Sometimes the bang of a gavel can be as loud as the roar of a cannon.
Late last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that offering “material assistance” of any kind – even advice or insight – to groups the government labels as terrorist is a crime prosecutable under federal law. It doesn’t matter if it’s part of an academic study, or even an effort to convince the group to abandon violence: even offering a terrorist group training in non-violent conflict resolution, the court declared, is aiding and abetting the enemy. And efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to child victims of conflict may be violating the law if aid passes through groups designated as terrorist
Academics around the world who study conflict resolution, including many who study terrorist organizations, have found the decision alarming. Saybrook Psychology and Human Science faculty member Marc Pilisuk has initiated a resolution, subsequently modified by members of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and now approved by the its Board, voicing an unwillingness to comply with the ruling. The Peace and Justice Studies Association – an international body of academics, K-12 teachers, and grassroots activists who explore alternatives to violence and share strategies for peace building, social justice, and social change has adopted the resolution.
The statement reads:
We students and professionals who have devoted our careers to understanding how violence in the world can be reduced and how security can be attained will, as a matter of conscience, continue to support both humanitarian aid to all people in need, and the teaching of nonviolent means for resolving conflicts without regard to lists of terrorist organizations provided by any agencies or governments. We are convinced that waging war cannot meet the security needs of people in a globally interconnected world, and that waging peace is a more effective strategy for addressing the roots of terrorism and promoting the inherent dignity of all members of the human family. We view efforts to restrict peacemaking activities as contradictory to the goals of combating terrorism and as an infringement of our right to express views consistent with both our knowledge and our moral and spiritual commitments to a world of peace.
The issue, Pilisuk says, involves a simple principle: it’s much harder to make peace with people you don’t understand. To understand people, you have to communicate – and if communication with groups whom governments have declared to be enemies is declared illegal, then there can be no peace process. Mutual hate is sanctioned, peace is punishable, collective punishment replaces creative reconciliation and lives are needlessly lost.
“The grounds for continuing to wage peace, even in the face of obstacles placed by governments, are compelling,” he notes. “As scholars and educators we cannot ignore the evidence for alternatives to waging violent conflict. To know this evidence and not to act upon it violates a spiritual commitment to protect life. Two wartime American Presidents have later reflected upon the need for an alternative to violence:
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” — Abraham Lincoln
“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower