Our headlines have been filled with an overwhelming amount of violence and conflict lately – Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Central America. Fortunately, this week, Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol has published a New York Times Op-Ed about how we can build peace.
The article is titled Turkey Can Teach Israel How To End Terror. To me, that headline exemplifies our cultural focus on war and violence at the expense of focusing on the outcome we want – peace. Terror gets more clicks than peace.
But regardless, Akyol makes several salient points. He parallels the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurds and the conflict between the Israeli state and Palestinians. Unlike other analysts, however, he doesn’t focus on the actions of “terrorists.” He puts the onus on the more powerful and responsible actor: the state.
“Every time these macabre death tolls arise, we are always reminded by Western politicians that Israel has a “right to defend itself.” One is left wondering why the Palestinians don’t have a right to defend themselves, too. If the answer is that Israel is a state while Palestine is not, then one would wonder who has deprived Palestine of statehood?”
Terrorist violence is never acceptable or excusable. But social conflict does not arise in a vacuum.
“The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.”
Many of us who have lost someone to terrorism and who fear it inside our borders do think our states are correct in taking a zero-tolerance, hard-line, and if we’re honest, violent, response to terrorism. We ask ourselves, why did this happen to us and to our loved ones?
Admitting that our societies have bred that terrorism can be a hard pill to swallow. But we cannot permit oppression and violence against a certain group – giving them very few options to live full lives and build flourishing communities – and not expect some response. States cannot take a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to violence.
Responses to oppression are most effective when, instead of reacting violently, groups rise up and show us a better, nonviolent way. This is why the civil rights movement in the United States was so important and effective, and this is the message we need to communicate to groups who might consider using terrorism and violence. But in cases of oppression, repression, and marginalization, a response is nearly inevitable. All people deserve full, happy, peaceful lives, and the brilliance of human creativity is that we will do whatever is required to secure that right for ourselves and our families.
Akyol’s editorial is worth a full read. He does not deride Israel, but rather demonstrates from history why and how a state, and a people, taking responsibility for its actions can end terrorism and bring about peace.
Let me know what you think of his peacebuilding strategy in the comments. Peace is getting a lot more press lately, and as I find these kinds of well-reasoned and inspiring articles, I’ll continue to share them with you.