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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:


and the Threat of ISIS

Elliot Benjamin

“Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.”
—Gene Sharp

About 2 years ago I engaged in a series of back and forth essays with Joe Corbett and Brian O'Doherty about the use of violence to achieve social/political goals, that was spurred on by Corbett's essay An Integral Use of Violence for Social Transformation [1]. Although I still abhor the use of violence in the way Corbett proposed, involving targeted assassinations of wealthy billionaire bankers and industrialists, etc. (cf. [1]), and I appreciate O'Doherty's argument about the “means justifying the ends” [2], I must admit that I have become increasingly conflicted about the alternatives of violence vs. non-violence in response to the horrid actions of ISIS.

Jamilia Raqib
Jamilia Raqib

A few months ago I attended a lecture given by Jamilia Raqib, director of the Albert Einstein Institution, entitled “The Power and Potential of Nonviolent Struggle: Lessons from the Arab Spring, the Global Occupy Movement, and Beyond,” that promoted the work of non-violent revolutionary Gene Sharp [3]. In Raqib's talk and more extensively in Gene Sharp's work, various methods of nonviolent action were described, including methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion, social non-cooperation, and economic non-cooperation; there are actually 198 specific methods listed in Sharp's books (cf. [3]). According to Sharp, nonviolent resistance has brought down dictatorships or furthered the movement toward democratization in various countries in the world, inclusive of Poland, Lithuania, East Germany Czechoslovakia, Nepal, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bulgaria, Hungary, and a number of other countries (cf. [3]). For Sharp, the strategic use of non-violence was not arrived at from idealistic or philosophical beliefs; rather for Sharp it is a nuts and bolt pragmatic means as the most effective way of achieving the goal of overthrowing dictatorships:

Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before. Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority (cf. [3])

Sharp goes on to warn against negative repercussions of guerrilla warfare as well.

Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the attacked regime becomes more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening or destruction of the society's independent groups and institutions during the struggle—bodies that are vital in establishing and maintaining a democratic society (cf. {3]).

I will add to Sharp's concerns what I described in my recent essay The Non-Polarized Mind and “Superhuman” [4], regarding Kirk Schneider's analysis of “counter-polarizations” that end up being as much or even more vicious and destructive than the dictatorships and regimes they are overthrowing. However, what I am most concerned about in the moment, and what has prompted me to write this essay, is the present situation with the glaring horrid actions of Islamic terrorism, and specifically right now of ISIS.

As I write this article, ISIS has just threatened to behead two Japanese citizens if Japan does not give them 200 million dollars [4]. This is undoubtedly not an idle threat, as we have witnessed to our horror over the past year and a half. Now I understand the arguments of peace-oriented liberals that we are guilty of killing many innocent civilians, including children, in our drone attacks, which fuels justifiable hatred of us in third world countries. And I also understand the arguments of these same peace-oriented liberals in advocating that we fully understand all the reasons why these terrorists hate us so much, based upon our oppressive imperialist actions over many years. In an alternative strategy to resolve the ISIS threat, i.e. an alternative to Obama's present strategy of dropping bombs on ISIS, it is suggested that we should work to cut off ISIS' financial resources, supply routes, and weapons supply, address the political grievances of local populations, provide humanitarian aid and assistance, and lead a truly multilateral international response [5].

This all sounds quite reasonable and “civilized” to me, and yet something leaves me feeling uneasy about these non-violent responses to ISIS. As one of the commenters to my Non-Polarized Mind article has remarked, perhaps a fully integral response to tribal terrorism necessitates dealing with the threat on the level it is initiated, while making this decision in a higher integral context, in accordance with Spiral Dynamics theory. In other words, indulging in the Spiral Dynamics color scheme for the moment, perhaps we need to use Red to fight Red, while making the decision to do this from an integral 2nd tier level of thinking. Or to quote from Joe Corbett:

To disarm yourself in the name of non-violence amidst your armed (lower level) adversaries who will not hesitate to use weapons against you is simply suicidal, and does not further the cause of social advancement [6].

But what are the long-range effects of this kind of “eye for an eye” response? Perhaps ISIS can be temporarily weakened, but how long would it be before a brand new horde of ISIS terrorists step up to the plate, with even more hatred than their predecessors for the U.S. and everything we represent? And yet, it appears to me there are no good choices here. I would not want to be in the place of the Japanese prime minister having to decide how to deal with the ISIS demands for ransom money to avoid them beheading two Japanese citizens. If ransom money is paid to ISIS, as some European countries have done in similar situations (cf. [4]), then ISIS has learned that their threats are successful and they know exactly what to do to make countries cower to them. And if ransom money is not paid to them, we get to watch more horrid beheadings on video. Is it not time for Red to be met with Red? Is there really any other realistic way of dealing with ISIS other than dropping bombs on them as we are currently are doing, for as long as necessary, even if this means without any foreseeable end?

Well as you can see, I am quite conflicted here, and often I write essays when I am conflicted—as I think sometimes an essay in a conflicted state of mind can be a very stimulating essay to others' ideas. In this hope, I welcome any and all responses and suggestions about the use of integral violence and non-violence, specifically in response to the threat of ISIS.


1) See Joe Corbett (2013), An Integral Use of Violence for Social Transformation. Retrieved from

2) See Bryan O'Doherty (2013), An Integral Use of Violence: A Third Perspective: Responses to Joe Corbett and Elliot Benjamin. Retrieved from

3) See Gene Sharp (2011), From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. Green Print Housmans: London (originally published 1993)

4) See

5) See

6) See Joe Corbett (2013), Reply to O'Doherty on the Necessity of Violence. Retrieved from

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