Transforming the Encounter with Terrorism
- / -
Comment submitted in response to
Council for the UN University's
Millennium Project survey on counter-terrorism
Will the future see "counter-terrorism" as having proven to be the
most fruitful way to frame the challenge - like the "war against drugs"?
What might the future see as the characteristics of a more productive Plan B?
An alternative framing could draw on alternative policy metaphors as recommended
by Donald Schon (1979): 'the framing of problems often depends upon metaphors
underlying the stories which generate problem setting and set the direction
of problem solving'. Could it be that "counter-terrorism" is a metaphoric
trap that guarantees the perpetuation of the cycle of violence - as the Middle
East may demonstrate?
Western military training actively acknowledges the merit of classics like
Sun Tzu's Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi's poetic Book of Five Rings.
There is therefore a case for exploring the philosophy guiding the more
advanced levels of expertise in Eastern martial arts (such as aikido) where
great emphasis is given to the attitude towards the other in any threatening
encounter. This attitude is reframed so that the nature of the relationship
has more degrees of freedom -- accompanied by both a greater intimacy and a
greater vigilance. The other is sensed in other ways and opposition is positioned
in ways that may allow any conflict to be transformed and avoided. According
to Yagyu Munenori, for example:
'The goal of training in the martial arts is to overcome six kinds of
disease: the desire for victory, the desire to rely on technical cunning, the
desire to show off, the desire to psychologically overwhelm the opponent, the
desire to remain passive in order to wait for an opening, and the desire to
become free of these diseases.'
As in the game of go, the real challenge to civilization may therefore be
at the contextual level - recalling Scott Boorman's (1969) analysis
of why the USA failed to win the Vietnam war in the light of a comparison of
go-strategy with chess-strategy. This analysis is echoed in the International
Bulletin of Political Psychology (Vol.10 No.13 Apr 13, 2001) comparing Vladimir
Putin's judo-influenced strategy with that of the "weight-machine"
mindset of the USA. Does the fact that the few web references to "defensive
terror" in a counter-terrorist manual are followed by numerous references
extolling its merits in American football lock strategic thinking into a particular
In such terms the strategic challenge has the elements of a non-linear shadow
game that will always out-maneuver any obvious achievements against obvious
targets desperately sought. Targeting itself becomes a metaphoric trap.
For the only UN agency based in Japan, it is ironic that the survey it has
sponsored may fail to draw upon Japanese cultural insights into the ultimate
terrorist -- in the classic Zen tale of the Ronin (adapted into novel
form by William Dale Jennings, 1968). From such a perspective, the focus on
counter-terrorism may frame the challenge so as to obscure conceptually any
more fruitful approach - especially for those who only have a strategic
"hammer" and must therefore define all strategic challenges in terms
How might Plan B be cultivated? The key might be to make extensive use of
those with proven skills in contextual, non-linear, lateral, non-binary thinking
in order to reframe a challenge now framed only in binary terms. In what way?
That is precisely what it is worth allocating a fraction of the resources devoted
to "counter-terrorism" to discover. In the spirit of martial arts,
how can the energy of "terrorists" be itself used to engender a new
pattern of relationship - essential to breaking the cycle of violence?
It is those less experienced in martial arts, like aikido, that focus on use
of physical violence -- when at the core of such arts is the cultivation of
a highly sophisticated mastery of nonviolent strategies in responding to opponents.
Those so skilled act otherwise - or even not at all - and so transform
a dangerous encounter into a vital learning experience that "counter-terrorism"
may dangerously postpone.
Can civilization risk postponing such learning through endeavouring to apply
the learnings of the past to defend the mindsets of the past? Is there not a
case for learning from a terrifying encounter in the present in order to frame
the future anew?