Nonviolence and Terrorism: What can WE do? Where do we even begin?

The Metta Center for Nonviolence hosted a live webinar on December 5, 2015 featuring Dr. Michael Nagler (The Metta Center for Nonviolence) and Dr. Johan Galtung (Transcend).  A recording of this session is now available.

For additional information and resources visit The Metta Center for Nonviolence website.  

Follow-up Q&A with Dr. Nagler is also available.


What Could be Done? Some Resources for policy (see the webinar itself for personal actions).

  1. From Mel Duncan, Co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce (with a current project on Syria)

My suggestions involve time, courage, patience and money.

  • Support Syrian civil society who are committed to reconciliation and a peaceful transition to a pluralistic Syria.  They are there, working sometimes mundanely and sometimes heroically.  They come from across the political, religious and geographic divides.  I got to meet with representatives of some of these groups in Aug. and Oct.  NP is working with a coalition of 60+ of these groups helping them to establish local civilian protection, early warning/early response systems, localized ceasefires, strategic accompaniment et al.  Periodically, we will reconvene them to reflect on lessons learned and create future plans, AND, more importantly, help to strengthen the bonds among them so as to encourage a pluralistic base for the future Syria.
  • Support Syrian civil society in violence interruption and norm changing activities where young Syrians are trained and supported to intervene with their peers who are being violently radicalized.   The “interrupters” as they are called serve as credible messengers who offer an alternative narrative and norm The NGO Cure Violence http://cureviolence.orghas been doing this type of violence interruptions with gangs in over 25 cities in 8 countries.  These techniques can be applied in neighborhoods in France and Belgium where young people are being recruited as terrorists.
  • Provide resources to support projects of resilience, livelihood and meaning for young people especially young men, in areas that are suffering the most violence.  For example, I recently talked with a young woman who has been working in Aleppo with teenage boys to build libraries from the rubble for children and then provide learning activities for the kids.  Terrorism by Northern Ireland’s Irish Republican Army, for example, was strongly reduced by grassroots, job-creating, economic development.
  • The self-determination of the Syrian people, including their right to an independent, sovereign state on their national territory, must be respected.  Therefore, the Syrian people must be at the center of the resolution of the conflict, and other states and non-state actors must support a Syrian-led process.
  • Negotiating tables must include those previously excluded, e.g. women, Syrians of  all ethnic and religious backgrounds, and non-violent political groups working for peace, justice and reconciliation on the ground in Syria.
  • Look to women to provide the constructive leadership out of this mess.
  • A ceasefire must be negotiated in non-ISIS controlled areas.  The ceasefire would be monitored by UN-DPKO and international and local civilians (similar to the Mindanao model).
  • Immediate humanitarian aid needs to be MASSIVELY increased in Syria in a neutral manner according to internationally recognized standards.  The US, France, Turkey and Russia would be better served by food dropping food rather than bombs.
  • Mass support has to be given to neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.  Deteriorating conditions for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries are a major reason for the mass migration  to Europe.  80% of the refugees in Joran are in poverty.   It will be cheaper for the EU and better for many of the refugees to support them in countries close to Syria and better for many not to have to try the migration.
  • Provide unarmed protective accompaniment to the refugees who are migrating, starting in Turkey and going up through S.E Europe.  Nonviolent Peaceforce is exploring this option.   UNICEF estimates that 12,000 children are presently unaccompanied on this exodus.
  • Syrian refugees must be welcomed into western and gulf countries.  Sweden is setting the example by accepting an equivalent to 2% of their national population.  Canada has welcome centers.
  • Actively support solidarity with and inclusion of Muslims in western countries.  When Anglophone Canada reduced its marginalization of Francophones, it reduced the threat of terrorism from Quebec.
  • Support nonviolent movements of Muslims organizing  for change in western countries.  This provides avenues for change, necessary outlets and creates an alternative to radical recruitments. This is not a time to suppress conflict but rather to support it being expressed nonviolently.
  • Recognize that domestic terror is a matter for police not militaries.  While I accept the need for robust policing in times of crisis, the emphasis needs to be on community based policing where people see police as serving them rather than as an occupying force.  I am hoping this will be an outcome of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.


  1. From George Lakey, Founder of Training for Change, a recent article in Waging Nonviolence lists eight steps.
  2. My recent post has a similar list, but focused on personal empowerment.
  3. Post by Jennifer Lickteig, “Terrorist Organizations and the Use of Non-violent Tactics” fromNorthwestern Journal of International Relations, X:I (Fall 2009) will be found here. Lickteig appropriately uses the hyphenated form, non-violence, which many use to mean the mere absence of physical violence. Here it refers to a terrorist group adopting or going over to political means, not full-blown nonviolent resistance, as in the first Intifada.

Two books (with chapters by MN):

Senthil Ram and Ralph Summy (Edd.), Nonviolence: An Alternative for Defeating Global Terror(ism).Nova Science Publications (2007)

Karin Carrington and Susan Griffin (Edd.), Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World.University of California (2011).

By Michael Nagler; Metta Center for Nonviolence, October 2013

One hundred years before September 11, 2001—on September 11, 1906—Mahatma Gandhi officially launched the world’s first Satyagraha, the term he coined for the strategic, nonviolent resistance campaign. Noted peace scholar Michael Nagler tells the story of the birth of Satyagraha (literally translated as “clinging to truth”), during Gandhi’s time in South Africa.

E-book for Kindle

E-book on Smashwords