Enlighten the Detainees
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Men who were formerly fighting with the Taliban or al-Qaida are now prisoners in the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Some have been on a hunger strike. They want to know what will become of them. Some will be tried, and others released.
We get little news about the conversations the U.S. military officials are having with the detainees. The officials are trying to obtain information about the terrorist organizations and their plans, but are they also attempting to make these fanatics see the error of their ways?
This situation presents a splendid opportunity to enlighten these former fighters. They have believed that the U.S. is fighting against Islam. Whatever one thinks about the War on Terror, it is not directed against the Islamic Religion, as the U.S. has Muslim allies in this fight, and the U.S. government officials are of the view that they have liberated the Afghan people from an oppressive regime, one that did not practice true Islam.
The captives evidently believe that Islam requires them to murder civilians who happen to be residents of a country whose policy they believe is wrong. The U.S. authorities should bring in Islamic clerics and scholars to converse with the detainees. They should show them passages of the Qur'an that state that suicide is wrong and that killing innocents is murder, and morally wrong. The fanatical claim, that those happening to reside in the U.S. are not innocent, is also wrong. There are indeed many in the U.S. who do not approve of U.S. foreign policy, did not vote for the current administration, and even speak out against it, yet they too would be targets of terrorist attacks. Collective guilt is wrong and also not Islamic.
The truly best outcome of the detainee problem would be if they became convinced that their previous views were mistaken. The U.S. officials and Muslim authorities should not try to convince them that American policy has been OK. In my judgment, U.S. policy such as the embargo on Iraq has been wrong and done more harm than good. But the captives should be led to understand that two wrongs do not make a right. Nothing the U.S. government has done justifies in any way the horror of the attacks of September 11. Moreover, the attack has been utterly ineffective in changing U.S. policy to what they wanted.
These captives have had their minds twisted by propaganda, and they have not heard anything contrary. Many were schooled in institutions where only one story was told, which young minds believed as absolute truth. So the U.S. officials need to bring in educators to teach the detainees about how one knows that something is true. They need to show how logic and evidence are the only authorities, and how all statements are subject to question. It is not that they should doubt their faith in Islam, but only the misinterpretations that some have instilled in them.
Appeals to emotion should be part of this educational effort. Show them photos of the attacks, the response of the New Yorkers, and the terrible damage it has done to people. This can get through to those who do not have evil or sadistic intentions, but have simply been conditioned to believe fabrications as fact.
No doubt some of the captives will refuse to listen and will not be convinced by any logic or evidence. These should not be released, as they will remain a threat so long as their beliefs do not change. But those who have a change of heart, and show it by their words and behavior, should be eventually released. They can do good by going back to their home countries and telling others, "I was mistaken. We have been misled. What I did was wrong."
Rehabilitation is one purpose of punishment. Are the captives being rehabilitated, or just incarcerated and interrogated? If the U.S. officials do not take this opportunity to change the false beliefs of the detainees, they will have missed a golden opportunity to change public opinion in the Islamic world. If these former terrorists would now be for a peaceful resolution of conflict, they would be more influential than anything any U.S. officials say.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2002 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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