London Aftermath: Suggestion for Ending Terrorism
The London public transit bombings of last week are a sad reminder of a weakness inherent in our interconnected global community. What we have is an ugly chain of events: 9/11 (2001), New York and Washington, D.C.; March 2004, Madrid; and now London, a day after the city was awarded the privilege of hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. Is al-Queda responsible for all three international acts of terror? Maybe so, possibly not. In my opinion, more importantly than who set off the bombs is the question: What are the root causes of this terrorism and how do we put an end to it? (Analogy: You might have heard the comment about how the medical profession is so adept at pulling drowning people out of the river downstream and saving their lives, without ever bothering to go upstream to find out who is throwing the poor innocent souls into the water in the first place!)
Terrorists are angry people, upset at their position in the world and desiring to vent their rage on the enemy around them. They are just as upset as George Bush was when he launched his War on Terror, rationalizing the invasion of Iraq and capture of Saddam Hussein through a search for weapons of mass destruction, while unsuccessfully conducting a manhunt for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. With Bin Laden still on the run and the war in Iraq now in its third year, one wonders what progress has been made. . . .
Between all of the terror, bombings, fighting and war, what we fundamentally have is a conflict of cultures: Muslim vs. Judeo-Christian, religious vs. secular values, tradition vs. freedom, Allah vs. science, spiritualism vs. consumerism, social class vs. mobility, birth rights vs. money, have-nots vs. haves. Two quotes taken from history represent ways to deal with this conflict. The first is from the 18th century, when a French aristocrat (claimed by some to have been Queen Marie Antionette) showed her insensitivity towards the plight of the starving peasants when she uttered the infamous remark "Let them eat cake" (meaning a flour-and-water paste used at the time to "cake" the interior of ovens and baking pans, not the delicate, sweet variety of cake as we know it today). This type of "bad" attitude of the wealthy aristocratic class towards the impoverished peasantry has been the cause of much class tension and rebellion over the centuries.
On the other hand, an example of a "good" attitude comes from a scene in the movie "Gandhi" (1982), in which Gandhi gives advice to Nahari who is grieving over having killed a Muslim child since the Muslims killed his own son. Gandhi tells Nahari, "I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father [were] killed and raise him as your own--only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one." Consider the resolve and determination that would be required for a non-Muslim man, whose own son had been killed by Muslims, to raise a Muslim boy as his own son, and in a Muslim way. This is the degree of compassion and love for humanity that is needed to put an end to international hate-crimes like terrorism.
So, how do we get from our fragile, conflict-prone world of today to a better, more peaceful world for tomorrow? What I suggest is that, rather than spending billions and billions of dollars on the Iraq war ($180 billion to date by one estimate) and other questionable military exercises, the U.S. and other wealthy countries should fund a comprehensive international educational exchange program. I think that U.S.-Iraqi relations would improve if, instead of continuing with its war effort, the U.S. were to send a few thousand high school students to Iraq to study each year, and in exchange host an equal number of Iraqi high school students here the U.S. Students would have their air fares, room and board, school fees and out-of-pocket expenses entirely covered by the program, with schools and host families receiving financial support as well. Participation would be through a competitive selection process, similar to how students are awarded scholarships for college. To the extent that safety is a concern, U.S. and Iraqi troops could help out as "peace officers" and bodyguards in the initial stages of the program.
My point is that only by bridging the cultural chasm between have and have-not nations will we, world citizens, ever learn to live peacefully together as one world, one humanity, without war and terrorism. By making friends with "enemy" children, our own kids here in the U.S. will acquire a broader international perspective. Extension of the educational exchange program to include many countries throughout the world will give childern further opportunities to learn from their foreign neighbor peers. Through sharing educational and cultural experiences with foreigners, our children should begin to respect not only their own country and its American-style capitalistic values but also a welcome diversity of customs and attitudes. For example, one refreshingly different view comes from the nation of Bhutan (population 2 million, located between China and India), which has an official government program promoting Gross National Happiness, a holistic alternative to the common economic focus on maximizing Gross National Product (GNP).
To the extent that the youth of our world are the future, friendship programs aimed at children give me hope that the conflict, war and terrorism we struggle with as nations will one day melt away. Friendship and education are far better weapons for fighting the long-run war against terrorism than any other form of artillery I can possibly imagine. Preventive educational measures are also a lot less expensive than guns, tanks, missiles and soldiers. Are you listening, President Bush?