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Last I Heard

February 19, 2015

I’m sitting here reading e-mail and listening to the President talk to the Whitehouse Summit on Violent Extremism, otherwise known as the, “It’s not anyone’s fault but ours, really,” apology session.  It’s a nice summary of the strategy that the current administration is trying to combat the terrorist threats.  Here’s what I’m hearing:

  • Don’t treat the Islamic faith as a problem, everyone in the West has to understand the faith to see that it’s not violent.
  • Try to open lines of communication between the West and the rest of the world to show them that we have a nice culture and they shouldn’t hate us.
  • Find ways to drive higher employment and opportunity worldwide so kids have more hope.
  • Hope hope hope.  Change change change.

Maybe I’m missing some of the nuances, as the spokes people say, but this seems like it’s all one way in its efforts.

Let’s look at Eastern Africa as an analogous example.  For years, we’ve been funneling money there trying to improve the lives of the people.  The most success has been when we’re there working with the people to bootstrap themselves to success.  So our money helps, but only when we show them how to use money to create wealth of their own.  That says positive things about the need to create jobs, but mostly that only works when the people desire peace with each other first.  You can’t sell something to someone when they want to kill you, or when you’d rather kill them.

And the trope overall seems tired to me.  It really does seem to be all about the hope that we can show people a better way, and that they’ll believe and change if the vision is that positive.  If we were talking about Christianity, that might work.  But we’re talking about capitalism.  While wonderful to live in, capitalism is tough to understand when the only opportunity you know comes after violence.

I’ve compared the current crisis in the Middle East with the war we faced with the Japanese culture in the 30’s and 40’s.  The real change that finally happened was one where we enforced peace and then focused on changing the culture.  In this case, we’re hoping that peace happens, and then that they recognize that different culture is better.  The strategy might be a sound one (I doubt it, but it could be), but there needs to be action to support it.

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