervene alone—U.S. hands are, as they say in law, “dirty hands” and hence not able to provide ethically credible leadership. So please do read Swanson’s insightful article. And then please also read David Sylvester’s post on Tikkun Daily with its call for the Abrahamic religions to lead an international summit of religious forces to develop a response to the increasingly murderous realities we face.
Meanwhile, have a joyous Labor Day 2014! Wouldn’t it be great if this year working people used this day off to figure out how to take back control of our country from the super-rich and powerful so that we too could participate in the discussions that the elite have about which wars to drag us into? Maybe next year?
—Rabbi Michael Lerner
What to Do About ISIS
by David Swanson
Originally published on warisacrime.org
Start by recognizing where ISIS came from. The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, left a sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere.
ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. It is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and seized from the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79 percent of weapons transferred to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States.
So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you’ve left in chaos. Libya is of course another example of the disasters that U.S. wars leave behind them—a war, by the way, with U.S. weapons used on both sides, and a war launched on the pretext of a claim well documented to have been false that Gaddafi was threatening to massacre civilians.
So, here’s the next thing to do: be very skeptical of humanitarian claims. The U.S. bombing around Erbil to protect Kurdish and U.S. oil interests was initially justified as bombing to protect people on a mountain. But most of those people on the mountain were in no need of rescue, and that justification has now been set aside, just as Benghazi was. Recall also that Obama was forced to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq when he couldn’t get the Iraqi government to give them immunity for crimes they commit. He has now obtained that immunity and back in they go, the crimes preceding them in the form of 500-pound bombs.
While trying to rescue hostages and discovering an empty house, and racing to a mountain to save 30,000 people but finding 3,000 and most of those not wanting to leave, the U.S. claims to know exactly whom the 500-pound bombs are killing. But whomever they are killing, they are generating more enemies, and they are building support for ISIS, not diminishing it. So, now the U.S. finds itself on the opposite side of the war in Syria, so what does it do? Flip sides! Now the great moral imperative is not to bomb Assad but to bomb in defense of Assad, the only consistent point being that “something must be done” and the only conceivable something is to pick some party and bomb it.
But why is that the only conceivable thing to be done? I can think of some others:
1. Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in Abu Ghraib and to every other prisoner victimized under U.S. occupation.
2. Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there.
3. Begin making restitution by delivering aid (not “military aid” but actual aid, food, medicine) to the entire nation of Iraq.
4. Apologize for role in war in Syria.
5. Begin making restitution by delivering actual aid to Syria.
6. Announce a commitment not to provide weapons to Iraq or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Bahrain or any other nation anywhere on earth and to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign territories and seas, including Afghanistan. (The U.S. Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf has clearly forgotten where the coast of the U.S. is!)
7. Announce a commitment to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other green energy and to provide the same to democratic representative governments.
8. Begin providing Iran with free wind and solar technologies — at much lower cost of course than what it is costing the U.S. and Israel to threaten Iran over a nonexistent nuclear weapons program.
9. End economic sanctions.
10. Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms.
11. Send journalists, aid workers, peace workers, human shields, and negotiators into crisis zones, understanding that this means risking lives, but fewer lives than further militarization risks.
12. Empower people with agricultural assistance, education, cameras, and internet access.
13. Launch a communications campaign in the United States to replace military recruitment campaigns, focused on building sympathy and desire to serve as critical aid workers, persuading doctors and engineers to volunteer their time to travel to and visit these areas of crisis.
14. Work through the United Nations on all of this.
15. Sign the United States on to the International Criminal Court and voluntarily propose the prosecution of top U.S. officials of this and the preceding regimes for their crimes.