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I don’t claim any particular expertise in Indian/Pakistani relations. However, given the horrific events of recent days, I think that certain conclusions can be drawn.

1. Terrorism will not go away any time soon: Given the strong probability that there will always be various groups around the world whose members perceive themselves to be the victims of injustice, and given that as few as 10 men, acting in tandem, and with scant resources, could wreak such havoc in a huge metropolitan city like Mumbai, the chances are good that terrorism is likely to persist, as a relatively inexpensive way of lashing out, making your grievances known, and effectuating change.

2. The recruitment and training of terrorists is not particularly difficult: From what I’ve read, the lone terrorist, who participated in and survived the attack, has a 4th grade education, and admits to having been trained in a training camp located somewhere in Pakistan. It is apparent, therefore, that recruiting prospective terrorists, and inculcating in them an ideological mindset which predisposes them to carry out suicide missions, is both feasible, and not particularly difficult. It is also obvious that there are, as we speak, organized training camps, operating with impunity, in places like Pakistan, and probably in a great many other places as well.

3. The governments of countries which host terrorist training facilities are unable or unwilling to clamp down on such activities: We must assume that if terrorist camps are operating in countries like Pakistan, then the government leaders must know about such activities, and are currently unable or unwilling to eradicate them. It is not difficult to fathom why. Clearly, such governments may lack the resources, or may lack the political will, since acting forcefully in this regard could well result in civil war, which may pose even more of a threat than the terrorism itself. It is also possible that corruption may be playing a part in the decision making process, whereby people are being paid off to remain silent and to do nothing to disturb the status quo. There are quiet understandings in place.

4. There is a limit to the outside pressure that can be brought to bear against a nuclear power: Even if India rightfully claims that the Pakistani leadership is not doing enough to curb the threat of terrorism, its hands may be tied when dealing with a nation that possesses some 60 nuclear weapons. A military reprisal from India against Pakistan, which will probably not occur, will not likely be strong enough to curb the terrorist threat, given the need to show restraint, in an effort to minimize the risk of a nuclear confrontation.

So given the realities on the ground, and the constraints they impose, what should the world do to contain the terrorist threat? My answer would be to Sell a Vision of Hope, by which we use a multi-faceted approach to undermine the enemy, by beating him at his own game, and by strengthening our resolve to meet the threats he poses:

1. Ideology: If the terrorist uses the divisive ideology of violent Jihad to win hearts and minds, we counter with the unifying Ideology of Common Sense, an ideology based on common sense principles, principles which have universal appeal, and which are therefore universally accepted as true. We will use a new ideological framework to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. In a more perfect world, common sense, the collective wisdom born of shared experience, will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.

2. Investment: If the terrorist uses charitable handouts to win hearts and minds, we counter by investing in jobs, green technology jobs which protect the environment, which grow our economies, and which help to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking.

3. Hope: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by selling people on a vision of hope for martyrdom, or virgins, or paradise, or what have you, we counter by selling people on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. People the world over need hope like air to breathe. Give the man on the street a sense of hope, and you will have turned the corner on world peace. Nothing more is needed and nothing less will suffice.

4. Public Diplomacy: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by seeking to set us against one another, we counter by launching a series of Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop a Vision of Hope up and to carry it forward, including: a program to empower women, a media campaign, a student exchange, a cultural exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, and a series of international conferences on education, religion and the environment. Take, for example, the program to empower women by financing female entrepreneurs, and promoting women’s rights. Who are women? They are the givers of life, and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.

5. Fight: If the terrorist wins hearts and minds by launching terror attacks against us, we counter by fighting back, and fighting hard, but we position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We give the fight a good measure of credibility. People will fight harder once they know what they’re fighting for. We’re not fighting a “war against terror.” We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There’s a big difference.

To defeat terrorism, or at least to contain it, we have to become at least as smart, and at least as committed, as the terrorists themselves. We owe it to ourselves to know our enemy, and to beat him at his own game. In effect, we have to co-opt his strategy, to do what he does, only better, and thereby marginalize him in the eyes of his own people. We have to put him in the uncomfortable and untenable position of holding his people back from a better life. Even the terrorist will not be able to withstand that kind of pressure. He will become a pariah in his own land, walking out of step with the will of the people. Ultimately, the will of the people will not be deterred.

The terrorist derives his power from his ability to inspire his followers, even as he intimidates his enemy. Our path to victory will be to inspire our own people, and even people around the world who may choose to partner with us, because unlike the terrorist, we have something better to sell. We can win the war of ideas by showing that our ideas make more sense, and that we are willing to back our words up with new realities on the ground, realities which speak louder than words, and which point toward the promise that comes with hope. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists will not be able to capture the public’s imagination, once people begin to imagine a better life for themselves. It behooves the West to put that option on the table.

We, who are often on the receiving end of terror, can certainly coordinate our efforts better, and embolden ourselves with a vision that gives purpose to our cause. But we may also have to resign ourselves to the possibility that even with a better vision, and even with a more comprehensive and effective approach, the lure of extremist thinking will be hard for some to resist. Terrorism is jut too convenient and enticing a weapon for us to be able to eliminate it totally.

Therefore, even though we could do a lot better in this regard, we may just have to accept a small measure of terror as an unfortunate aspect of modern life, not unlike how we have come to accept the unfortunate realities of crime on our streets, or accidents on our highways. Selling one another on a Vision of Hope will not cure all our ills, but will help contain them, and will inspire us to realize our potential as a species, and to meet the challenges which lie ahead with vigor and resolve.

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