Only tackling the root causes can end the cycle of violence

It was reported today that one of the young men who was part of the horrific and ghastly attack that killed 12 people in Paris yesterday was radicalized by the torture and brutality that occurred at Abu Ghraib. That tells me that these unforgivable atrocities (and there are many more in the Muslim world against Muslim people, including young children, that either go un- or barely reported) emanate, in the first place, from the real conditions of everyday life.

Thus any solution, if it hopes to end the cycle of violence and counter violence that grips and scars the modern world has to uproot these real conditions, that is, exploitation, oppression, poverty, racism, discrimination, torture, war, alienation, etc. and the structures, policies, and people that create and sustain them.

What won’t help – in fact, they’re a fool’s errand and a demagogue’s soundbite – are sweeping (and groundless) condemnations of Islam, or any other religion or people. Nor is the further militarization of already heavily armed police and security forces and more invasive spying an answer. Done that and it hasn’t worked either.

Nor should we hang our hopes on the projection of even greater military power in distant lands to make us safe. Look where that has got us since we launched our “War on Terror” in the wake of 9/11! And finally, let’s not turn our country into a fortress that turns immigrants into enemies and democracy and civil liberties into something that we can no longer afford.

Again and as counter intuitive as it may seem to many people at this moment when feelings are running high, only a sharp turn to peace and non-violence, to substantive equality for all, to full human solidarity and universal love, and to dissolving the real conditions that generate and reproduce violence daily and hourly, both here and around the world, stands a ghost’s chance of extricating humankind from this awful and seemingly intractable situation.

If this feels like too big challenge, too steep a hill to climb, we might want to reflect a bit on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate next week and whose commitment to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges never faltered and ultimately proved victorious.

Photo: French police officers patrol in Longpont, north of Paris, France, on Jan. 8, 2015.   |  Thibault Camus/AP


Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.