Charlottesville – The cost of not negotiating with terrorists

I did not want to write about the tragedy that happened in Charlottesville.  I thought there was nothing to be said. This is terrible. This is appalling. This is scary. This is what we thought was possible but also what you have to see to believe.  Full stop.

Then I started reading more and more thought pieces. I watched the VICE documentary. I glanced over news (potentially fake) on Facebook and I noticed actions I was not expecting:

  • Parents disowned their son to participating in the protest link
  • Companies fired employees for marching link
  • Students quit college in Boston over death threats link

This is great, right? People across the nation doing the right thing, taking action, and standing united against bigotry.  This is the essence of “do not negotiate with terrorists”.  The famous policy followed by most western countries.  But is it the right thing to do? I would argue that is it not for 2 reasons:

  1. The “do not negotiate with terrorists” is actually a negotiation strategy to do just the opposite, negotiate with terrorists.  Think about it like a very strong opening to the negotiation. An ambitious ask to anchor people and skew the negotiation in your favor as explained in my previous post. Western countries negotiate with terrorists. Not because they want to. Because in some situations they have no other options.  This is why President Obama announced a policy overhaul that states for the first time that the United States government can communicate and negotiate with hostage takers.  Why, President Obama said Wednesday that his administration had too often failed the families of American hostages held overseas by groups like the Islamic State.
  2. What happens to the bigots that we ostracize?  What if their families reject them, their work rejects them, their colleges reject them? What do they have left? Other people who look like them and think like them. What are the odds that bringing a bunch of racists together would make them less racist? Slim. What are the odds of them becoming angrier, and even more extreme? High.  And in that case, we are all worse off. Stupid people become more stupid and the rest of us are more likely to be a victim of hate crimes.

Not for a split second, I believe that people who were violent should be given a pass. These people need to be brought to justice.  But, I truly believe that some of the other white supremacists can still be saved. And after I watched this Ted Talk of a former white supremacist, I strongly believe that each person saved can become a paramount advocate and make the world a better place for everyone.  I am sure many of you will find my ideas on moving forward uncomfortable. I urge you to watch this Ted Talk.  It shows that in some specific cases, negotiating with terrorists may be the best way to end terrorism.