Some maintain that intelligence acquired by the U.S. government, with methods ranging from torture to collection of Americans’ phone data, is necessary to prevent another 9/11.
But let’s be clear about two types of intelligence. One type revolves around CIA-type information: who knows who, who’s planning what, when to kill someone where. Let’s call that “destructive intelligence.” It’s acquired through force, bribes, trickery and other covert activities.
The second type of intelligence pertains to problem-solving and creativity; history, psychology, and culture; human relations, language, and negotiation; compassionate familiarity with foreigners’ daily lives. Let’s call that “constructive intelligence.” It’s readily available.
Both types of intelligence can help, but they inherently lead to opposite paths in foreign policy: controlling or resolving.
The enormously imbalanced emphasis placed on destructive intelligence hamstrings foreign policy by burdening interrogators, troops, and drone pilots with the belief that their destructive actions are vital to American security: “I’ve got to waterboard him to avoid another 9/11!”
What are the costs of ignoring constructive intelligence?
Consider even one piece of unnoticed constructive intelligence staring us in the face: Alienation. Killers have often previously experienced a jarring sense of disconnection from others. This alienation can permeate one’s existence with an uneasy, empty feeling of being cut off, a prickly awareness that one’s personality doesn’t belong.
Alienation never excuses violence, but alienation is a corner piece of the puzzle, and policies based on destructive intelligence only aggravate alienation.
Consider Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th 9/11 terrorist, who endured anti-immigration sentiment while growing up in France. Known as “cannon fodder,” ostracized Arabs abroad are easily recruited to die for Islam, an identity they can embrace.
Moussaoui’s six months in Britain furthered his alienation. After living with homeless drug addicts and the mentally ill, he complained that British society was closed and class-ridden.
Richard Reid, the shoe bomber arrested in 2001, was part Jamaican and part Caucasian. By his account, his father, who’d repeatedly faced racial taunts, was in jail when he encouraged Richard to become Muslim: “They treat you fair, like a human being and not like dirt.”
Omar Hammami, the target of insults back home in Alabama, became a leader in al-Shabaab. Both al-Shabaab and al-Qaida capitalize on alienation and reiterate to potential recruits abroad that they’re unwanted in the West.
Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia’s Southwest, an alienated area high in unemployment and stigmatized as socially inferior by Saudi elite.
Cold urban landscapes and the emptiness of secular progress and Western prosperity: These forces alienated young Egyptians in the 1970s, including Kamal el-Said Habib, imprisoned for Anwar Sadat’s 1981 assassination.
Sept. 11 pilot Mohammad Atta, upset as a boy if anyone hurt even an insect, was alienated on many levels. Atta’s mother was scolded by his father for showing Atta affection and thus raising him like “a girl,” as if boys merit a half-human identity rejecting affection.
Atta grew to view women as inferior and their sexuality evil — common themes among suicide bombers, severing them from positive relationships with women. Enraged at Egypt’s inattention to poverty, Atta feared his views would get him arrested, curtailing his civil engineering career hopes.
The Ba’th party attracted the marginalized: those uprooted by modernization and urban migration, and lower classes and religious minorities, such as Syria’s Alawites.
The Muslim Brotherhood formed to help its largely lower class members overcome the spiritual and social alienation provoked by Ataturk’s drastic Westernization of Turkey.
ISIS was spawned by the alienating U.S. invasion and installation of an anti-Sunni government.
Entire societies can feel alienated: Many Muslims are convinced of a Western-Zionist crusade to destroy Muslim identity.
So how has the U.S. been tackling alienation?
Has it been nurturing friendships across social barriers, reducing hatred and poverty, evaluating Westernization and urbanization, connecting people with nature, community, and positive purpose?
It’s been dropping bombs and uprooting millions.
What does the U.S. government know about genuine friendship? Eight fighter jets to Pakistan to cement our friendship. Twenty-two thousand bombs, 600 Patriot air defense missiles, and four combat ships for our friends the Saudis.
For $1 trillion the U.S. will revitalize its nuclear arsenal. But is our constructive intelligence so limited that we cannot see how $1 trillion could prevent alienation?
Naturally, some couldn’t care less about alienated foreign murderers. But what about their victims? What about alienated American murderers?
What about Dylann Roof, who killed blacks? Vester Lee Flanagan II, who killed whites? Glendon Crawford, who planned to kill Muslims? Chris Harper-Mercer, who detested Christians and murdered students?
To what extent was alienation in the cauldron that brewed their violent prejudice?
What about the alienation between the criminal justice system, community, and those with mental disorders who are injured or killed in encounters with police or the prison system –Donald Ivy, tased to death by Albany police, Jacob Gocheski, his arm broken when Rotterdam police dragged him off a bus, or Benjamin Van Zandt, a young mentally ill Bethlehem man who hanged himself in prison after enduring, his family says, verbal and physical abuse and repeated stretches in solitary confinement?
Alienated murderers may stand at the tip of an iceberg of countless people who are alienated but who react, not with homicide, but with depression, anxiety, callousness, misbehavior, or suicide, or who get murdered themselves.
Constructive intelligence illuminates nonviolent actions critical for peace. Shouldn’t we set aside lesser goals and make it our priority at home, school, workplace and community to nurture caring humans who are neither alienating nor alienated? Isn’t this more courageous than attacking people who make us nervous?
The U.S. can intercept a comet with a probe. Why can’t it put that same amount of energy and smarts into meeting alienation and resolving it?
*Kristin Christman has degrees from Dartmouth, Brown, and the University at Albany in Russian and public administration and is author of The Taxonomy of Peace. https://sites.google.com/site/paradigmforpeace
This article appeared in the Albany Time Union and is reprinted with permission.