I’ve been invited to The Hague this week by the International Center on Counter-Terrorism for the presentation “Reflecting on the Effects of Counter-Terrorism Measures since 9/11: A Civil Society Perspective.” My talk focuses on the erosion of political freedom and human rights in many parts of the world resulting from repressive counter-terrorism measures.
It feels strange to be here in Europe during such a traumatic week in the U.S. The constant commemorations are reminding us of that terrifying time, what we were doing when the planes hit, how we responded to the horror of so many lives lost.
In that time of foreboding ten years ago, many of us felt a double fear—from the menacing threat of al Qaida’s murderous attacks, but also from the risk of an overly militarized reaction from the U.S. government. Our fears were sharpened soon after the attacks when President Bush declared a ‘global war on terror.’
During that time of fear I worked with friends in the religious community, Reverends Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches, to help craft a statement appealing for “sober restraint” and warning against indiscriminate retaliation that would cause more loss of innocent life. The proper response to the criminal attacks of al Qaida, the statement argued, is not war, but vigorous international police efforts to apprehend perpetrators and prevent future attacks. “Let us deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image,” the declaration read. It was eventually signed by more than 4,000 people and published in The New York Times on November 19, 2001.
Ten years later that message remains relevant and necessary. The ill-fated military occupation of Iraq is finally coming to an end, but American troops continue to fight and die in Afghanistan, and U.S. forces are launching a dozen or more drone bombing strikes and commando raids every day in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan are at their highest level since the UN began reporting such figures, and many are dying under our bombs in Pakistan as well. More innocent lives are lost, and more seeds of revenge and future armed conflict are sown.
When will we learn that war is not the answer? That policies of civilian law enforcement and conflict transformation offer a better strategy for preventing violent extremism?