G21 World Forum



A lot of people have asked me of late what, if any, is the relevance of our Youth at the Millennium project to the problem of terrorism, which seems to be occupying the minds of most of the world today.

My answer is that we should look to the organization of Al Qaeda as the shadow, the extreme opposite, of what Youth at the Millennium is trying to do. Most of the portraits of the Muslim extremists that have emerged are of very young people completely disillusioned with the injustices that modern life has brought to their societies. The groups that originally attracted these young adherents did so by providing them with:

1) a rationale for what had caused the injustice-- the rejection of a morally based social order by Westernized elites dominated by the values of a rampant capitalistic system;

2) a solution to the problems this rejection has caused, --the resurrection of an ideal, equalitarian Islamic society; and

3) a plan of action designed to bring this kind of society about-- the establishment of faith-based educational institutions, public health centers, and social welfare organizations to alleviate some of the pain of the poor.

An alternative Islamic community was thus created throughout the world which gave to its members the social solidarity and support that their larger societies were unable to provide. But this solution was purchased at a terrible price. In return for social and psychological security, its members were expected to surrender their individual judgment, and accept unconditionally Islam as an ideology. This transferred tremendous power to mullahs and holy men who posed as expert interpreters of a Koranic Law that could not be questioned. Gradually, those who became terrorists were weaned away from this much larger community of Islamicists, the majority of whose members were by no means terrorists, by more extreme teachers who preached that social work and ideological conformity was not enough, and dying for the cause was what was needed. As might be expected, the bravest and courageous were the ones most often ensnared by this call to die for one's beliefs, and they responded in the now too familiar ways of suicide and slaughter.

Youth at the Millennium is also trying to appeal to the same idealism that originally motivated those who eventually became terrorists. Only we are suggesting an emphatically opposite approach. We agree that the present global order is extremely corrupt and mismanaged, -- the current distribution of resources and opportunities among the world's population is ample proof of that. But we don't have a ready made ideology to correct things, or a core of expert interpreters to provide pat answers to the questions the young are likely to raise about how to construct solutions. Instead, we are trying to induce the young to think through the process of globalization by themselves, with the help of dialogues with older people who have seen through many of the illusions of a global society primarily shaped by the conspicuous consumption of the world's wealthiest 20%; and whose children are increasingly influenced by a mass media controlled by those profiting from the current system. This communications monopoly is now probably the greatest threat to the achievement of freedom, equality and justice today because it prevents creative challenges and alternatives to the current system from being well-publicized and thoroughly discussed. If people are kept ignorant of the true distribution of power in the world, the real content of the rules that govern them, and are purposely distracted from discovering these truths by a media-based ideology that conditions them to believe that continual competition for power and possessions is the end-all of life, they are fundamentally disempowered from even imagining the possibility of a world in which the necessities of life are accessible to all.

Like the Islamicists, Youth at the Millennium is committed to community building. But instead of a simplistic, faith-based model of life, we start with the idea that what needs to be first constructed is a community of seekers, whose passion for finding answers to the problems posed by globalization can form the bonds that might later result in some practical remedial action. The bonding between the young participants that we witnessed in our 1999 symposium in Kyoto was an example of the kind of incipient community that could eventually provide the basis for effective social service. We don't condone violence to meet our goals. In fact most of us probably believe that only nonviolent solutions can provide the freedom and honesty the young so earnestly seek. Unlike the Islamicists, we hold that this freedom is the surest foundation of social solidarity, and until enough people choose to come together and create solutions to collective problems that preserve this freedom, the young will always feel there is an unacceptable amount of coercion in the social institutions to which they are exposed. We don't condone dying as a means of self-sacrifice to achieve our goals. Rather, we hold that living for what we believe requires much more intelligence, dedication, and self-sacrifice than does any death-wish, however well-intentioned the motive behind it. And most certainly we don't believe that forcing other people to die for our beliefs can in any way be justified.

September 11, 2001, taught the United States and the rest of the world that the problems experienced by a large percentage of the world's young people cannot be ignored, repressed or explained away. Until these problems are admitted, analyzed and discussed, terrorism will continue to grow in the moral void created by our own unwilllingness to face the bitter truths about our global system. The Youth at the Millennium project was begun in the hope that helping the young to understand their world, and play a part in shaping it, could do a little to dispell the darkness that generates the discontent in which terrorism finds its roots and makes its converts.

by Philip Grant

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Thu, 11 October 2001

Terror first entered the Western political vocabulary during the French Revolution when it was used to describe the wide-spread panic caused by an indiscriminate campaign of governmental repression. The terror was directed by a small faction of fanatics within the government who styled themselves as The Committee of Public Safety. The Committee had originally assumed such repressive powers by claiming they were necessary to protect the French people from hidden enemies, plotting to deliver the country back into the hands of its previous rulers, the Bourbon kings.

In order to legitimize its crusade against these "counter-revolutionaries" the Committee encouraged the daily gathering of a tumultuous mob outside the meeting place of The National Convention, the elected legislature of France. Through its use of fiery orators like Danton, to inflame the crowd against those charged with betraying the revolution, the Committee bullied Convention delegates into approving a daily list of proscriptions. Upon hearing the names of the accused read aloud, the maddened mob would embark upon an hysterical manhunt for suspects. Once found, the victims would either be beaten and murdered on the spot, or thrown into prison until sentenced to death by revolutionary tribunals. The exact number killed has never been accurately determined, although estimates range from ten to fifty thousand.

Even though the numbers of the dead are negligible by comparison with 20th century standards, the Reign of Terror gained a permanent place in the memory of mankind because of the overwhelming sense of insecurity it produced not only throughout France, but the whole of Europe. Due to the arbitrary nature of the proscriptions, often based on mere rumor and innuendo, no one could feel safe. As word of the massacres was carried outside France by terrified emigres fleeing for their lives, everyone living under a political system unlike that approved by the architects of the terror, believed themselves potential victims of mob violence. Even after the leaders of The Committee were themselves denounced and executed amidst much public rejoicing, the repercussions were felt as far away as the United States.

In 1796, under the guise of protecting the United States against supporters of French terrorism, President John Adams and his Federalist Party began using the powers of the new national government to suppress challenges to their policies. Opponents who criticized Adam's appointments and legislation were thrown into jail, newspapers were shut down , and Federalist mobs beat up, and destroyed the property of, anyone suspected of being a French sympathizer. Even worse, religious fanatics fanned the flames, accusing the opposition party of Thomas Jefferson of being as atheistic as their French "cousins". Masonic lodges which had once been the gathering places for discussions of republican ideas were labeled as satanic centers of a secret Jewish conspiracy against Christianity. In 1800, for the first and only time in American history, a foreign policy debate, whether to favor France or Great Britain in their rivalry for the domination of Europe, was critical in determining a presidential election. Jefferson, a self-proclaimed admirer of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, defeated Adams, and the Federalists lost control of the government. Thanks to Jefferson's tolerant statesmanship, the specter of civil war, once feared inevitable, was finally dissipated.

The French "reign of Terror" has been carefully studied by all students of psychological warfare who recognized its profound implications for the politics of the future . Despite the revulsion and notoriety the event produced, it steadily became an accepted article of faith that as a nation passes through a period of sudden political transition, a small disciplined group, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, could use terror to intimidate the people and demoralize their opponents. Moreover, in the twentieth century ,when this appeal to the populace's deepest fears was combined with the techniques of modern media and surveillance, political power more absolute than that wielded by any previous king or emperor could be achieved. The well publicized success of both the Right and the Left in constructing such terrorist regimes has tended to popularize the belief that terror is inevitable and cannot be resisted.

Even though terror uses force and violence to achieve its aims it is not to be confused with either of these two widely-known political means. Terror is distinctive in that its success in attaining its goals rests on creating an atmosphere of unfocused and pervasive fear among a target population. People are terrified precisely because they do not know why or at whom violence is to be directed. While explanations or justifications for the use of violence may be given, terror intensifies because these rationales are continually changed or expanded to keep a subject people continually off balance. It is important to note that terror as a political weapon was first used by a government in a time of fundamental revolutionary change when all dimensions of social life were undergoing a tumultuous upheaval. Only after the French experience had been carefully studied were the tactics of terror adopted by those outside of government in attempts to change governmental policy or seize power themselves. The Reign of Terror thus served as a Pandora's box from which more horrible and gruesome applications were later to be developed. While the state terrorism of Mussolini, Stalin, Franco and Hitler have been the most well-publicized, the development of weapons of mass destruction by most modern states has succeeded in making terror an essential tool of all foreign policy. With the targeting of civilians now taught as an accepted strategy in most schools of contemporary warfare, the distinction between "War," and "Terror," is now almost impossible to maintain in practice.

For anyone living under a political system that deems itself "democratic," it is important to remember that the considerable achievements of modern political terrorism has provoked the much celebrated liberal Center into adopting the very tactics of terror it once professed to oppose. This was most evident in the various Red scares that swept through the Western world for over seventy years after the Russian Revolution, and in the use of the tactics of terror during the decades-long cold war. Such means have now become so common that is difficult to find any political movement or system that does not rely on some element of terror to achieve its aims. From the bunkers of the national security state, to the hidden redoubts of religious extremists; from the planning rooms of corporate criminals to the policy of intimidation of environmental extremists, the use of terror to achieve political aims has sown confusion, chaos and violence on a scale unimaginable by the eighteenth century. After the almost apocalyptic terrorist airplane attacks of September 11, 2001, all thoughtful citizens must wrestle with the question of what to do about it.

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Thu, 25 October 2001

Ever since the origins of political terrorism were understood to coincide with the cataclysmic shift in social and political thinking that swept through Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, this connection has been explained in a number of conflicting ways. From the Far Right came the thesis that any questioning of traditional beliefs cannot help but disturb people's deep need to rest their lives upon a set of unchallenged beliefs. Once this catechism is disturbed, as in matters of religion during the Reformation, or in politics and society during the Enlightenment, all of the restraints on peoples' natural brutality are fatally weakened. Hence the viciousness of Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century, and the Reign of Terror in the eighteenth.

This claim, originally advanced by Catholic apologists during the Counter Reformation, became an unquestioned premise of later, romantic writers concerned to link the emergence of the terror with the death of god and a host of other, related factors. The list of usual suspects linked with the loss of religious conviction include an over-reliance on reason, materialism and the growth of a market economy, the celebration of sensuality and the liberation of women, and finally, the spread of republican or democratic institutions of government. These arguments recur today throughout the utterances of both Gerry Falwell and Osama bin Laden. The political philosopher, Benjamin Barber, labels them the discourse of "Jihad," or holy war.

From the New Left came another set of ideas, now called "postmodern," to explain the terror. These critics claim that modernity's elimination of the conventions of custom opened the way to the tyranny of what is now termed "totalizing discourse, hegemonic reason, racism, misogyny and holocaust. Under this scenario, the chief cause of the spread of terror was the modernist faith that a uniform set of standards and values could be mechanistically imposed from the top over large numbers of individuals living in small communities. What is familiar today as modern mass society was thus constructed through the terrorism of patriarchal state bureaucracies. In contemporary times, in which nationalistic state power has been somewhat usurped by the softer tyranny of the multinational corporation, the same paternalistic archetype still prevails. Barber names this new form of Leviathan "McWorld." Its critics such as today's opponents of globalization, have often adopted an anti-modern pessimism about the creative powers of human thought, especially with respect to reasoni's newest expression, science and technology.

Both these perspectives are mirror images of each other. The Left sees terror as stemming from an perverse form of authority, the Right claims it originated from the licentiousness of extreme freedom. Both see the solution in either a renewed faith in religion, a reconstruction of community, or some combination of the two. But these explanations really don't explain very much at all. The righteous world of custom they believe once existed is not the world modern scholarship has recovered. The Right's celebration of traditional society, for instance, ignores the social rot that had spread throughout much of the world by the fourteenth century. Except for a few antiquarians in universities, most scholars now accept that feudal society was dangerously dysfunctional, and its own inadequacies permitted the monarchy, and later the market, to emerge as alternative ways in ordering human relationships.

Similarly, the New Left's conviction that the feudal world was one in which small was not only beautiful, but also unique and diverse, neglects the dreary uniformity that pervaded most feudal villages from the Middle East to the shores of the Atlantic. The term "ancien regime," captures very well the similarities of a vast variety of communities ruled from above by entrenched elites, mostly stupid warriors and fanatical clergy. While this archetype of a highly vertical hierarchy was underpinned by a belief in monotheism, even the far East witnessed the spread of a uniform model of community life in which the few lorded over and exploited the many. This suggests the cause of extreme verticality in human life is far deeper that the contents of religious doctrine, and probably has its roots in what Jungian psychologists call the Unconscious.

Both the Right and Left deny such psychological explanations, preferring to ascribe the origins of terror to external forces outside of human control. Many of their arguments assume biological roots, in theories of natural aggression, the "selfish gene," and other determinisms which are then linked with political developments like imperialism and colonialism. Others place primary importance on gender, and argue that the male's primordial subjugation of women, and other patterns of gendering, eliminated a potentially rich stock of perspectives and approaches to conflict. This argument assumes that terror could be put right if only females and other marginalized by patriarchy, were allowed to properly participate in social decision making. Still others have looked to the fetishism of finance, claiming that that the unrestrained accumulation of capital is the primary culprit in the story of the corruption of social relations. Another source of blame lays the problem of terror on the West's almost theological belief that technology will eventually sweep away all our problems and restore us to the Eden from which have been expelled.

But whether these criticisms come from Right or the Left or the Middle, they all seem to agree that human freedom is an illusion. For none of these theories accept that terror originates from free will, from something unconstrained within the human condition. All assume that something external to our most profound aspirations of love, compassion and justice is driving us into the world of terror, and is responsible for the urge to inflict upon each other the countless cruelties that our century has witnessed. It is this claim of "externality" that I would like to examine in the concluding part of this essay. I will suggest that a more useful approach to combating terror lies in the synthesis of a mostly buddhist psychology with an early liberal philosophy of society that is only now being rediscovered by political philosophers and intellectual historians after two centuries of neglect.

Part Three - coming soon!

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Tuesday, 30 October 2001

In the past, anti-war protests have either been tolerated from the so-called wiser perspective of realpolitik as relatively harmless and irrelevant "do-gooderism," or more stridently denounced as dangerous, unpatriotic sedition. Now, however, for the first time in human history, the parameters of "modern" realpolitik must eschew calls to arms to keep from being an empty oxymoron counseling collect suicide.

Too strongly worded? Consider.

We read that only three nations have supplies of "high-grade" anthrax that ghoulish weapons industries have devised to protect us from the bad people. Yet anyone can get his/her hands on the unmonitored supplies. Any physics major can assemble a nuclear device. Any desperate, spirit-tortured soul can find the means of striking back with massive force from a self-righteous and divine mission. The battle field has been leveled considerably, and the possibilities of our doing ourselves in are proliferating.

Within the depths of human consciousness with its invariance's of recognizing survival behavior, the revelations of saints counseling social harmony, compassion and love can no longer be set aside for Sunday morning feel-good hour, or a quiet walk to the shrine. These timeless messages must become the guiding qualia, the visions that raise our evolutionary journey one notch higher. The cosmic deities of life/consciousness creation have placed their bets. We, the most recently evolved species programmed with reflective consciousness, have been supplied with minds and spleens and the cosmic wager is on which shall prevail. Of course, we civilized people say that war is always the last resort, until, that is, our baser instincts of self-righteousness demands that we "strike back," "get Charlie," "make the world safe for democracy,""follow the flag" ad nauseam.

I want to think that the deities raking in the chips, should be fail, would not take comfort in their victory; I want to think that in the universe there is a Way to higher consciousness beings that get it right, i.e., that the ways of peace/survival/ self- fulfillment include a variety of tolerant, self-enhancing and empowering means but never, under any situation, slide into the fanaticism of self-righteous anger (or, in the case of Japan, siding with power and abandoning its constitutional moral ground in the name of national economic security). The more Twin Towers and cluster bombs destroying lives and calling for blood revenge, the closer we get to the final spin of the roulette wheel that decides the details of our fate.

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