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Responding to ISIS attacks: AFSC calls for no more victims

The U.S. and Europe cannot afford to repeat the mistake of responding to violence with more violence.


On November 11, an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attack in Beirut killed at least 43 people. The following day an ISIS bombing in Baghdad killed 18 and a more publicized attack in Paris killed at least 129 people. Hundreds more were wounded in these attacks. It is believed that ISIS also recently bombed a Russian plane, Metrojet Flight 9268, after it took flight from Sharm-al-Sheik, Egypt, killing all 224 people aboard.

The American Friends Service Committee grieves for these victims of wanton violence, and our hearts and prayers go out to the families whose loved ones have died or been injured in these calamities. As a Quaker organization that works to build lasting peace and justice in communities worldwide, we extend deep sympathy to the communities now coping with the aftermath of these unconscionable attacks.

We call for an end to violence so there will be no more victims. We oppose all violence, regardless of source or target, and know from our work that to end violence we must address its root causes. Responding with more violence will not earn back what was lost by violence.

These are only the latest in a long line of attacks on civilians carried out by both state and non-state actors in recent years. Those killed and wounded in Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt, and Paris add to the millions of people who have suffered over the last decade as a result of wars and violence in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Libya, Kenya, and elsewhere.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, the United States and European governments have committed to increasing military actions to destroy ISIS. France has bombed locations in Syria and the United States has vowed to increase its attacks on ISIS and other armed groups in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

However, before taking steps that escalate violence, we ask the United States and others to step back and consider their possible responses to violence. We need to learn from the failures in recent history.

Since 2001, the U.S. and its allies’ first response to violent attacks has been to declare war in the name of creating security. Wars have been fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drones have bombed targets throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Military forces have been deployed around the globe. Local groups seen as allies of the U.S. have been provided with weapons and training.

And as a result everyone became less secure.

In the U.S., we remain blind to the true human and strategic cost of war. The lives lost in Arab countries are not valued or counted. But the reality is that as a result of U.S. and European actions in the Middle East, hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions have been injured, and millions have been displaced from their homes.

As families, communities, and whole societies have been fractured, we have created the conditions that perpetuate the cycle of violence and feed decades-long unresolved conflicts. Despair, fear, and hopelessness about the prospects for a just and secure future all contribute to ongoing violence and to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Throughout this period as the U.S. and allies waged a “Global War on Terror,” attacks by non-state actors have continued. Military actions have not brought stability or ended violence. Rather, they are a key contributing factor to ongoing violence. London, Madrid, Beirut, Amman, Baghdad, Istanbul, Islamabad, Bali, and Paris have all been targets of attacks. Al-Qaeda and other similar groups, far from being pacified through violence, have gained strength. Now ISIS has emerged with surprising speed and power, using U.S. and Western military operations as an effective tool to recruit disaffected and marginalized youth in impoverished European communities and Islamic militants hardened in other violent attacks elsewhere.

ISIS is responsible for its horrific actions and their tragic consequences, as was Al Qaeda in 2001. Yet the U.S. and Europe cannot afford to repeat the mistake of responding to violence with more violence, as we did with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, we must break the cycle of violence. We must analyze and address the root causes. If we can see ISIS in the context of its place and time, the international community can pursue alternatives and collaborative responses, overcoming sectarian and geopolitical interests and engagements to reduce, rather than escalate, future bloodshed.

The rise of ISIS draws on the instability and sectarian divisions fueled by the unnecessary and catastrophic war in Iraq and ongoing U.S. military support for violence in other areas of the Middle East. Violence by non-state actors in the Middle East cannot be separated from civil wars and repressive governments in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere or from the impasse in reaching a just settlement between Israel and Palestine. Yet continuing to respond to violence with violence will not bring new and better outcomes.

To stop this cycle, we must change direction and focus on ensuring justice, freedom, and prosperity. For AFSC, this means promoting what we call shared security. Shared security rejects policies based on narratives of fear and military domination, instead recognizing that in this interconnected world, our security depends on ensuring that others also feel secure. By creating the conditions where people can enjoy their human rights and meet their basic needs, we can stop nourishing the roots of violence and instead promote resilient, nonviolent responses to the disputes and challenges that will inevitably arise in our all too human world.

Based on our experience working in conflict zones for almost 100 years, AFSC recommends listening to local communities as they express their needs, supporting them to find political solutions, and investing in strengthening civil institutions that help them build futures free of conflict and violence. As the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates recently urged, the nations of the world can take a first step in addressing the root causes of violent conflict by fully funding the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals--a feat that could be accomplished by cutting the worldwide military expenditure of $1.8 trillion dollars by just 10 percent.

All religious faiths value human life and dignity. Quakers express that value in the idea that there is “that of God” in every individual. That deeply held belief compels us to speak out for policies and practices that respect the human dignity of all. In the wake of these attacks, we must not allow our brothers and sisters in Muslim and Arab communities to become scapegoats. When we vilify a group, it becomes easy to justify violence and exploitation against them. Syrians fleeing the destruction in their home country must not be received with fear and hatred. Rather they must be welcomed with a helping hand. Only by respecting all of God's children and working for the safety of all people everywhere can we stop the cycle of violence.

When governments invest more in igniting human potential than they do in weapons and war, then it will be possible to build lasting peace, justice, and security for all.