Don’t Overreact!

Terrorists count on their targets to overreact. Terrorism is designed to provoke outrage and calls for reprisals. Don’t fall for … Continued

Terrorists count on their targets to overreact. Terrorism is designed to provoke outrage and calls for reprisals. Don’t fall for it.

It can be incredibly hard not to overreact, especially on a human level. Who could look on the tears of little Moshe Holtzberg, only two years old, crying out for his mother at his parents’ funeral at a Mumbai synagogue and not be both heartbroken and enraged? His parents, along with four others at Chabad House, the Jewish Center in Mumbai, were specifically targeted. They were among the 174 people killed in the three-day rampage by, it now appears, Pakistani militants.

Religion is often at the root of the most extreme and outrageous forms of terrorism and often produces extreme responses. Religious extremism and terrorism mutually reinforce one another. Religion provides the excuse, and sometimes even the targets. Terrorism provides the means, means that are getting ever more sophisticated in their capacity to enact the maximum amount of carnage for the minimum of expense.

Religion provides an ideal excuse for violence because it can so easily be seduced into absolute truth claims. In his very insightful book, When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball lists “absolute truth claims” as the first of the five warning signs he has identified that a religion has been corrupted and made to serve evil. The others are blind obedience, establishing the “ideal” time, the end justifies any means, and declaring holy war. All of these have been employed in recent years to get religion to serve terrorism. All of these have also been used to justify an extreme response to terrorism.

After 9/11, the Bush Administration overreacted. We attacked Iraq, a country that had not attacked us, on the flimsy, and now it has been established, false claim that they had “weapons of mass destruction.” The “Bush Doctrine,” the policy that we are justified in attacking a country that has not attacked us, was also a religiously motivated idea. In choosing to use the extreme language of evil in describing Iraq (as well as Iran and North Korea), President Bush fell into this same religious trap–we are “good,” THEY are “evil” and so we are justified in using any means to achieve our ends. This skewed thinking also ended up being used to justify torture.

The thing to know about using “evil” to fight “evil” is that it simply creates more evil. As “Matthew Alexander,” wrote last week for the Washington Post, “I’m Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq,” “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives. I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

In other words, when you mirror your enemy, you become your enemy.

Some in the media and some politicians are calling the Mumbai attacks “India’s 9/11” and noting that the “Bush Doctrine” could be used as a justification for reprisals. American officials should convince India not to go there, though it is hard. For a short time, it is a case of “don’t do as I do, do as I say.” But in an Obama administration, there can be another way.

Cooperation. Keeping lines of communication open and extreme rhetoric down. Terrorists hate that. The very thing they want is to provoke retaliation and increased violence. On Tuesday, December 2, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi extended an offer to India to cooperate as it investigates these attacks. We should do everything we can to see that this cooperation takes place.

In the age of terrorism, reason and negotiation are the only things that work. It’s also the spiritual thing to do. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

  • homesower

    Much of what you say is true, with the caveat that provoking overreaction is not the only reason for terrorist acts. Another common goal is to delegitimize the government, so that people lose faith in it. Overreaction is but one way that a government falls into a trap where they lose respect in the eyes of their people. Another is to not react, or react too weakly. A principle role of government is to protect its citizens. A government that fails in this regard will lose support.In this specific case I think the attack was not to create an overreaction, but to cause people to lose faith in their government as one that cannot protect them. With that faith missing the people become more open to questioning all the actions and policies of the government, including those involving the disputed Kashmir region.That said the danger still exists that the government can make the situation worse by overreacting.

  • marcedward1

    Yo Observer

  • observer12

    Sue:I thought your christian self might be interested in my reply to Soja, which I originally posted on the main thread.Soja:That was a beautiful post. Thank you. I hope Farnaz, who’s taken a hiatus from this thread checks in to read it.For me, the horror of the three hundred dead, the countless traumatized, the countless deformed is haunting. That the murderers singled out foreigners in particular shows their attempt to cripple India not only with respect to tourism, but in numerous other ways.That they were instructed to single out the Naiman House is bone-chilling, to single it out and torture its Jewish inhabitants to death. ThisI’ve been reading about the young rabbi and his wife. Gavriel had been asked if he feared terrorism, replying that he knew it was a real possibility but didn’t fear it. I imagine he could not have dreamt that savages would slaughter his Rivka who was six months pregnant, that they would kill both of them in front of their two-year old son’s eyes.I would imagine that Gavriel could not have imagined that his son would be badly beaten and brought out covered in his mother’s blood and crying for her. I’ve been reading posts by people who either knew them or met them. They were there for Jewish residents, travelers, sojourners, and to reach out to Bene Israel and other indigenous Indian Jews, but their work went further. They had good relations with all. They worked with the poor and lived very simply.The Mumbai tragedy is beyond one’s capacity to describe. Racism is a special horror worldwide. There have been three reports in the last few years on global anti-Semitism, one commissioned by the US on anti-Jewish racism here, one in England commissioned by Tony Blair, and one commissioned by the EU, widely believed to have concealed some of its findings.Interestingly, in England, France, Germany and other European countries, these racist attacks have just begun to be treated as such. A terrific scandal shocked London when a young woman was so brutally beaten that she had to be hospitalized.These racist thugs and butchers, these animals are not only self-declared Muslims, but self-declared Christians. The savagery at the Naiman House has been experienced by Jews before, and not at Muslim hands.As a self-liberated former christian, I can truthfully say that anti-semitism is inscribed in Christianity. It came to Islam in its current form via the Christians. Let us not forget this, and let us see what they intend to do about it within themselves.December 4, 2008 8:21 PM |

  • ZZim

    I don’t think we over-reacted to the 9/11 attacks. I’m pretty sure that if I were GWB on 9/12/01 that I’d have been doing some pretty in-depth reacting, much of it counter-productive. But I was impressed at the time with the deliberation with which the administration moved, untilizing diplomatic channels and clearly signaling our intentions well before we made any moves.I also think that Susan is wrong to try to link the war in Iraq to the War on Terror. Certainly the invasion of Iraq has had enormous beneficial effects on the war on terror, but I don’t really think it was triggered by 9/11 at all. I’m pretty sure that GWB intended to do something forceful in Iraq at some point. In fact, he was to the left of Al Gore on that issue. The invasion of Iraq was a logical follow-up to the liberation of Kuwait. We stopped Desert Storm on the condition that Saddam destroy his weapons of mass destruction, his capabilities of making more, AND prove to the world that he had done so. He actually did number one, but chose to hide his WMD production capabilites instead and worked very, very hard NOT to do number three. It was important to Saddam that everyone believe that he did indeed have WMD. And WMD are so destructive that it would have been irresponsible and immoral for Bush to assume that Saddam did not have WMD if he would not provide iron-clad assurance that he didn’t.As it is, our forces uncovered 500 chemical weapons (enough to kill 10,000 people) and some 200 tons of uranium (enough to build a half dozen nuclear devices).The invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do and it would have happened without 9/11 anyway. Or at least it ought to have.