Regret comes only later

I am recalling an episode of Dr. Who, which I have been binge-watching recently while I wait to defend my dissertation,[1] in which the Doctor commands some humans in a very small Welsh town to be the best of humanity in protecting a captured Silurian warrior. The Silurians had captured a few humans, including a protagonist in the series, and this warrior had grievously wounded another with some sort of toxin.[2]

Desperate for a cure, a local woman begins interrogating the warrior (a Silurian female) with what might be a taser. The warrior, who, in what might be a self-fulfilling prophesy, both sees her own death as inevitable and is convinced that war with the humans is inevitable, sees no reason to supply the wanted information and refuses. With two jolts, the human woman inadvertently kills the warrior, dooming for now the Doctor’s efforts to reach a peace deal with the Silurians who predate humans on earth and have been living in hiding, deep underground. At least as I understand the episode, this woman acted principally out of fear of the other—the Silurians appear to be bipedal reptiles—manifest as fury and hatred, but also in response to the fury and hatred the warrior directed at the humans.[3]

The message here is clear enough: Bigotry, hatred, and fear provoke a similar response of bigotry, hatred, and fear. As Martin Luther King, Jr., has been quoted saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[4] As the Silurians’ attitude drew upon historical grievances, so the warrior mentality, echoed both underground and on the surface, led not to conflict resolution but instead threatened cyclical violence.[5]

It’s not a hard theme to see in real life, at a time now fading from memory, in Northern Ireland; before that in the whole of Ireland; presently between Israel and the Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip; in the sectarian conflicts that contribute to civil war in Syria and the potential break-up of Iraq; and in numerous other seemingly interminable conflicts around the world. Some of these conflicts last for centuries. Even when physical violence between antagonists falls short of breaking out—David Barash and Charles Webel call this a “negative peace,” meaning more the absence of physical violence than the just resolution of grievances that lead to conflict[6]—as in the Cold War between the United States and its allies with the Soviet Union and its successor state, Russia, and between the U.S. and its allies with China, so-called “provocations” provide an excuse for hostility. In such contexts, real peacemaking efforts seem entirely too rare, and as Michael Lerner has explained, right-wing hard-line politicians tend to prevail in the name of “national security” or “keeping ‘us’ safe.”[7]

That ‘we’ are not, in fact, safe, is manifest in the ongoing violence in Israel and in the Occupied Territories and as darkness once again falls upon the City of Light—Paris—in another Islamic State attack.[8] The response is pathetically predictable. Just as Israel repeatedly wages disproportionate violence against Palestinians, we see France sending its aircraft carrier to the Middle East and politicians (especially in a U.S. presidential campaign season) calling for an intensified war on the Islamic State.[9] Domestically in the U.S., the Republican and national security response would be ludicrous if it were not so sickening. What I cite here is far from complete: Muslims are again the “other” as we would surveil ‘their’ neighborhoods.[10] Refugees fleeing the very violence in Syria that we presumably aim to suppress would be removed, barred, or subject to more (and possibly unrealistic) security vetting than they already are.[11] And of course, mass surveillance must be enhanced rather than scaled back, despite its manifest failure in Paris.[12]

From almost any available perspective, the West, and the U.S. in particular, bears a heavy responsibility for the development of the Islamic State.[13] This development occurs in an intensely historical context; it springs from colonialism and, as I and others have pointed out previously, the generally fawning relationship the West, and the U.S. in particular, has with Israel’s government, a relationship that, among many other things, makes the West complicit in violence against Palestinians and stokes Islamist fury against the West.[14] But of course to say so is to be ‘anti-Semitic’ or to “blame America first.”

It is increasingly apparent that the manifestly futile but profitable-for-some policy of ever more war and an enhanced national security state is coming under challenge. While I was screaming to myself in my car as I listened to reports of then-President George W. Bush’s early reaction to the 9/11 attacks, a reaction that led us first into Afghanistan, where we are still fighting; then into Iraq, where we are still fighting; then into most other countries in the world, where we send special operations forces or drones on an ongoing basis; and more recently into Syria, it is only recently that for far too many and yet still far too few, the paranoid cycle of violence has become too obvious to ignore.

The antagonists in that Dr. Who episode seem now all too familiar, reacting with an initial cause lost in the mists of time, with violence, fury, and hatred. Regret comes only later, if at all.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Defense seems scheduled,” November 16, 2015,; David Benfell, “Summary of dissertation work: For my oral examination (the defense),” November 17, 2015,
  2. [2]Chris Chibnall, “Cold Blood,” Dr. Who, television show, May 29, 2010.
  3. [3]Chris Chibnall, “Cold Blood,” Dr. Who, television show, May 29, 2010.
  4. [4]Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate;…” Brainy Quote, n.d.,
  5. [5]Chris Chibnall, “Cold Blood,” Dr. Who, television show, May 29, 2010.
  6. [6]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  7. [7]Michael Lerner, “Why the Right Keeps Winning and the Left Keeps Losing,” Tikkun, November 10, 2014,
  8. [8]Adam Nossiter, Aurelien Breeden, and Katrin Bennhold, “Three Teams of Coordinated Attackers Carried Out Assault on Paris, Officials Say; Hollande Blames ISIS,” New York Times, November 14, 2015,
  9. [9]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Paris attacks: ‘France will destroy IS’ – Hollande,” November 16, 2015,; Dan Roberts, “Republicans demand US lead a new war to ‘eradicate Isis’ after Paris attacks,” Guardian, November 15, 2015,; Phil Stewart, Warren Strobel, and Matt Spetalnick, “After Paris attacks, pressure builds for big military response to Islamic State,” Reuters, November 14, 2015,
  10. [10]Bradford Richardson, “Republican calls for increased surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods,” Hill, November 15, 2015,
  11. [11]Hannah Allam, “U.S. process of admitting Syrian refugees includes security vetting,” McClatchy, November 16, 2015,; Dave Boucher, “Tennessee GOP leader: Round up Syrian refugees, remove from state,” Tennessean, November 17, 2015,; Jordan Fabian, Alexander Bolton, and Scott Wong, “Pressure builds to block refugees,” Hill, November 16, 2015,
  12. [12]New York Times, “Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism,” November 17, 2015,; David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, “Encrypted Messaging Apps Face New Scrutiny Over Possible Role in Paris Attacks,” New York Times, November 16, 2015,; Nicholas Weaver, “The Limits of The Panopticon,” Lawfare, November 18, 2015,; Marcy Wheeler, “Metadata Surveillance Didn’t Stop the Paris Attacks,” Common Dreams, November 18, 2015,
  13. [13]Ian Fisher, “In Rise of ISIS, No Single Missed Key but Many Strands of Blame,” New York Times, November 18, 2015,; Glenn Greenwald, “How Many Muslim Countries Has the U.S. Bombed Or Occupied Since 1980?” Intercept, November 6, 2015,; Mark LeVine, “Go ahead, blame Islam,” Al Jazeera, November 15, 2015,; Ed Pilkington and Ewen MacAskill, “Obama’s drone war a ‘recruitment tool’ for Isis, say US air force whistleblowers,” Guardian, November 18, 2015,
  14. [14]David Benfell, “With allies like Israel, who needs enemies?” Not Housebroken, March 9, 2010,

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