Friday, November 19, 2010

Cycle of violence and enlightened self-interest

Raise your hand if you've heard of restorative justice. Keep your hand up if you can explain to us what it is. Keep your hand up if you connect it to nonviolence. OK, before I am accused of torture of Joshuan proportions (when Moses kept his arms outstretched all day until sunset so Joshua could slaughter Amalek and his soldiers, another quaint peace story from the Bible), let's explore why restorative justice might be connected to nonviolence.

Anwar al-Awlaki is a theologian of the Old Testament, the radical Muslim cleric who very well might have promoted terrorism all on his own, but he cites his experience in the US penal system as a heavy motivator.

"For the first nine months I was in solitary confinement in an underground cell. No interaction with any other prisoner was allowed for the entire nine months."

You can hear the recording of Awlaki saying this at the NPR site. As soon as he was finally released he began fiery anti-US, pro-terrorism Islamicist diatribes, recruiting others consumed with hate for whatever reasons.

Now, I've been in solitary confinement in the US, but never in an underground cell. My cell had no window, so it might as well have been underground, but the point is that nine months of retributive justice without even so much as a criminal charge or trial or conviction or sentence is going to make a person cross. Maybe the US officials who slammed Awlaki in for those nine months felt justified because of their vague hatred of radical Islamicists. But that was highly unprofessional, irrationally retributive, and we see the result: more irrational retribution flowing back. We really taught Awalaki a lesson: hate hate hate attack attack attack. How is that in the national interest? How does that protect Americans or anyone else?

No, I'm not against locking people up. I am against locking up people who are just getting questioned. That produces more violent impulses. I am opposed to locking people up and not attempting rehabilitation. In fact, I'm completely in favor of locking up both bin Laden and Bush, the underpants bomber and Dick Cheney, the shoe bomber and Donald Rumsfeld. Put 'em all in a bullpen and I'll volunteer to spend time with them every day in violence rehabilitation counseling and training. Keep them locked up until a qualified panel of psychologists can affirm that they are all no longer a menace to society, any society. But never ever give up on providing rehabilitation.

That is part of restorative justice, (yes, it's infinitely more complex than that, I know--you can put your hand down). It is far more in line with our enlightened national self-interest and it is part of a nonviolent response to terrorism. The violent response is a spur to more of the same, as we see again and again. The nonviolent response includes restorative justice and much more. It is time to begin.

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