Everyone talks about the closing of some two dozen American embassies last weekend, and many of those closings have been extended into this week in response to the intercept of terrorist messages from one AlQaeda leader to another in Yemen, the hotbed of recruitment, bomb construction, plot development and deployment for the radical Islamist affiliates currently plaguing much of North Africa and the Middle East. There are even reports that AlQaeda is claiming credit for what has become known as the Arab Spring, however exaggerated that claim might be.
Young men, many living in conditions in countries where food, health care, education and civil society are scarce if they are present at all, are fertile recruits for a purpose, especially a purpose as great as the cause of the Islamic God, Allah. In the inner core of many western cities, we know that gangs provide protection, affiliation or belonging as well as a purpose, however vaguely defined and criminally executed. It is not an accident that similar social, political and economic conditions spawn similar negative human results, no matter the credal culture, nor the skin colour of the young men.
In our inner cities, policy alternatives include getting closer to these young men, intervening inside these gangs through the deployment of all available social agencies, including child welfare, education, churches, non-profits, and even police in subtle and sensitive interventions where possible. Fear of these young men is not an option for those charged with designing and executing public policy, no matter how many illegal weapons and bullets are rampant in the streets, nor how many innocents are killed and maimed in the inevitable conflicts that overflow onto the frying ashphalt, many of them generated by the pursuit of profits from the sale of illicit drugs and contraband of whatever kind.
Just as fear is not an alternative for policy makers, neither are drones into the centre of our urban populations. The collateral damage that would result, if some “yahoo” policy nut were to issue such an order would cause riots in the streets, as it should, at least in America.
Why then are drones the weapon of choice against men of a different religious persuasion, in faraway lands, where there is little sign of effective governance, including the hope and expectation of rising out of dire poverty, joblessness, the unlikely prospect of having and raising a family and, here is where there is a substantial difference, and where the religious and political ideology includes hatred of the west, Christianity as it is practiced or perceive to be practiced by the radical Islamists, and especially the United States.
So drones, at least a half-dozen this week, up substantially from the recent past, following Obama’s May speech in which he called for a public debate on the restrictions of their use, are the weapon of choice.
However, just as they would be in Philadelphia, drones bring about more enemies of those who are using them. And in the case of AlQaeda, that means that no matter how balkanized their organization has become following the death of their charismatic leader, and how many different cells are “free-lancing” in how many different countries, their efforts continue unabated, no matter how many heads are lopped off the snake. As a counter-terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins, who works for the Rand Corporation put it on NPR’s On Point, with guest host John Harwood, this morning put it, however, “The terrorists are interested in process while we are interested in progress and they believe they are in a fight that could last for centuries, while we anticipate some form of victory.”
Process versus progress….a highly sophisticated distinction, yet certainly not a distinction without a difference. Signing up for AlQaeda, and the fight against the American imperialist heathens, or infidels as these radical Islamists think of Americans, is as much as signing up for a martyrdom complete with a nirvanic afterlife. Enrolling in an army of epic proportions, at least in the mind of those who are generating the propaganda for this fight, against an enemy of considerable size and import, at least in the mind of both its inhabitants and the Islamist terrorists, elevates both their enrolment and the potential for a heroic end, not mention a heroic participation in a holy process, in their minds.
Not only has the U.S. not officially and unquestionably accepted the proposition that collateral damage from drones is doing more harm to their cause than is tolerable, as they would be forced to acknowledge if they were dropping those death-machines into downtown Philadelphia, but they also have not accepted that they fear is generating much of the national response to the terrorists, and has done since 9/11. The Homeland Security department has grown like topsy; the military efforts to “annhiliate” AlQaeda, (and that is the stated goal of both Republican and Democratic governments) continue to prove counter-intuitive as this little terrorist “David” prepares more “sling-shot”attacks against the giant “Goliath” whom this “David” considers nothing less than the Leviathan, and poor, uneducated men living in squalor, and in hopelessness, and in rice-paddies ripe for religious brain-washing, as they are in the inner cities, are increasingly being drawn into something they might consider their own “manhood” as pictured by their respective “communities”. In the terrorists’ case, that would be the radical interpretation of Islam, and in the inner cities that would be the gang culture.
There is something eerily similar to the plight of American and western “lost young men” and the plight of those “lost young men” who are committing their lives to Allah, as his cause is presented to them by unscrupulous and venomous, yet charismatic, adult leaders who seek both their own place in “glory” and the overthrow of the U.S. Satan.
And while it is true that in most Islamic countries, young women have to fight for an education (and are heroically succeeding with outside help) too many young men, on both sides of this “global conflict” are feeding the monster of war, conflict, pirating, espionage, and finding purpose in their misguided efforts. Whether they do it with illicit weapons on the streets of Los Angeles, or in the deserts of Somalia, and whether they do it with hatred for democracy and capitalism or with contempt for the riches of others in comparison with their own life-defying poverty and hopelessness, they are nevertheless choosing the violent expression of their voices in opposition to forces beyond their control and influence, as they see it.
We can no more succeed in Mogadishu than we can in London or Madrid or even in Yemen unless and until we can find, acknowledge and ameliorate the roots to our fears and the wings, faith and promises to and for our best angels, through the conscious, deliberate and consistent and persistent provision of authentic and sustainable hope for those whose lives we would not wish on our worst enemy, even though many of them currently living those lives consider us their most hatred (but certainly not feared) enemy.
The Christian churches are squabbling over what it means to be a “man” and whether that includes gay men or not, as are both the Islamic faith and largely agnostic countries like Russia where all expression in support of gays is banned. Men, especially vulnerable men of all ethnicities, in all regions and of all faiths are being served a menu of conflicting messages of what it takes and means to be a healthy, respected and self-respecting man.
And yet, our knowledge of healthy young males, in families who consider the development of such babies to be a priority, has never been more extensive, and available. And that includes males of courage, sensitivity and imagination and wisdom, all of which qualities require armies of older, respected male role models for reinforcement.
And that need exists in all religious communities, who continue to put their limited and limiting interpretation of God’s will (as they perceive it) in front of the pursuit of a global goal of engendering a culture that supports and propagates the next many generations of healthy male children, adolescents, and young men, no matter which God they worship.
And that is a cause to which all religious communities can legitimately commit, without fear of offending either their view of God or invoking the wrath of a God of a different faith community.