Quaker Universalist Conversations

Terror Talk

Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace, by Jonathan Powell – A Review

Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace, by Jonathan Powell (St. Martin’s Press, 2015; hardcover & ebook)

Terrorism is universal in all cultures, in all traditions, in all times. Terrorism is only a means, not an end, in human behavior. When other means are not perceived as effective, terrorism is a final option. The only way to stop terrorist is talking.

"Terrorists at the Table," by J. Powell Jonathan Powell’s Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace provides the viewpoint of national government perspectives on solving the problem of terrorism. The argument of this book is that talking is essential and that governments should promote talking with any terrorist force that demonstrates some public support.

The book is full of stories based on practical experience to support the thesis that the only way to peace and security is to talk with terrorists. The author was an official in the British government. The author only addresses the WHY of negotiating with terrorists in the first and last sections of the book. The heart of the book focuses on the HOW of going about establishing contact and engaging in talks. It is all practical. The stories reflect real experiences.

This candid guidebook is well worth reflection, which should not be reduced/diminished by the close affiliation of the author with the tarnished judgment of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The book includes a good bibliography that is organized by topic and diverse geographical case studies of negotiation with terrorists. There is an index. There are no end notes or footnotes to document the statements in the text, which weaknesses are only partially compensated for in a categorical bibliography.

We all must remember that a terrorist is labeled in the eye of the beholder. Terrorists are not terrorists from the terrorist viewpoint. Terrorists see their own actions as falling into a different and justifiable category. All terrorists view their opponents as the real terrorists.

Talk is the key and the earlier is the talk, the better. That is the author’s message as a universal tool for resolving terrorism everywhere.

Quakers:

Generally, Quakers are quiet about terrorism beyond deploring it. Currently, Quakers recognize terror in line with the dominant cultural views of their fellow citizens of the U.S. It is difficult for U.S. Quakers to see the U.S. government as a dominant terrorist force in the world. Quakers have no institutional role in advocating for solutions for terrorism other than acknowledging the application of military force.

Questions:

  • Do Quakers have any helpful role in talking with terrorists?
  • What is the distinctive role of Quakers, and the larger world of nonprofit organizations, in encouraging, monitoring, and assessing talks with terrorists wherever they are found?

Comments

My personal view is that we should not forget our fundamental tenet: that of God in everyone and start there. If we have to go back to that “square one” in the face of noncooperation—so be it.

The second point is in pursuit of the first: listening and observation to find. That of God.

Thanks for your comment. The author emphasizes that the fundamentals are of fundamental importance in initiating talk with terrorists and sustaining it through much painful tumult, even though he avoids a major discussion of this important aspect. It is implicit and it is remarkable that someone so senior in government understands and advocated for this talk with terrorists as a fundamental part of statecraft.