The world today, more than ever, is in need of leaders who could work towards weaving and achieving a shared vision of diversity and peace, a vision that could in turn enable an inclusive notion of prosperity. History has shown that an enduring peace is possible only through reconciliation, equality and justice, not through divisiveness, ethnocentrism and injustice.
In this backdrop, there is immense responsibility on the shoulders of global leaders, particularly of countries rich in resources or population, to step up to the plate and acknowledge that together we have failed to address
the issues of diversity and peace, and therefore fresh discourses and approaches are needed. Particularly, given the questionable and divisive style of leadership provided by Mr. Donald Trump, a huge responsibility lies on lawmakers and ordinary citizens in the USA to critically introspect about their future leadership.
A few days ago, I had a chance to listen to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s speech in which she announced her candidature for the 2020 presidential elections. In addition to her diverse background as a veteran and the first Samoan-American member of the Congress, her discourse presents something afresh which is not only deeply appreciative of the internal and external challenges facing the USA but also is promising for a better future.
According to a quote from her campaign launch speech as reported by CBS, Gabbard said, she:
“will end the regime change wars that have taken far too many lives and undermined our security by strengthening terrorist groups like al Qaeda…These powerful politicians dishonor the sacrifices made by every one of my brothers and sisters in uniform, their families – they are the ones who pay the price for these wars…In fact, every American pays the price for these wars, trillions of dollars since 9/11.”
Arguably, there are elements within lobby groups and mainstream media in the USA that are wedded to the military-industrial complex, and not sufficient attention has been paid to alternative insights offered by Congresswoman Gabbard. Nonetheless, she has received some support from both those on the Left and the Right in the American political spectrum, and has a growing support within Asian, indigenous and other communities within the USA.
Personally, I had the experience of being part of a panel in New York on ideological and legal responses to terrorism with Rep Gabbard where I found her to be both receptive and intellectually curious to more nuanced discourses for peace. I have therefore reasons to hope that someone like her could provide the USA and the globalized world the much-needed inclusive and peace-oriented leadership. Gabbard is not alone in this respect. Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders are some of the other political leaders in the USA who have a pro-peace stance. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn offers a similar discourse. Notwithstanding certain limitations or points of disagreement, this crop of American and British politicians offers a much nuanced and hopeful discourse for peace as opposed to the commercially oriented or bigoted stances of some of their counterparts.
In addition to their non-interventionist stance, these leaders may consider the following, particularly in terms of future governmental policy towards the Middle East and the Muslim world.
First and foremost, there is a need to realize and spread awareness that Takfiri (exclusivist and violent) jihadists and terrorists – in the shape of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jaish al-Adl, Taliban, Boko Haram and similar outfits – are a threat not only to the USA and other countries in the West, but these terrorists are also a threat to Muslim countries and populations. While these groups continue to operate under different names and regularly change their identity to dodge the legal system, their ideological roots and behaviors remain the same. The recent terrorist attacks in February 2019 that killed more than 23 soldiers in Iran and more than 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir illustrate that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are a victim of Takfiri terrorism.
Identifying the problem is the key to solving it. The US response to 9/11 was a call to unending war and an indiscriminate surveillance infrastructure that undermined the very principles of a democratic society. It curtailed civil liberties, hampered pluralistic values while, at the same time, the policy response remained oblivious to the ideological sources of terrorism and the countries financially or ideologically spreading a violent Takfiri jihadist agenda. A knee-jerk reaction in the shape of inconclusive wars, despite being ineffectual, cost trillions of the very dollars that could have been spent at home in furthering liberty and wellbeing while also securing national interests within and outside the country through focused interventions.
So far, the USA and its allies have launched seven or eight wars and conflicts in Muslim majority countries. And the results have been devastating. The world has lurched from one conflict to another. Millions of people died and tens of millions have been displaced. Along the way, in a quest for regime change, the US policymakers and generals have found themselves in alignment with the same Al Qaeda terrorists that perpetrated 9/11. There have been covert and not so covert military interventions in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen and, owing to an unfortunate and unscrupulous alliance with certain dictatorships in the Persian Gulf, the West has ended up strengthening the very groups that pose an existential threat to a democratic and tolerant way of life.
As my co-authors and I emphasized in our research volume on ‘faith-based violence’ a few years ago, in order to counter the Takfiri jihadist or terrorist threat, there is a need to: (1) identify its ideological roots, i.e., extremist, supremacist and violent streaks inherent within tiny sub-sections of Salafi, Wahhabi and Deobandi groups; (2) recognize that most of their victims are the vast majority of peaceful Sunni and Shia Muslims, in addition to Christians, Hindus, Jews, atheists etc.; (3) understand that the major international financier of these extremist ideologies are certain puritanical or extremist Wahhabi elements within Saudi Arabia; and (4) seek to enforce a complete ban on the sale of arms and weapons to all dictatorships. These steps are a prerequisite to a lasting peace and inclusive prosperity and will be the real test of our future leaders.
About the author: Jawad Syed, PhD, is a co-director of Global Centre for Equality and Human Rights.