Thursday, February 26, 2015

The State of the Islamic State


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 26, 2015


                Today, finally, in an interview today on “Democracy Now!,” Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The (London) Independent, reporting from the Kurdish capital, Erbil, gives us a credible description of life inside the Islamic State Cockburn points out that the IS now controls an area larger than Britain.  They are funded primarily from among the Arabian Gulf states. The vast majority of the armed forces of the IS are inductees of the IS draft/conscription.  Recruits from the US who aren’t fluent in Arabic are ineligible for combat training and service.  Groups fighting the IS in Syria hate each other more than they hate the IS.  Iraqi forces, mostly irregular Shiite militias, have made no substantial territorial gains against the IS so far.  Human rights organizations are preparing for a massive wave of refugees should the US begin to bombard Mosul.  In the unlikely event that IS forces were driven out of Mosul, the occupiers would be irregular forces—independent Shiite militias, who Mosul residents fear at least as much as they fear IS occupiers.

                The implication is clear: trying to degrade and destroy the IS is a fool’s errand, and the threat of IS recruitment in the US is a non-issue.  Love and peace, hal

Tuesday, February 24, 2015



Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 24, 2015


                Today’s broadcast of “Democracy Now!” includes a 15-minute segment on prison privatization, centered on the current federal prisoners’ protest or strike (aka “uprising” or “riot”) at a private, for-profit prison in Texas ( ).  I recommend it for classroom use.  It does a nice job of describing conditions endemic to private prisons.  It speaks directly to the problems of private, for-profit incarceration nationwide.  What privatization does to our politically least eligible class of customers is perhaps the most glaring case of the problem of lack of public accountability that privatization of all government services presents.  Love and peace, hal

Monday, February 23, 2015

Violence from on High


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 23, 2015


                I recently skyped with a college class, talking about the US and the Islamic State.  My thanks to them and to Biko Agozino at Virginia Tech for their responses, notably that the idea of peacemaking sounded nice but unrealistic, since you can’t reason with the IS.  I infer this to be support for President Obama’s commitment to degrade and destroy the people there.

                I appreciate the responses, and am sure they represent a deeply and widely felt sentiment about the “brutality” of the IS, and the need to eliminate them.   Today, Biko sent me a message referring to Roland Bainton’s Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace.  I haven’t read the book, but Biko’s description of the thesis led me to this reply and response, with thanks, to the class:


You take me back to when I started teaching alternative social control systems, when I, inspired by the daodejing, and being born Christian/Jewish mongrel, proposed that every religious and spiritual tradition I know has a violent side and a peacemaking side, and so does every individual one of us.  One tries to get things done we feel need done, including stopping threats.  The other is moved by a desire to connect, in religious terms, to love others as one would be loved.  We balance the two to survive.


You have heard the president say it: He speaks possibly of years of war, I say war without foreseeable end. From overthrow of the elected government in Iran in 1953, to the invasions and eventual occupation in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the US has become the primary foreign threat.  Add bombardment by an enemy that will not face or recognize you, who promises to destroy you...We aren't making friends, and our alliances confound one another.


In a word, this war is unwinnable.  Practically, the more we bomb and "advise" from relative safety, the deeper and wider resistance and suspicion of US motives will grow in and around the IS.  Our missiles confirm that we are indeed an invading evil force.  From our position of supreme safety, we can afford more easily to acknowledge that we have no more reasonable claim to moral superiority than they.  We can afford to recognize how much violent destruction, fear and anger our military presence continues to generate in the region.  Basically, in this fight we are the bully, with scarce moral authority to dictate how the inhabitants of the region work things out.


As I see it, peacemaking initiatives are only half of my peacemaking world.  Given my national and parental privilege, I figure the other half is to point out how self-defeating it is to act on the premise that we know better than others how they ought to govern themselves, interpersonally and socially, domestically and internationally.  When resistance becomes organized warfare, I keep on finding that for people who older the upper hand, returning violence with violence is counter-productive.  The US continues to turn itself into the world's national public enemy number one, and that's not building national security to me.


                I thank the class for helping me think through where I’m coming from.  Love and peace, hal

Friday, February 20, 2015

responding to IS recruitment in the US


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 20, 2015


                This morning I listened to this morning’s “Allsides” interview program at  It was stressed that only 12 young people in the US have gone to Syria.  At the same time, one interviewee stressed the need to report young people who were reading IS messages for early intervention, declared prosecution and punishment for those who return, declaring these offenders to be a potential source of intelligence on the IS, while agreeing with his counterpart that recruits in the US would never be allowed access to significant military information.  The other interviewee, to his credit, pointed to the Danish response to “returning jihadists” as described, for instance, at , which reads in part:

The Danes are treating their returned jihadists as rebellious teenagers rather than hostile ­soldiers beyond redemption. “Jihadists have chosen a path that’s not OK, but the key in the Aarhus model is recognising that these people are not that different from the rest of us,” reports Bertelsen, who now counsels a number of returned fighters. “We’re not stigmatising them or excluding them. Instead, we tell them that we can help them get an education, get a job, ­re-enter society.” Counsellors tell the jihadists that it’s OK to become politically or religiously radicalised, but that using violence is not.

                It shouldn’t take much of a social worker’s time at some level to meet the individual needs and interests of the few young US citizens returning from the Islamic State.  They could for instance be put in the care of religious and national service groups as they returned home.  Instead, we promise punishment, like the French, from whence the recent jihadists had come…for such a small threat.

                “Threat intervention” is the bigger problem.  When I heard the one interviewee propose that parents turn in the child who visits IS on the internet, I was taken back to the Red Scare I lived in in Central Ohio in 1959, when as a 14-year-old I assembled a shortwave radio from a Knight kit.  I went straight to Radio Moscow broadcasts, even as I heard how the Russians were trying to block our transmissions, because they were afraid of free speech…how un-American.

                In today’s climate of threat and surveillance, I myself avoid looking at IS sites to avoid the hassle, but I am curious to know people there as they would be known themselves.  (I’m no more interested in watching beheadings than I am in witnessing any execution anywhere, my home state included.)  I would welcome a climate now, as I sought during the Cold War, where IS news could be open to free reading and sharing.  Now there are calls for Muslim community centers to educate youth about the reality of life in the IS, and to point out violent realities and invite critical discussion.  Discussion about how they see us, placed beside what we see in them.  Not only Muslim community centers.  As between parents and children.  In religious settings and education at all levels.  So that we would no longer have to be afraid of listening to people in the IS, who have been there, and who have considered or tried going there speak openly.  Instead, we fear most what our children might see and speak about, that which we dare not know for ourselves.   We dare not consort with the enemy we will not let ourselves get to know.  We insist on remaining our own war propagandists, at the expense, as always, of the free flow of information we claim to represent, and the peace that can only be made there.  Love and peace, hal

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mediation in Trinidad


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 16, 2015


            It is refreshing to discover a place where punitive justice is giving way to mediation, especially in prisons, among staff, among prisoners, and between staff and prisoners.  The International Conference on Penal Abolition met there in June 2012.  Organizer Catherine Ali invited me to offer a pre-conference at Santa Rosa Prison, and introduced me to Alloy Youksee, a correctional officer who had become nationally certified mediator, and as a counselor, was trying to introduce it.  I asked him to create a scenario, based on experience, of a serious incidence of violence between a guard and a prisoner.  He got prisoners and staff each to choose a representative to role play the prisoner and the guard.  I facilitated an exchange which got to a point at which I began inviting the groups on either side of the room to volunteer to pick it up.  By the time we were done, the exchange had evolved into a general discussion of issues, both active and respectful.  I spoke of it as a model for what prisoners and staff, work with Youksee to keep the exchange going regularly.  Members of both groups were both animated and emerged congenial.

            The National Mediation Board invited me to keynote their annual meeting that December, and Youksee and I got together again.  He was making progress.  At the conference, I got to admire how widely and deeply embedded mediation had become in the country.  In prisons, Youksee was just beginning to set mediation up.

            When I got the link showing Youksee now supervises mediation for the national prison service, I wrote a note congratulating him and asking how things had gone after we last met.  What he achieved is as far as I know an unrivaled transformation of conflict and violence in a nation’s prison system.  I found the same willingness among police to work with “gangs” and other community groups.  It is a tribute to the political culture of Trinidad generally, and Youksee in particular when it comes to prisons, that mediation has come so far.  I intend to follow Youksee’s column in the National Guardian, and invite people in the world of criminal justice like me to take note of how to reduce prison violence.  He wrote:


Hi Hal,

Yes, it has been a while, sorry for the gap in communication. However, I have been very busy dealing with a lot of competing interest for my time. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to hear from you and I do wish you and your family all the very best for the year ahead.

Mediation has become a main stay in the country,with leading politicians, business leaders etc., calling for mediation as an effective tool to resolve conflict. In the prison, there now exists a higher level of consciousness, relative to the value added mediation can contribute to the organization. Not only by the prison administrators, rank and file staff but by inmates, when they are made aware of the mediation process and its value. Nevertheless, there is the competing cultural reality of solving issues with violence, especially in at risk communities. As such, the effort towards creating that critical mass for full acceptance and the practice of mediation in the prison and throughout the country, remains a work in progress. Interesting, I now write for an institution in the Guardian Newspaper monthly. My first article entitled "Mediation for Prisoners" was published in the said newspaper on January 16th, 2015. You can goggle it, if you want to read it. Other articles to follow include Reintegration and Restoration, Gangs and Violence etc. I also write for the Prisons Officers Association in their magazine the "Review".

After leaving Santa Rosa Prison, I was promoted and put in charge of Port of Spain Prison, quite an experience in the management of people and resource. Of course, resolving conflict and the use of various methodologies, including mediation was center stage. I should also indicate that I now a Radio Talk Show for the program "Corrections" on IE95.5FM, where I endeavor to education the public on matters of crime, deviance, criminal justice issues, prison reform etc. Additionally, I have been a regular presenter on the Maximum Rise Radio, where I speak directly to inmates on a range of matters, including but not limited to family, conflict resolution, mediation, culture, crime, education, and a range of social issues.

Recently, I have applied for the position to be in charge of all the Mediation Centers around the country, I feel I can make a meaningful contribution in creating the necessary cultural shift predicated upon the Restorative Justice platform. So wish me luck with that and my continued PhD. research.


            Youksee, thanks.  Your news made my day.  Love and peace, hal


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Measles Scare


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 10, 2015


                The current debate in the US over whether to require schoolchildren to be vaccinated against measles omits mention of medical consensus on the vaccine’s efficacy.  One dose lowers your chances of infection to 5%; both doses lower the odds significantly further; and those who get measles, including those who get one dose within 3 days of infection, get a relatively mild bout of the disease.  If you are in a community where 90 percent of your fellows are vaccinated, the risk virtually goes to zero.

                In sum, those who are not vaccinated pose virtually no threat to those of us who are.  Where most of us are vaccinated, the risk even to those of us who are not is low, and the illness is treatable.  I hate to see unvaccinated children be punished by keeping them out of daycare and school (ironically denied the chance to build their natural immunity with other children), especially when unvaccinated children pose virtually no threat to those who are.   Whatever the personal wisdom of getting vaccinated might be, turning the measles outbreak into a public health matter is one more symptom of our cultural tendency to treat social problems as problems of identifying and correcting offenders.  Love and peace, hal

Friday, February 6, 2015



Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 6, 2015


                “Barbarity” is the word President Obama used to describe the summary execution of a downed Jordanian pilot, whose mission was to rain fiery death on the executioners with US-supplied arms, the flow of which members of Congress now seek to increase  We criminologists call that retribution, revenge, an eye for an eye, lex talionis.  The US president chooses a term that denotes cruelty by an uncivilized group.  He speaks for the dominant US political culture that has similarly justified genocide of its indigenous peoples and colonization of Latin America and the Philippines.  European colonialism is our heritage.  The prevailing US attitude, now linked “freeing” markets to global capital, implies that our violence is superior to theirs.

                We are civilized.  The more than three thousand prisoners awaiting prisoners have a chance to sit in isolation for a decade or more of appeals before some of them are quietly but firmly strapped down behind walls and fed a selection of chemicals to sedate them, suffocate them, and stop their hearts in a process that often takes a while to finish, but eventually, quietly ends.  All this in a system heavily weighted toward selecting poor men of color with white victims among homicides for capital prosecution in the first place.  In many cases we humanely substitute sentences of life without parole even to our younger offenders.  In our humanity, rather than being barbaric enough to use corporal punishment (in public places at least), we hold a full quarter of all the world’s prisoners in the continental US alone.  Pretrial detention aside there aside, the US has now been holding suspected Muslims as “terrorists” of the ISIS kind, without charge, without evidence of wrongdoing, for over a decade.  And Jordanians aside, US planes and drones themselves continually set people afire in the region where ISIS rules—weapons too powerful, dropped from too far away to separate “the bad guys” from those they live among, pretty terrifying, if that’s what “terrorism” means.

                The bottom line: by wealth and military-technological-bureaucratic elaboration, US violence may be more sanitized and restrained than those we call morally inferior, but it affects far more people.  We in the US justify military and economic domination by projecting our own willingness to exact revenge onto our foreign enemies, and displacing our personal violence onto those we incarcerate and execute.  Our actions belie our claims to moral superiority, which in itself only feeds war.

                President Obama has called for us to begin reinvesting in care of our infrastructure.  The military defense budget is 600 billion dollars, larger than the oft-cited 500 billion for social security (which is funded by workers and employers rather than by tax dollars).  May the time come when our sense of moral, “civilized” and “developed” superiority in war gives way to taking better care of each other.              Love and peace, hal