Can There Be a Nonviolent Response to Terrorism?

Quaker professor George Lakey’s 8 nonviolent strategies to respond to terrorism piqued the Pentagon’s interest. Learn what happened next.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

28 thoughts on “Can There Be a Nonviolent Response to Terrorism?

  1. That’s amazing.
    I’m sorry, I just don’t have much else to say after just listening to this.
    Amazing. And it just can’t be true.
    In peace,
    Eric (France)

  2. George,
    The Nonviolent Social Change course that I taught several times in the early & mid 1970s had an amazing impact on the students. It is good to see that this continues. Sounds as if you had a very good time doing your course. I did too.

  3. How do your tools relate to the beatitudes? I think turning the other cheek and going the extra mile are intrinsic to peace. Unfortunately we have to accept that in doing so lives will be lost but lives are lost resorting to violence anyway. I think the real problem is that “Nations” can’t afford to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile because that would undermine their very existence.

  4. Except ‘economic injustice’ does NOT habe much to do with terrorism. Just ask the doctors and engineers that committed 9/11 and other attacks. The ‘Arab Spring’ was a response to poor conditions. As for the USA being the primary recruiter, I’d take issue with that too. Bin Laden himself said 9/11 was due to Israeli treatment of Lebanon and ‘Palestinians’. I would argue that the failure of the world to denounce terrorism when it was only Jews being killed, and the perceived efficacy of suicide bombing is the primary reason attacks have increased.

  5. This is wonderful. I would like to respond to commenter Jim Schultz who said “I think the real problem is that “Nations” can’t afford to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile because that would undermine their very existence.”

    I hear what you mean and I do respect that but my own feeling is that the truth is:
    Nations CAN and DO turn the other cheek all the time and to the degree they do they generate world peace. Certainly Sweden’s example of giving convicts positive regard in many ways instead of punishment is an example of this and gets better results / less recidivism than the U.S. version. Nations are wrong to believe that they can’t make such a choice, but it is a very entrenched way of thinking. Everything can change as those involved stop thinking “it will never work” and become willing to try what they believe in. The American people, for one, respond very, very well to someone doing exactly what they believe in and following their ideals. It can change the entire landscape.

    It seems to me that what we are doing now generates the “reality” of there-is-no-solution-that-will-work. If we change to actions based on conviction, ideals, and the common good (instead of reactionary fear) suddenly we can generate a different reality: One in which This Can Work (whatever that idea may be). I hope this makes sense and doesn’t sound too silly. I share it as someone who has battled my own cynicism over the years and finally figured out that I will never win with it, only without it.

    1. Hi Olivia, I have long held the belief that what “can work” is annual general elections. i.e. the wisdom of “The People”. Because of the trauma George Lakey talks about after 9/11, I can see it would have been difficult to stop the invasion of Afghanistan. However, I firmly believe that if democratic regimes like USA, Britain & Australia had annual elections, then the invasion of Iraq would never have occurred. The cost of freedom (and peace)? Eternal vigilance! Happy to dialogue about this further if you wish.

      Peace & blessings from Perth, Western Australia.

      In friendship,

    2. Spot on! Well said. Thank you for the clarity of needing more than one solution. And, thank you for the clarity of understanding that cynicism is a block in the way. So – the next question, “what can we do to work on cynicism, recognizing that with the broad range of people and thoughts in the world?” While we have to ironically BE cynical knowing that we won’t gain 100%, we could move beyond the irony and slowly build resistance and movement towards the positive result. ‘

  6. First of all, there are no terrorist people but terrified people all over the world. Terrorist are individuals or groups that manipulate the people for their self-centered agendas. And no nation has escaped from such kinds of plots. No political system has been immunized from such plots of manipulation. I think people need a new global order of political and economic integration, in which all kinds of selfish extremisim will be undercontrol.

  7. George,
    I was wondering if you had reached out to these folks? The following was posted by them at a site I’m using on my job search:

    “The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) is an independent, non-partisan, federally funded organization established and funded by the U.S. Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence. USIP was founded in 1984 to:

    Prevent, mitigate and resolve violent international conflict;
    Provide analysis on the root causes of conflict;
    Increase peacebuilding capacity, education, tools, and intellectual capital among practitioners and the American public.”

  8. This is very interesting, but I see only three tools listed: economic development, healing and policy-making. Where are the other 5?

  9. Non-violence as a response to the subjectivation of one people by another only worked to the extent that the aggressor people could be publicly shamed by their behavior. Acts of terrorism are not subject to this kind of approbriation. They are acts of war using the poor man’s only available weapons. There is no way to shame the perpetrators of 9/11 any more than the US could shame Japan for Pearl Harbor.
    Terrorists are a poor man’s army. Just like any other army the soldiers must be brainwashed into the rightness of their mission. There is pride not shame in what they do. Much like a rabid animal that cannot be convinced to not bite indescriminately, the terrorist leadership must be eliminated to stop the infection of more soldiers. Even pacifists will not hesitate to isolate and eliminate disease vectors that threaten a community.

  10. This sounds like we should get back trying to install a Department of Peace in the U.S. They would have a cabinet member who would try to come up with non-violent solutions to violence in our world. It would act as an adviser to the president and attempt to counter balance the “war is the answer” that comes automatically from the military-industrial complex advisers that sit in the presidents cabinet.
    Great video. Thank you.

    1. Peace is not really what we want if it’s peace under Shari Law. What we really want is to maximize our freedom and security. That will require a Dept. of global justice. No justice. No security. If you have not already done so, I urge you to read the 8 page Executive Summary of the report titled “Confronting the Crisis on Global Governance” by the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance (co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari).

      If you think as highly of it as I do please bring it to the attention of your policy makers and urge them to read it too. (To find out who your US Representative is, call 202-225-3121 and tell the answering operator your zip code. He/she will connect you directly to your U.S Representative’s office. Ask for the aide that deals with foreign policy or national security issues. Introduce yourself as a constituent.

      Anyone can access the report and its 8 page Executive Summary at:

      Please let me know if you decide to do this. I’m tracking each Congressional office that is contacted — and those that have agreed to read the summary — or responded in any significant way (good or bad).

      We may be targeting some with questions when they campaign for re-election this year. And hopefully following up with them regarding the Commission’s more important recommendations. Let me know if you are up for that, or more. [email protected]

  11. After experiencing two long and intense days with the most knowledgeable and committed people targeting the root causes of violent extremism this week in Washington DC I learned two things. First, the acronym CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) is still debated as a useful acronym. Second, because of lack of funding for it and persistent inter-agency and international barriers it is not going to work as hoped. Just one Paris or Brussels like attack here in the US and we are far more likely to turn to the dark side than the light.
    CVE means something different to everyone. But it also means we failed at prevention.
    This extremely logical ideal is not new. After the horrors of World War II (leaving 50 million dead, uncounted millions of refugees, a genocide murdering six million, and the debut of a new weapon that could vaporize 100,000 people in a flash) insightful thinkers drafted a list of principles they believed could prevent future generations from experiencing such unprecedented horrors. The list was titled “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and unanimously passed.
    Today, the threat list is growing. The power and increasingly affordability and ubiquitous technologies mature exponentially. The dual use nature of all technology is offering both unprecedented solutions and unimaginable capacity for destruction and disruption. From the proliferation of WMD, economic instability, or the evolution of new types of weapons (drones, cyber, bio, nano….) to the existential threat of artificial intelligence, both our national institutions and anemic global institutions are increasingly dysfunctional to prevent or even cope with them.
    There is one overarching reason why. We continue believing fooled that independent nations using independent agencies can effectively resolve globally interdependent problems.

  12. I suppose we are to call a halt to the violence and carnage which took place on 9/11 and San Bernardino, midstream, call up a committee which will inform the perpetrators we should all hold hands and pray whilst we economically develop their countries( which they have failed to do). No, when the enemy
    is at the gate, breaking down your door, raping your women and murdering your children because an evil force has convinced them it is the HOLY thing to do, I say kill them where they stand and then go break down their doors and kill them where they live. Sorry all you muddlers out there, it is impossible to reinstall a head when it has been cut off.

    1. So we become terrorists to defend ourselves? And how do we know who to kill? Anyone that looks different than us? Anyone we suspect? Anyone we don’t know. Hope you got lots a bullets, bombs and body guards. You kinda sound like a terrorist yourself.
      How’s that working out for you?

  13. Dear all,

    Please accept my apologies for the many words, this version replaces a previous version you may have read.

    Thank you George Lakey and Jon Watts.

    As a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams ( working under concern in “Germany”, the Aegean Sea (Lesvos island) and “Israel-Palestine” (land of Canann) I know how difficult it is to deal with state terrorism/ armed resistance AND promoting a more holistic approach with non-violent responses. I also know a little about healing & trauma and have first hand what terrorism is, having “survived” or narrowly escaping 3 separate bombings by Irish Republicans in London in the 1980-90s. I have worked with people who have had their tents & homes burnt down by IDEALOGICAL Jewish settlers or bulldozed by the State of Israel, or just fled so-called ISIS and Taliban whilst working on the Island of Lesvos.

    When I first came to Friends I was a political and idealistic SPICEs sort of Quaker. That changed whilst on team with CPT, I had my “day of visitation” where Christ stood beside me (although several Muslims argue it was the Angel Gabriel) and showed me that all things are indeed new.

    I finally understood what George Fox meant by an ocean of love and light that was above the ocean of death and darkness. It was in “Palestine” in 2010 where I also understood what our Friend Jim Schultz above wrote about nations not being able to turn the other cheek / go the extra mile. Even if there are individual gestures, the “Nation state” uses power-over structural violence to maintain itself (both “Israel” and the “Palestinian Authority”). George Lakey reminds us that the Pentagon & US Government are not able to implement the 8 tools. My work against the arms trade, working with the disspossed has taught me that the Current “nation state” model however well-intentioned is not there to solve our problems and so I have stopped recognising them. Gods laws stand above them, even if SOME of these laws are enshrined in their constitution.

    The Jewish prophet Jeremiah reminds us, there will be a day when they (nations) will be replaced. When Jesus brought us the second covenant, the nation state became obsolete. However, for those that do not recognise Jesus as the messiah or who are not political anarchists then the Nation state continues and fFriends are complicit in them being maintained. It took me until 2010 to realise I had been complicit in this violence, but I have since seen and experienced the new Jerusalem. 

    As a pilgrim in the eastern Mediterranean and and being amongst those forced to migrate, the spirit of Christ has opened the scriptures for me i.e. what Micah 6:8 really means. If I am to do what God requires of me, then I WILL be given the strength and tools to do it, but only if I am humble. When I learned to let go and really trust and listen to our divine creator, I also let Christ lead me /accompany me. My 2 days of the visitation in 2010 were 2 very incredibly spiritually uplifting days and many very beautiful things started to happen (but this is not the place to tell them).
    After the visitation, I now no longer know fear (worry is something else). Hope begins to spring eternal, and healing becomes a constant process. These are the tools & gifts we are given in Pauls letter to Corinthians, and his letter Galatians (Chapter 5) reminds that fear is not of the spirit. For me, the testimony of trust has replaced the SPICES, which no longer make sense to me, they sound like individual intellectually seperated testimonies.

    So yes, one of the answers to terrorism- is not being terrorised by the fallen powers. For most humans that is easier said than done, but for those who are willing to conquer fear, yes it means sacrifice. That might mean for some picking up our crosses and walking humbly to Golgotha. For others, they will be given the spiritual gifts to move out of their comfort zones and help de-ideologise, because the oppressors (often states/political structures) are made up of oppressed individuals that use idealism to inspire fear or the legal tools of power-over violence.

    I am also minded to agree that armed resistance is often a poor persons response, but how many of us Friends are complicit in this oppression, have we checked our belongings to see if the seeds of war and injustice are found there?
    I am learning from our conservative plain Friends, to re-connect to the divine so that we learn to let go of busyness and materials things. I still have a lot of learning to do!

    Ideological (State) violence has always been with us, whether it was Assyrian or Holy Christian Roman Empire, the Christian Crusades, nationalist resistance against European colonial powers or the subsequent subjugation & attempted assimilation of the many First Nations. The ideological stealing of land & enforcing political borders through violence in the “Scottish highland clearances or in the “West Bank of the Jordan river in the biblical land of Canaan, or the trampling on the treaties with First Nations are part of this.

    Sorry Friends I have written a lot of (maybe too many) words, but the spirit of Christ has opened my heart to what early Friends meant by the one and only testimony of trust and the incredible powers of Gods love that come from this trust. This incredible energy helps me to be an active Christian, working in inter-faith communities within conflict zones. Isaiah (Chapter 58) and Paul letter to Galatians (Chapter 5) remind us what needs to be named.

    Of course we are all human, often tempted to be sinful (wilfully ignoring what God requires of us), we constantly make mistakes, like Elijah in the desert we also outrun our guide doing things we think are good but we are letting our egos win, but that should not stop us returning to the humble path of righteousness. God has showed me that to become an answer to my prayers I am to encouraging a grassroots & bottom-up democracy.

So that means for me, the first response to terrorism is within me, it starts with the lambs war.

  14. Another political reality the Pentagon didn’t mention to Professor Lakey is that a non-military response forecloses the opportunity for war profiteering. Given the supersized role defense contractors and lobbyists play in the DC oligarchy, a military approach will always be favored (until we have a political revolution and restore our democracy).

    1. Erica, I’m always a little shy of terminology like “restore our democracy”. Methinks modern representative democracy is a fairly new baby, in my mind birthed around the time the Quakers began in 17th century Britain (especially 1688 when parliament “sacked” the Catholic James II and “hired” his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband – essentially showing parliament to be “the boss”)

      The USA came into existence a little under 90 years later. God Bless America, it’s done a pretty amazing job promoting liberty and freedom against all sorts of odds (including, at the outset, a fairly universal acceptance that slavery was perfectly okay!) However, I see “democracy” as being an ongoing journey towards a more perfect way of living, especially through the wisdom of The People.

      Yes, we do need ongoing “revolutionary” ideas, but they must be thrashed out in the court of public opinion, not through any ideological fiat. My own revolutionary idea? Annual general elections, please! (happy to dialogue about why)

      Blessings from Perth, Western Australia.

      In friendship,

      1. We are accustomed to the slogan “No justice, no peace.” But we need to be aware that peace is an essential condition of both freedom and justice. All the impositions on freedom most offensive to the libertarian mind came to us through the mechanism of one or another war, whether real or figurative. The very word “war” necessarily implies that there is nothing we will not do to defeat the “enemy,” whether we do it to the “enemy” or to ourselves. “We will pay any price, bear any burden…” and we will make sure our friends and neighbors bear it too.

  15. I hope that this Quaker teacher writes a book and presents the eight options to respond in a non violent way to terrorism as well as the student papers that propose how different countries throughout the world could use those approaches to defend themselves. I am sure if the US military was interested in hearing his presentation , many others besides me, would also be interested . Additionally I would also like to see this type of course taught on every college campus, and even every high school, so that young people are educated in alternate ways for our country to move forward in promoting peace throughout the world while still addressing terrorism issues. . As the US military stated it would be hard for the massive military complex to turn around and support these strategies as of now but perhaps if we start with the young adults now, and lay the groundwork in 20 years, as those youth serve in the military or as politicians, become responsible citizens, voters and eventually parents, it may just be possible they will remember there is a better way than sacrificing their children in the misguided tragedy of war.

  16. As Karen says, we need more explanation. OK, the eight are complicated, but the Pentagon knows more than we know. How about more?

  17. Thank you for this presentation. So good to know that the work is being done. Sometimes I just feel defeated by the western response to terrorism. Not that terrorism isn’t real, but we seem to be turning our police forces into military forces and violence seems to be the only response. I will follow up with the article you mentioned. Many thanks again.

  18. How / where can we have access to all eight of the tools implied? Is there a summary paper? Are the papers of the undergrads published anywhere so that all of us can benefit from the good work they have done?

  19. Great video…Sadly, the typical reaction to terrorism is terrorism!
    A “tit for tat” solution to terrorism will always be just that…striking back with with an expected, escalated violence.
    Archaic, to say the least!

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