How many corpses does it take to debunk the myth of violence?

I couldn’t help but notice that James Foley, as he was about to be horrifically executed, was dressed in an orange jump suit. Guantanamo Bay in the desert. And the masked executioner stated that he was killing James Foley because the US had bombed ISIS, and would kill another journalist if they didn’t stop attacking them. President Obama stated that ISIS was a cancer that needed to be excised from the world. It’ll most likely lead to a new round of Western bombing and intervention in the region, followed no doubt by ISIS revenge killings and further terrorism. Then the cycle will start again when some other group which grew out of this current round of violence commits another horrific act of violence. At least, this is how it’s been going for decades now: remember how al Qaeda grew out of the US-backed Afghan insurgency? And how ISIS grew out of the invasion of Iraq and the war in Syria? And how Hamas grew out of the occupation of Palestine? And so on, and so on.

Seeing all this, I can’t help but feel deeply saddened and depressed. Killing is everywhere, it seems, and mass violence seems to be the main dish on today’s news menu. But what depresses me the most is that no one appears to be asking the kind of questions which you’d think this news would provoke. Instead, it seems like there is an unquestioning acceptance that violence is taking place, therefore some kind of violent response is necessary. This seems to be the logic: if a man pulls a knife and threatens violence, then we need to simply shoot him to death. If a Palestinian fires a rocket, then we need to violently kill him and as many of the people around him as possible. If ISIS murders a journalist then we need to violently bomb his bases and send arms to surrounding armies so they can invade and kill him and all his kind. Simple. Logical, apparently.

But my question is: How many corpses does it take until we know that responding to violence with more violence doesn’t lead to peace but simply to even more violence further down the road? How many corpses does it take until we know that sending more weapons to the Middle East won’t make it any safer or more peaceful, but will in fact fuel further violence somewhere in the future? How many corpses will it take until we know that torturing people in Guantanamo, invading Iraq, the war on terror and Western foreign policy in the Middle East generally has been both deeply immoral and deeply disasterous, and is the root cause of the current round of violence we see today? How many corposes does it take until we start to question the violence-is-the-only-answer-to-violence policy reaction? And it obviously doesn’t end ‘over there’: How many corpses does it take until we know that going overseas to kill people leads directly to coming home and killing people – that a global war on terror will eventually come back to be a domestic war on terror in which militarised, shoot-to-kill policing is the natural order of the day?

In other words, how much evidence by way of corpses do we need to know that violence is a morally bankrupt, politically self-defeating, stupid and toxic policy option? How much evidence do we need until the idiots who recommend arms transfers or bombing or invasions or torture are viewed as naive and dangerous loonatics in need of locking up, while the pacifists and the peacemakers are held up as reasonable and wise because they can see that every act of violence just makes things worse? How much evidence do we need that realism is a stupid self-fulfilling prophesy that should be considered a dangerous idealism only fit for fools, and that pacifism ought to be the primary political philosophy we draw upon to figure out how to live in security and peace? How much evidence do we need until academics and politicians who advocate violent policies get booed and jeered for being destructive dick-heads, while peacemakers and pacifists get cheered for trying to find nonviolent ways of dealing with conflict? How much evidence do we need until arms manufacturers get prosecuted and shut down, while arms protesters get parades and statues instead of arrest and prosecution?

It is a simple question which I can’t see anyone asking: how many corpses does it take until we abandon the patently false idea that violence can be a useful policy tool and we start instead to use our intelligence to find the more realistic and morally consistent nonviolent alternatives? To be honest, I’m sick of being told I’m a naive, unrealistic idiot because I’m a pacifist when it is the belief that organised forms of violence and killing can bring peace and security which is clearly the naively delusional position. In fact, the belief that good can come out violence, or that evil can best be fought with violence, is the most dangerous, and most stupid, ideological belief in the world today. Every single day of my life to date, the news has proved this, but no more so than today.

About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently Professor of Peace Studies and the Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of pacifism and nonviolence, terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies (Routledge, 2016); Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism. In 2014, I published a research-based novel entitled, Confessions of a Terrorist (Zed Books, 2014) which explores the mind and motivation of a terrorist.
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5 Responses to How many corpses does it take to debunk the myth of violence?

  1. es laporte says:

    It’s also going to lead to a new round of spying and labeling of Muslim communities in the UK and other Western countries. Yes, and another round of “counter-radicalization” measures where normal Islamic religious practices, such as refraining from pork and alcohol, are “signs of radicalization” that will be linked to “sympathy for ISIS.” Another round of demonizing Muslim communities that have already condemned what ISIS is doing as “un-Islamic,” but that won’t appease our repressive Western state governments.

  2. nonentiti says:

    Richard: I totally sympathise with your feeling tired of being ridiculed for your stance. I feel the same way. I was trying to get people together to support the idea that 100 years of celebrating war is enough and that this Anzac day (in the Southern hemisphere) and the Memorial Days should be the last, but I get absolutely no responses.
    When talking to people, they all say they want peace because it is the fashionable thing to say, but in the meantime, they keep voting for politicians and they keep telling their children about war heroes and they accept the propaganda about being safe if their country has a military force, while missing the point that when those in power choose another war, that same military force will be turned against their own people as much as against the innocent civilians elsewhere.
    I think the problem is that pacifists are not very well organized and that they don’t have clear enough actions.

  3. The Book Thief says:

    “It is a simple question which I can’t see anyone asking: how many corpses does it take until we abandon the patently false idea that violence can be a useful policy tool and we start instead to use our intelligence to find the more realistic and morally consistent nonviolent alternatives?”

    Ok, so, in this case, with the Islamic State routinely willing to do nothing but flagrantly massacre ethnic and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, what is the nonviolent alternative at this point? They’re hardly willing to negotiate. They’re motivated by a powerful religious and political ideology that can’t exactly be negotiated with. How many women and children need to be buried alive before your non-violent alternative comes into force in this case?

  4. Em says:

    Hi Richard, I’ve been impressed by your clarity of thoughts on recnt political issues and in particular the Hager debate symposium. You are so right about pacificm and I cannot see how or why New Zealand would act in any other way with respect to foreign policy. Today there were police raids in NSW and Queensland after allegations of an ISIS plot and the Australian authorities appear to react with an attitude of pride and posturing that they will ‘go after’ anyone who threatens violence. I cannot feel less at ease about this reaction and question why you would promote an aggressive reaponse. Surely it is only inflammatory and if the threat was real why couldn’t it be dealt with in a far less public way. There were 800 police used to arrest 15 men and it has had widespread media attention. As a peaceful nation I wish NZ would commit to pacifism so we can stay that way.

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