Saturday, June 16, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: A personal eulogy to the man I never met

Monday, 11 June 2018

“No Reservation,” the Anthony Bourdain travel show, was my first experience binge-watching any TV show. Since that time, a few years ago, I became a true fan of the show and the man.
Two weeks ago, I added his newer CNN show “Parts Unknown” to my “to-watch” list. Now that I have broken the generational gap, no longer do I watch shows when they come out, I wait until I can binge-watch them one season at a time.
As my cell phone blew up yesterday morning, Washington, DC local time, with breaking news of Tony’s death, I had the urge to watch the Saudi episode one more time. A personal eulogy to the man.
I felt the loss of this intrepid globetrotter in a way I haven’t felt about someone I never met. I felt the loss of a talented TV host who was able to show us the human factor in peoples we typically brush aside in simplistic, one dimensional, and almost always wrong stereotypical fashion.
That Saudi episode might have been an eye-opener for many, but it was a nostalgic home-video of sorts to someone like me. I left Saudi Arabia over 20 years ago without going back for any meaningful visits. As I re-watched the episode, I found myself identifying with Danya al-Hamrani, the warm and welcoming host who invited Mr. Bourdain to Saudi Arabia.
This fellow American-born Saudi, missed out on many Saudi specific experiences as I did. like Danya (up to the point of the filming of the episode), I never ate Dhub (desert lizard), camel meat, or lamb hearts. I am inspired now to make a culinary trip to Saudi Arabia suspending my vegetarianism to summon the courage to try such “delicacies.”
The episode reminded me of a time of simplicity and innocence. Even Tony’s demeanor in the episode is playful and cheerful. A markedly different Tony from the one who appears in other episodes.
I invite you to watch that episode if you haven’t yet, Episode#13 of Season 4, titled simply: Saudi Arabia. In contrast, you can pick up on Tony’s undercurrent of pompousness, standoffishness, or even contemptuousness show host personality at times in some other episodes.
The uniqueness of Anthony Bourdain’s shows is its ability to zoom out showing us what is beyond the margins of the news frame; i.e. beyond the myopic focus on violence
Walid Jawad

His unlikely mission

As I reflect on the man and his body of aired work I can’t help but admire Tony’s courage and skill in breaking down the prevailing dehumanizing facade we readily accept as we watch the alluring magical lightbox.
The same facade that serves intended or unintended agenda of fear, defensiveness, divisiveness, and hatred. His work was a serious attempt to counterbalance the destructive effects of daily news, even if it were not what he was set out to do.
An impossible situation as his weekly show stood firmly in the sea of relentless fear spewing collective. Yet he was able to move the needle farther along the scale of human connectedness than any other show I can think of.
They teach in journalism that common events are not newsworthy like when a dog bites a man. But when a man bites a dog it becomes an incident worthy of feeding the 24-hour news cycle.
Watching the news, we find the uncommon numerous and violence ubiquitous making what is supposed to be the exception common. Viewers can’t be blamed to point to TV sets concluding that the world is a dangerous place.
The sheer number of violent events locally and internationally prompts viewers to divide the world into two camps: evil perpetrators and innocent victims. More troubling is that evil seems to be winning by virtue of imposing its physical will on people.
I, for one, am guilty of adding fuel to the fire in more ways than I care to enumerate. Most of us in the media, if not all, believe that you, our fellow thinking humans, need to be informed and that it’s our mission to make you aware of such events.
Once you become knowledgeable, you are better equipped to make informed decisions about the world you live in. Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences overshadows the intended benefits of gaining that knowledge.

Adopting a cause

The news viewing public fall into three major categories: some will decide to adopt a cause and fight, while others become overwhelmed and fearful of the environment and suspicious of humanity itself. And in between, those who will shutdown dismissing such reality, tuning out the anxiety-filled chatter of new channels. A social equivalent to fight, flight, or freeze responses.
Arts, entertainment, and hobbies are great options to attempt striking a personal balance, yet external fear mongering of the 24-hour news cycle remains unchecked. These channels have a purpose to serve and should continue their mission. It behooves us to understand the side effects.
The uniqueness of Anthony Bourdain’s shows is its ability to zoom out showing us what is beyond the margins of the news frame; i.e. beyond the myopic focus on violence. As much as the news wants to compels us to the contrary, violence is not an inevitability.
If we accept violence as the norm, we are surrendering intellectually under the weight of the emotional pressure of fear and sadness. The bigger picture Tony provided is a good reminder. Some of his episodes featured people from unfavorable countries or war-torn regions, yet we identify with them as human beings.
It is essential to understand that conflict is not "bad" in and of itself. In fact, conflict is a driving force to improve the human condition. Resolving conflicts between people leads to equality. Resolving conflict between us and our environment leads to innovation. Only when conflict turns violent that it becomes “bad.”
Tony’s showed us people from around the world consumed by what humans everywhere else are consumed by, living a peaceful and happy life. We got to know people of other cultures not as tourist, rather as locals. He was able to challenge his own stereotypical ideas of others and along the way broke our disinterested judgments of others.
I mourn the man because I mourn the mission. There is no one out there who can rise to the challenge. I will go back to my “to-watch” list and put Tony’s shows on top my binge-watching cue. I know this time I will watch his shows with the eyes of an anthropologist and the mind of a conflict resolver.
______________________
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at US Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Monday, 11 June 2018 KSA 21:44 - GMT 18:44

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump and Congress: The policy ends don’t justify means

Thursday, 7 June 2018

In this bipolar political climate where objectivity is dismissed as pandering to the other side, I find myself needing a prologue before expressing any views on parties or players in the US political landscape.
At the risk of being dismissed as kowtowing to one side or the other, I will share my observations on the interesting dynamic between President Donald J. Trump and his Republican party.
Trump holds the loyalty of his base while Republican ideologues are pandering to him out of fear of political demise. Though, this doesn’t translate very well to votes in this coming midterm elections where Republicans are going to lose their majority as a foregone conclusion.
Historically, the president’s party loses in the first midterm election. What is noticeable here is the discontent within the Republican Party. By taking a step back to observe the political landscape without emotional investment, we will be able to better assess the dynamic between Trump and his Republican party.
As Trump renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal by pulling the US out of the JCPOA, as he negotiates bilateral trade relations with China, and as he finalize the North Korea summit some critical voices from within his own Republican party are becoming louder. The question becomes, what is prompting this dissension in the ranks?
The Trump presidency is unique in more ways than one. True, “Donald” approaches his presidency as a CEO of a company. Suffice it to say, running a business is markedly different from leading a country. One can draw parallels equating Congress to a board of directors, and the American people to shareholders.
But operating within the parameters of such assumptions leads to a frustrated CEO, Board-of-directors, and Shareholders. This is evident in Trump’s inability to deliver on many of the big election promises. Among others, the courts struck down his travel ban multiple times, which was deemed as tantamount to a “Muslim ban.” He was unable to repeal Obama Care.
By taking a step back to observe the political landscape without emotional investment, we will be able to better assess the dynamic between Trump and his Republican party
Walid Jawad

Mexico’s wall

Mexico is not paying for the wall, and full funding has not been forthcoming. The big investment in infrastructure is yet to take shape, nor did he defund Planned Parenthood. All of these and others need two things to succeed: Congressional support, and secondly, for the courts not to rule against them in the event the government is sued.
The track record has been frustrating for a CEO approach, but not as much for an American president. And Trumps has been effective in touting his successes keeping his base energized and engaged.
In this dual approach to successfully bring presidential promises to fruition, the legal dynamic is the concern of government lawyers as they make the case in support of White House decisions, focusing their energy on finding loopholes and supporting precedence to avoid unfavorable court rulings.
Making this side of the equation similar to that of the corporate world; i.e. operating within a legal framework and regulatory guidelines. As for the legislative approach, both House and Senate should be able to deliver favorable legislation as they are controlled by the Republican Party. still, Congress has been failing Trump.
Statements made by Republican legislators who are serving their last term in office; i.e. those who are free to speak their mind without the threat of political retribution, are particularly revealing. While invested Republicans are calculating the pros and cons of their declared positions, they are losing sight of their ideological principles. Toeing the Republican party line is paramount in this midterm elections. Trump’s base is committed and Trumpism provides the only hope for winning.

Case in point

Both Republican senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are not on the November ballots and are free to say what they think without reservations. Corker criticized on Thursday Trump’s move to slap steep tariffs on America’s neighbors and allies; Mexico, Canada, and the European Union, describing the White House decision as “an abuse of authority intended only for national security purposes.”
Indeed the US lost over $500 billion last year in revenue due to trade imbalances. As for Flake, he opposed Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. His concern was not the bilateral relation with Iran, rather the US standing with its European allies.
The senator said in May “The JCPOA had many flaws but withdrawing now does not serve our national interest. Iran has already realized the benefits of sanctions relief and the release of frozen assets,” Flake continued saying on CNN “If we’re not seen as a reliable partner then we’re going to have a hard time moving ahead.”
In both of these cases, the Senators voiced opposition to Trump, yet they are in agreement with him on the end result. Republicans agree (as well as Democrats) that they would like to fix US trade imbalances to prevent unfair losses.
There is no argument by anyone to the contrary. Similarly, Republicans would like for Iran to end its nuclear enrichment, stop its ballistic missile program, and cease its malign activities in the Middle East.
So if they are in agreement with White House on the “ends,” their opposition can only be understood as a rejection of Trump’s tactics. The conclusion is that as far as Congress is concerned, the end doesn’t justify Trump’s means.
But can the president’s style and behavior have such a negative impact within his own party? Indeed it has. Trump will gradually shift from the “CEO of the US” to the mentality of the President of the United States of American for which he was elected.
______________________
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Thursday, 7 June 2018 KSA 13:33 - GMT 10:33

How to forge a favorable, long-term American policy towards the Middle East

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Republican leadership in Congress killed, last week, a proposed measure spearheaded by Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican, to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights of Syria. A media report suggests the Trump administration signaled a lack of enthusiasm for the measure to House Republican leadership. In turn, the measure was allowed to die an unceremonious death. The White House, according to reports, referenced the soon to be revealed comprehensive Middle East peace plan, which it claimed will include a provision for dealing with disputed territories.
The report did not garner much media interest allowing the administration a reprieve from a public scrutiny. If the bill were to have advanced, it would have compromised the US standing within a global community averse to fanning the flames of anger in an already unstable Mideast. The global community would be outraged, not to mention the potentially destructive reaction of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Such an outrage would be built on top of the latest global consternation following US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a tacit recognition of the holy city as Israel’s capital. 

The Pyramid and the funnel 

Years of disappointment with America’s decisions toward the Mideast can only be understood as a symptom of structural issues plaguing the US-Mideast relations. Arab governments deal with the US in a style that mirrors their own political structure, a hierarchical one. While this doesn’t preclude it from having a healthy and dynamic partnership, it makes adjusting the emphasis of the diplomatic effort a necessity. Governments dealing with the US need to devise more effective strategies as they account for internal balance of powers. The power is held at the top of the political pyramid in the Arab world, while the political structure in the US is a funnel-like structure (an upside-down pyramid).
On the top of this American funnel reside the people. As a result, the “people” affect the trajectory of US decisions, especially in the long run, more truthfully than that of the occupant of the White House. It must be understood that the power of the people is delegated to their Representatives in Congress to run the daily legislative affairs of the nation. This reality gives Congress, as the representatives of the people, elevated influence and authority to hold the Oval Office accountable for its decisions. They keep the President honest as they collectively, through their representatives on Capitol Hill, pose a balancing power to that of the President.
Iran’s “malign” activities in the Middle East are facilitating an additional aspect toward a stronger alliance of convenience between the US and friendly Arab governments. Those Arab governments are riding an American wave of opposition against the Iranian regime. Again, this is a government-to-government alliance, but more importantly, it offers an opening to establish a deeper partnership
Walid Jawad
Indeed, the US President is considered to be the most powerful man in the world (relative to other heads of state), but his powers are not absolute. Far from it, there is the balance between his office as the head of the Executive branch and that of the Legislative (Congress) and the Judicial (Courts) branches. This balance is only one aspect of the checks on the White House; the other is the election cycle where the people voice their opinion every four years. The stakes are higher in reelection bids for a presidential second term. People cast their ballots in what amounts to a referendum on the job performance of the President.
In reality, the American people don't have to wait that long to voice their dissatisfaction with the performance of the President; midterm elections are opportune. Case in point, the upcoming midterm elections to be held in November 2018 that will serve as a referendum on Trump and his Republican party.
Members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years. This short tenure forces them to be sensitive to the wishes of their constituency if they wish to win another two years in Washington. Senators, on the other hand, are more deliberative as they have to shift their focus to the elections every six years. Senators balance the emotions of the day against longer-term objectives within the margins of the prevailing will of voters. It is precisely here that Middle East governments can gain or lose the most. Israel understands the game. Presidents and legislators come and go, but the will of American people outlasts them all and Israel has won the American people over. Jewish Americans recognized the power of the role they can play, and they’ve played it well.
Of course, Jewish-American successes made the political environment less conducive to Arab causes. Members of the Arab-American community are not driven by the Israeli-Palestinian state of affairs, or by much of what is going on in the Arab world. The exception being those new immigrants who are still fighting for the people they left behind. In general, politically active Arab-Americans are as fragmented as the Arab world itself. Jewish-Americans in comparison, view the survival and well-being of the Israeli state as an existential issue. Arabs are operating from a deficit dealing with this specific conflict. But there are other conflicts that may unify the Arab cause better. 

The Iranian foe 

Iran’s “malign” activities in the Middle East are facilitating an additional aspect toward a stronger alliance of convenience between the US and friendly Arab governments. Those Arab governments are riding an American wave of opposition against the Iranian regime. Again, this is a government-to-government alliance, but more importantly, it offers an opening to establish a deeper partnership. If Arab governments are unable to find ways to seize on this opportunity to forge a political friendship with the American people, they will continue to be at the mercy of the morphing marriage of convenience; energy and security. Now is the time to work on a partnership with the America people and not only with their Republican Party representatives or just with a specific president.
The upcoming midterm elections should serve as a reality check realizing that the party of president historically loses in midterm elections; playing a political roulette whenever US elections come around is never a reassuring political strategy.
Saudi Arabia seems to understand this dynamic. The three-week-long visit by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his TV interviews were a good start. Now that a door has been opened, it's time to cross that threshold and commit to the hard and long work that is required; connecting with the American people on a personal/human level and with congress on a functional level to advance shared values and mutually beneficial outcomes.
___________________________
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Thursday, 31 May 2018 KSA 22:26 - GMT 19:26

Monday, May 28, 2018

The US-North Korea Summit: Deeper into the twilight zone

The US-North Korea Summit: Deeper into the twilight zone

Both US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un appear eager to find a way to meet in Singapore, the second week of June.
The on-again-off-again, possible, maybe, meeting is facing serious challenges. Both Trump and Kim have dynamic personality traits and absolute decision-making powers over attending or canceling the meeting, putting the whole process at risk of imploding due to personality dynamics.
Unfortunately, not much can be done about their personalities. The other challenge is the “N” factor of foot-in-mouth syndrome plaguing US administration representatives. While nothing can be done about the personalities of either of the leaders, something can be said about the statements coming out of the administration, DON’T.
As in do not say, explain, or speak about the summit, unless it is being said directly to the North Koreans. Sure, there is curiosity around the event. The media is trying to do its job by understanding and communicating the information it gatherings, but the end goal of peace throughout the Korean peninsula is clear enough. There is no need to defend against the method or timing at this point.
The latest political break-up is a cautionary tale emphasizing the power of words highlighting its role in the subtle art of the possible
Walid Jawad

The Libya model

John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, said a couple of weeks ago: “we are looking at the Libyan model of 2003-2004,” as he explained the Trump administration’s options to denuclearize North Korea. The Libya model provides a roadmap for which a complete, verifiable, non-reversible denuclearization can be achieved, which is the US declared goal for the North Korea talks.
A debatable, yet seemingly sensible approach except when listening to the same statement through Kim’s ears. Kim would rightfully understand the Libya Model to mean the demise of his family’s reign in North Korea in a similar fashion to that of Muammar Gaddafi, shot to death, after denuclearization. 

In typical fashion, Bolton walked right into a communication twilight zone where his statement induces an unintended reaction, a very negative one at that. The US has been issuing ill-conceived statements over the decades, plunging the nation into nightmarish situations.
The example that stands out the most was George W. Bush’s “crusade” comment in waging war on terror in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the US. The connotation “crusade” holds here in the west is positive, while it evoked the opposite in the mind of the Muslim world.
It caused a collective reliving of the historic trauma of the 11th to 13th century when crusaders waged war against Muslims. There was no escaping it, Muslims around the world understood Bush’s word to be a declaration of war against Islam. Not the intent, yet a negative and costly result.

Learning from mistakes

This is the type of lesson consecutive administrations try to avoid learning from its own mistakes. It is challenging to account for the possible contextual interpretation of the receiving party. What makes it more difficult is that many of these statements are intended for a specific audience not accounting for the law of unintended consequences in the age of social and mass media.
There are no longer messages exclusive to a specific audience. The reach of statements is wide and deep. Statements are magnified when they are perceived negatively by the target audience. They become counterproductive when such statements hit the receivers’ emotional cords as they trigger collective memories of suffering.
Particularly, when such statements fit well in the prevailing narrative of the day about the sinister intentions of the other. There is a short fable in the world of translation that goes like this: A translator was asked to translate the idiom, “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” Once she was done, that translation was given to another translator to translate it back from the target language to English again. She handed in the translation, which read “the blind, the crazy.”
At times, words are interpreted differently even within groups sharing many similarities including groups speaking the same language. On its face, speaking the same language avoids such pitfalls, in reality, there is such thing as misunderstanding due to a myriad of selective tendencies.
Moreover, the symbolism attached to each concept or word is not always agreed upon; same words defined by completely different historic, cultural, and emotional dictionary. Communication challenges are insurmountable.
With that in mind, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to seize the moment during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday to explain the “Libya model” comment when Sen. Ed Markey pressed him by asking “Why would you think that there would be any other interpretation than what happened to Qaddafi at the end of his denuclearization, which is that he wound up dead? Why think that that would not, in fact, elicit hostility from a negotiating partner only three weeks from sitting down across the table?” A very valid question.

Alleviating worries

Trump, on the other hand, attempted to correct the record by saying that “the Libyan model is not the model we have at all in thinking about North Korea.” But, was that enough to alleviate Kim’s worries? No, it was not. Kim continued threatening to pull out of the summit promoting Trump to abruptly cancel the anticipated meeting on Thursday. 

No doubt the goal of the Kim nuclear program is to guarantee his own survival. Kim is a calculating dictator with no tolerance for any real or perceived descent, who’s starving his own people.
Trump confirmed his understanding of Kim’s end goal when he said last week “I will guarantee his safety, we will guarantee his safety,” accepting the basic equation: complete and final denuclearization in return North Korea becomes prosperous without disrupting the countries power structure led by Kim.
ALSO READ: Trump tweets: Meeting with Kim on June 12 in Singapore 

The latest political break-up is a cautionary tale emphasizing the power of words highlighting its role in the subtle art of the possible. Military might only allows countries room to hold larger diplomatic space. It is inexcusable to squander the military advantage and diplomatic upper hand by overlooking the context of transmitted messages.
On Saturday, a new message was transmitted by Sarah Sanders, the White House spokesperson saying: “the White House pre-advance team for Singapore will leave as scheduled in order to prepare should the summit take place.”
It appears, for now, that Bolton’s Libya commit did not completely kill the chances of bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. Enough said.
___________________________
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.
Last Update: Monday, 28 May 2018 KSA 20:22 - GMT 17:22

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Santa Fe, Texas: Another ‘terrorist’ school shooting

Santa Fe, Texas: Another ‘terrorist’ school shooting

The troubling thing about the latest school shooting is that it evoked minimal emotions; no horror, no rage. The Santa Fe high school shooting on Friday claimed 10 lives, and another 10 injured including a resource officer (the armed police officer assigned to the school), who was charged with the safety of the school. It's easy to make the case against the NRA mantra: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” Although the argument came to mind, it was not the most dominant thought. I wondered why is it that no one calls the perpetrators of these atrocities terrorists?
It would be a different issue altogether if the shooter had been of Arabic origins or of Muslim persuasion. Similarly if that person had an Arabic/Islamic sounding name or was off-white on the brownish color spectrum. Inevitably, we would notice news channels move from discussing mental health issues and gun control to more sinister angles of homegrown-terrorist, lone-wolves, and Islamic Jihad.
When and if a school shooting would be carried out by a “brown kid” it would be a different national discussion. Immigration and border security would come to the fore. Perhaps assimilation and loyalty to foreign entities will become euphemisms for Islamophobic speech. I doubt most TV talking-heads will have the presence of mind to be politically correct. After all Islamophobia doesn’t appear to be a cardinal sin in this post 9-11 world.
Subconscious racism will be legitimized in the wake of such incident. We, as the “guilty” group, should not become indignant for the sweeping judgment. Instead of becoming defensive we should make sure to condemn these violent acts equating it to other school shootings. If one mass killing is a terrorists act, then all other incidents should be called terrorist acts, regardless of the ethnicity and beliefs of the perpetrator.
Islam was synonymous with terrorism post 9-11, when the Muslim world abdicated to Al-Qaeda criminals confusing the messenger for the purity of the Islamic message. It was a confusing time. The Muslim world bought into a narrative of victimhood where they were on the losing end in the perceived clash of civilizations of that period. Until the Muslim world claimed back their religion from its hijackers, Islam was the enemy of peace. Ironically when the word Islam is derived from the root word peace.

Terrorism: A judgment

Five hours into the news coverage, it dawned on Harris Faulkner, the Fox News anchor, that acts of violence in schools should be labeled by what they cause, terror. Surprisingly a couple of experts agreed with the classification.
Terror in its simplest definition is extreme fear. And in our prevailing narrative, is to instil fear in a community through anticipated random acts of mass violence. Nothing surprising there. School shootings have instilled fear in the heart and minds of American parents and students. Active shooter, lockdown, and shelter-in-place drills are common in most schools. Yet, the uncertainty of when, where, and how is frightening. The futility of these exercises deepens that sense of terror.
The average school shooting lasts 12.5 minutes, according to Homeland Security statistic. Casualties in this year's 22 school shootings were random targets of opportunity. In the last five years of school shootings, about 450 were shot of which 150 lost their lives. We don’t know much about why they do it. Some of the shooter are traumatized, psychopaths, or psychotic kids according to Peter Langman, the author of the book “Why Kids Kill.” Excluding mental disorders, I believe lack of resilience, the inability to overcome difficulties, is a big factor.
The recurrence of school shooting suggests a generation wide lack of toughness. Parents are to blame. Shielding kids from reality and babying them when they are challenged contributes to the problem. We know that these kids are capable and smart because they plot out their school shootings with meticulous detail. They overcome challenges and face uncertainty as they move into the execution phase of their sinister plan. Unfortunately, they’re unable to draw on that resiliency on daily basis under constant low-level adversity. When shooters reach the tipping point due to a slow but long build up, we get to discuss mental health and gun control around the clock on all news channels.

Kids and terrorism

The US had 15 juveniles brought to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over the years. At the time of their arrest, some were as young as 14 (even a report of 13 year olds were arrested on the battlefields and detained in country). Couldn’t we explain their action in the same way we explain school shooters’, a result of trauma, psychopathy, or psychosis? I believe those explanations are not exclusive to school shooter. But there are other explanations, which are exclusive to battlefield youth. Some of them are recruited by virtue of their guardian’s decision to join the fight, or as an option to escape a worse reality (such as those orphaned by the violence they are embroiled in).
There is no justification for dubbing a 13 year old as a terrorist. Teenagers can be manipulated to advance a terrorist organization’s political goals, but the groups strategic goals has little bearing on what drives the kids. Long-term goal of the fight is irrelevant in an environment focused on daily tactics, survival among violent adults, and focus on avoiding death on the battlefield. A far cry from the reality of School aged killers here in the the States. In this environment, teenagers seem to be inspired by other school shootings, plot to avoid others mistakes, and one up the latest massacre.
The difference between the two youths is glaring. The duration of violent acts and frequency on the battlefield is long-term vs the very short duration of shoot-em up at schools. Once in motion, the battlefield kids are locked in risking their lives if they were to change their minds vs. school shooters who can abort their plans right up to the moment of brandish their weapons. Battlefield kids are led to believe they are committing violent acts in the name of righteousness while school shooting is selfish; a cry for help at best and sadistic pain inflecting rebelion at worst. Neither is acceptable. It is incumbent upon us, the adult, to understand the circumstances, which lead to such tragic ends. If both teenagers are terrorist. We must wonder if this classification is adequate. Describing all of these kids as terrorist is to expose this classification for what it really is, a catch all for any random violent act against a group.
Because we don't understand what motivates seemingly normal school kids to commit such atrocities, we are bound to focus on the tools used in their attacks. We keep talking about guns and the second amendment rights (It is ludicrous to discuss the second amendment, as it is not under threat on any level). As for access to guns, a student who is hell-bent on carrying out a school massacre will find a way to inflict the most damage. Let us be realistic, there is no control on pipe bombs or pressure cooker conversion to bombs and yet they are incorporated in some attacks. We can devise the most stringent controls over guns, yet school massacres will not end.
America will need to reexamine how it perceives the role of youth in society, how it treats them, how it educates them. Child protection must be redefined to protect children from self-destructive tendencies. Child rearing will need a revolutionary approach that is reflective of the technologically advanced world we live in.
There are conditions to be met; we must satisfy children basic needs of nourishment, shelter, and safety as a base from which we can build on. The second layer of this dichotomy requires cultivating a sense of purpose. Adults must assign appropriate responsibilities, to foster a sense of agency. Consequences for their actions should be an exercise in self-reflection at home and school. Society will need to devise new opportunities for children to be engaged in their communities.
Education needs to incorporate a much bigger out of the classroom component. We must reimagine the classroom. We must redesign schools to be open, not turn its walls to fortresses and the classrooms to panic rooms. Schools must become part of the community instead of exclusionary to it. Schools should no longer be daycare drop off points where parents outsource the responsibility of raising their kids to educators. If we are successful, our youth will possess a wider perspective allowing them to understand their role within society. Only then, school shootings will be part of a dark period in America’s history, and our children will become resilient and will lead us to the future we are hoping for them to embody.

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Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj
 
Last Update: Sunday, 20 May 2018 KSA 09:30 - GMT 06:30