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This is stretching the definition of "worldbuilding", but if anyone can do it, this community can.

Origins

Let's start with an empire that fell nearly one hundred years ago. Its rivals carved it up into regions and split it amongst themselves, without respect for existing tribal and cultural lines. Even at its peak, this multicultural empire suffered from significant infighting and tribalism, but after the breakup the tribalism heated up to a boil.

Cycle of Violence

The past hundred years have not been kind to the empire. Most of the artificial countries created after the fall are run by brutal dictators. The dominant religion is either brutally suppressed or running rampant in theocracies.

The religion of the region has never been entirely peaceful, but radicalism exploded after the fall of the empire. Many countries follow violent archaic rules, and human rights is a foreign concept to many of the people in these areas.

Few of the countries have gone even a single generation without war. These wars have occurred between tribes, between countries that were previously part of the empire, and between the previous empire and their conquerors.

Speaking of which, the conquerors never really left. They still meddle in the affairs of the old empire, and regularly engage in military action. These new countries are weak and can't defend themselves on a national level, and often their dictators are in league with the conquerors.

That's the overview. There are plenty of individual episodes I could elaborate on. One nation's elected government was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by an outside force. An entire new country was carved out of the region and filled with members of a rival religion`. There's more, but let's leave it at that.

The Problem

The citizens of the old empire have been making problems for the rest of the world. The troublemakers tend to be religious extremists, of which there's no shortage. "Troublemakers" is an extreme understatement. They've taken down buildings and ships. They've gunned down a hundred people in a night club. There's a good argument to be made that this region and its religious extremists are the biggest geopolitical threat of the current era.

What's Their Motivation

Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.

The religious extremists believe they are doing good. They believe they will be rewarded by their god.

This is my first question

Looking back on the history (and feel free to modify my outline above - it's by no means set in stone), how is it that religion has been twisted such that mass murder is considered a "good"? The young men (generally) perpetrating these crimes have been indoctrinated by older men - where did they get the idea?

Is it the debasement of their culture? Lingering resentment over the fall of their empire? General crappiness of life? (did I mention this region is mostly desert?) Is the violent culture a political tool pushed from above? Or is violence simply inherent in this particular religion?

There isn't necessarily a single answer. The region is heterogeneous and each tribe and region has its own culture and history. Their motivations are interrelated and complex.

How does the world deal with this?

This is my second question.

My story takes place 100 years in the future. Given all of the above, what long-term plans have been put in place to ameliorate these problems? Difficulty: No genocide.

What's the solution to a culture that continually spawns these violent cults, and how can the world "bring them into the fold" of peaceful democracies?

Put another way, how does one go about shifting the course of an entire group of cultures from violence to peace?

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closed as too broad by o.m., bilbo_pingouin, Frostfyre, Kolaru, HDE 226868 Nov 14 '15 at 22:24

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ It seems clear to me that the Empire you are describing is the Ottoman Empire. I am right? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 14 '15 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ And I think you've already answered your first question(s). But if you want to know more, you should ask the question on History SE or Islam SE. They can provide you a better answer than here. Here we deal with hypothetical cases, not historic ones. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 14 '15 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking the WB community what caused the current state of affairs in the Middle East and how to solve it? I think we're good, but we're not that good. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 14 '15 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ You show a lot of biases in your phrasing, such as "bring them into the fold of peaceful democracies." Are you prepare for the answer to not be the answer you think it is? You may find that the rabbit hole goes down further than you thought, and in fact, you may find that you are helping dig it without even knowing. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 14 '15 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ I thing that what you want to achieve is basically unclear. What is a peaceful democracy ? A democracy which has no risk of declaring a war (finding a real example of that is quite hard) ? Is the only problem the fact that the region is a threat to the rest of the world, or do you want to achieve peace between regional powers as well ? When you ask what "the world" can do, what do you mean by "the world" (you seem to consider it has being unified) ? Finally you title speak about "non-violence", but it looks like you mean "not warlike". $\endgroup$ – Kolaru Nov 14 '15 at 22:38
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I know what happened in Paris and Beirut is shaking the world right now. But if someone knew how to create peace in the Middle East, which I'm fairly sure is what you're describing, then they ought to be working in foreign policy, not typing out responses on stackexchange. But since you asked, I'll try.

The first and most important thing that will have to happen is Mutual Understanding. It's really easy to say that the Middle East is violent because of Islam, has been violent for thousands of years, and can never become peaceful because it's cursed. This isn't really true. Iran was a US ally up until 1970, and it wasn't until sometime around the Gulf War that the West started to see the Levant as a hotspot for conflict. The mutual understanding I'm talking about here is between three groups: Middle Eastern state to Middle Eastern state (Iran, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, I'm looking at you), Western state to Middle Eastern state (America and Iran; Pakistan and India, I'm looking at you), and Western-ish state to Western state (Russia! America! The Cold War's supposed to be over, so cool it!).

So let's take some time to understand the forces at work here to understand the problem, and why the solution may lie in the problem itself. There are three growing forces in the region which are currently turning it into a hotspot for fury. Bear in mind, this is a gross oversimplification, but hopefully it’ll help everyone understand.

1) Arab Nationalism

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire – and before it, really – the various regions of the Middle East have become increasingly nationalistic. This makes sense. Rather than immediately give them their independence, Europe initially colonized the Middle East (with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Iran, interestingly the most powerful states in the region), partitioning it between France and Britain. Remember, this was just after World War I, only two decades after the Scramble for Africa. As hard as it may seem to believe, colonialism was still an influence.

They did, though, tell these areas that they would receive their independence “as soon as they were ready.” Palestine – and a number of other regions – essentially said, “Well, now seems good,” but the British and the French disagreed. Zionism, a movement by secular Jews to immigrate to their own state, also became prominent; thus began Jewish immigration to historical Palestine.

I should also note here that those jigsaw puzzle lines are really jigsaw puzzle lines. The border between India and Pakistan, for example, is almost completely arbitrary, and it doesn’t divide the Muslims and the Hindus in a way conducive to peace. Here is a map of the Levant after the British and French divvied it up:

British and French Mandate

What the British and the French failed to realize here was that there were already ethnic and religious regions here. The diplomats were squabbling over land and resources with no regard to the fact that places like Kurdistan existed. It also ignored the Sunni-Shia sectarian gap, making Iran mostly Shia but gave it a Sunni minority. Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon… they all, frankly, would not exist without Western influence. This is part of the reason why groups like ISIS see Syria as an illegitimate state, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

WWII happened, as well as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass –– and Zionists were infuriated that they did not yet have their own state. Pearl Harbor ended America’s isolationism (at least, it had been isolationist towards the Middle East), created the UN, created Israel, and created the Cold War. All of these were in direct conflict with Arab nationalism, which created further tension.

Everyone wanted political independence because everyone loved their culture, their heritage, and their nations, but the West wouldn’t give it to them.

Israel

Basically, at this point, Britain had given up on pleasing all sides in Palestine, because all of their attempts to do so made people more angry. The UN had to deal with this for their very first issue. Because at this point both Israel and Palestine had been promised states, the UN tried to partition it in another jigsaw puzzle… but again, no one was happy about this.

The name of the game was political independence. Palestine had spent years under the Ottomans and more years under Britain. The Zionists had spent WWII as the ignored victims of a genocide. By only giving the both of them “half a state,” everyone was angry.

End of US Isolationism

Prior to the US interacting with the Middle East, most of what America thought about the Middle East was romantic. There were movies set in the Far East, and “Arabia” was an exotic location, not a terrorism destination. It also meant that the United States was finally emergent as a world superpower… and so was Russia.

The Cold War

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, a proxy war between the US and Russia, still echoes on in that region today. It essentially created the Taliban. Much like how the Nazis were created because of a generation raised on bitterness post-war, today Afghanistan is still very bitter about the things that happened during then. Rightfully so, perhaps. The US actually helped to set up the Taliban during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, even assisting a young rebel by the name of Osama Bin Laden. Obviously, this backfired.

The UN

In the Middle East, the UN’s decision to create Israel was widely reviled. For some states, so was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (particularly the “religious freedom” clause). Essentially, it was seen as an attempt by the West to force its ideals on the rest of the world. Eventually, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was created to rectify this. Still, it was seen as growing Western influence.

2) Growing Western Influence

In the 1950s, amidst a backdrop of a Cold War, the Middle East became a chess board for the world’s foremost superpowers. As mentioned, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (in 1979) would have far-reaching repercussions – including 9/11, years later. President Nasser of Egypt advocated allegiance to neither the Soviets nor the West, while simultaneously aligning himself with the USSR. Meanwhile, the US attempted to balance its alliances with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, with varying degrees of success. Palestine-Israeli tensions escalated, and there was more violence. In the meantime, Iran struggled for political independence, and as a part of this the West began to lose its hold on Iranian oil. The CIA staged a coup to “rectify” this.

Tensions between Nasser and the rest of the Middle East and the western world intensified when France, Israel, and Britain decided to take him down, without consulting the U.S.. Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula while Britain and France offered him ultimatums. Nasser was furious, and so was President Eisenhower. In the UN, the fiasco caused, in a rare show of Cold War era agreement, both Russia and America to agree on something; they both condemned these actions, in the hope of gaining favor with the Arab states. However, because most Arab people and governments liked Nasser more than the U.S. at the time, the Middle East instead became more geared toward not aligning in the Cold War. The Kennedy administration tried to “genuinely” befriend the Arab states, but when Lebanon had a revolt and Kennedy played both sides, his motives became apparent: the United States, and the rest of the west, just wanted to control the “chessboard.” The situation worsened when rumors of Israel’s nuclear weapons began circulating.

Again, Arab nationalism was growing exponentially. Afraid of becoming colonies again, the people of the Middle East wanted their political independence. All of this led to the Six-Day War in June of 1967, when Israel bombed the Egyptian air-force while their planes were on the ground and used this advantage to curbstomp everyone else. Nixon didn’t make anything better when he strengthened relations with the increasingly unpopular Iranian Shah that the CIA had put in place and failed to stop the Yom Kippur War. Things finally took an upswing for the United States with the Camp David Accords, which is why America gives Egypt $2 billion in military aid despite Egypt’s military violations.

This all leads into the Iranian revolution. The Shah began traveling abroad to hide from possible political execution, and the revolutionary government took hold. The CIA, wanting to maintain relations with their favorite Middle Eastern country besides Israel despite their uncritical attitude towards the human rights-abusing Shah, had an agent pose as an American business man named Guy Rutherford began meetings with the new prime minister of Iran. But when President Carter authorized bringing the cancer-ridden Shah to the US for treatment in a grandiose gesture, the Iranian people were infuriated, thinking that the cancer was a hoax to protect the Shah. The students stormed the US embassy, expecting that it was a base for spies and secrets. Master carpet weavers reconstructed shredded papers and found that their prime minister had been meeting with a CIA operative. Now seen as lacking credibility, the moderate new minister resigned. Radicals who endorsed publicly the storming of the embassy took over. Iran-US relations have not since recovered.

In short, growing Western influence did not sit well with growing Arab nationalism. The Gulf War sent everything up in flames. Saddam Hussein, leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait. The US harshly criticized this annexation, and the Arab world saw this as a double standard. This was just after the First Palestinian Infitada, and Israel had practically annexed Gaza and the West Bank, and the US stood firmly with them regardless. Saddam Hussein offered to withdraw if Israel withdrew from Palestine, but President Bush refused. With Congressional support, the Bush administration expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait — first under the guise of protecting Saudi Arabia, then in the bloody conflict we call the Gulf War.

9/11 sent everything into a downward spiral. The terrorist attack killed 2977 Americans, but the wars afterwards killed 210,000 from violence alone. The West is seen in the Middle East as hypocritical and untrustworthy. This is seen in Syria today, where America is only sending aid to “help” the Syrian people after Russia begins taking control.

So far, we’ve seen that growing Arab nationalism results from a lack of political independence, and the result of growing Arab nationalism is growing Western influence. Clearly, these are incompatible, and create a growing gap between the two regions. 


3) Systematic Oppression

According to Salem Ben Nasser al Ismaily, founder and chairman of the International Research Foundation, Azzan bin Qassim Al-Busaidi, an economist in Oman, Miguel Cervantes, and economist at the Fraser Institute, and the Fraser Institute itself, “The ‘Arab Spring’ continues to inspire both hope and fear. A denial of economic freedom sparked the turmoil that spread across the region, beginning in 2010, when a Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself ablaze after he was denied freedom to sell his wares. Thus far, however, the policy focus of the Arab Spring has been on personal and political freedoms, government reform, reduction of corruption, and democracy, though this is often lost in the ongoing turmoil and, in some places, violence. The Arab Spring also reveals a very human yearning for greater prosperity and opportunity. But, a clear economic agenda has not emerged.”

The current conflicts in the Middle East actually arises from what could be called a desire for Westernization – by a very, very different name – in the Levant. The people desire increased political freedom, increased economic freedom, and increased personal freedom. But paradoxically, the nations of the West that usually promote such ideals have been trying to micromanage the Middle East over the last several decades, as seen in Kuwait, Iran, and even in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where the US backed regimes are quickly collapsing).

This leads to groups of rebels that want to end the current oppression but do not want Westernization. Groups like ISIS have emerged as an alternative. They oppose the regime: the regimes were set up by the West after WWI, are oppressive, and are therefore illegitimate. They oppose the West: the West set up the regimes, abuses the Levant like a chessboard, and imposes double-standards in the name of “freedom, equality, and brotherhood.” They stand by ancient tradition, and fall back on barbaric methods used in antiquity to assert independence by doing the same things that their free ancestors did.

I am not defending them. But when people get desperate over the course of generations, they can stoop to levels of barbarism that completely shocks the world. And let’s not forget that part of ISIS’s purpose is to shock the West into apathy and get the US to leave.

The Solution?

Is complicated, but I can give a broad overview, as I stated in the beginning.

Resolution of Intra-Levant-Conflict

Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would love to see nothing more than the destruction of each other. Israel would also like to see the Palestinian Authority annihilated, and the Palestinian Authority would like to see the same thing.

There are some specific steps that could be made here. Iran needs to stop sending Afghan refugees to fight for Assad in Syria. Saudi Arabia and Iran need to actually make eye contact at meetings. Israel and the PA… yeah, I’m not even going to hazard a guess here.

The overarching idea, though, is that everyone needs to understand the other party’s side.

If the Levant can stop fighting amongst itself, there may be a window for a more lasting peace. A caveat to this, any world leaders who may be watching: stop oppressing your people.

This is President Bashar al-Assad of Syria’s mansion during his kid’s birthday party:

Assad

This is Syria.

Syria

Resolution of Levant-Western Conflict

Oh, but you’re not off the hook, West. Don’t pretend your leaders and rich people don’t look any happier. Most of you may not use mustard gas on your own citizens, but you do have a hand in this.

Western and Eastern states need to stop backing dictators within the Middle East. Let the people topple bad leaders, don’t back them. And at least try to start dismantling some of the exceedingly complicated double standards. This may well be the most difficult part, although the step above is going to be difficult, too. Bassem Youseff (and Egyptian comedian) and Jon Stewart may have summed it up best:

JON STEWART: I'll ask you one more time, what should America do?

BASSEM YOUSSEF: We want you to fuck off and leave us alone.

JON STEWART: Done.

BASSEM YOUSSEF: But not right away. We could still use the aid money, and a few weapons, and some investments, what I'm saying is if you could fuck gradually off, that would be better for everybody.

So don’t use humans as chess pieces, and we’re good.

Something else to note here is that India and Pakistan need to pull it together. A nuclear exchange between those states could be devastating. I don’t know nearly as much about this conflict, but I do know that Christian-Muslim and Sunni-Shia and Irish Catholic-Irish Protestant tensions aren’t the only religious tensions in the world. Hindu-Muslim tensions are a thing, too.

Resolution of Western-Soviet Conflict

Here we go. The impossible step. The East and West really need to pull it together. Because this is the reason why the United States is willing to back dictators, this is the reason why it’s important that America and Russia have allies in the region.

It doesn’t look like this is going to happen, especially as China’s involvement grows worldwide. But if you want peace, this is what has to happen. Erase the chessboard, and no longer can the East and West use the states in the middle as chess pieces.

The Age of Oppression Needs to End

Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again! / When the beating of your heart / Echoes the beating of the drums / There is a life about to start / When tomorrow comes!

France, whose recent tragedy shocked the world, had a violent period of oppression as well. Actually, the entire western world was not nearly as stable only a few hundred years ago, between Spain’s conquistadors, Britain conquering Ireland and Scotland, the Spanish Inquisition, the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the War of 1812, the Napoleonic Wars, all those other wars with France, the Trail of Tears, etc., etc, etc.… 

This instability hasn’t ended. It’s just been geopolitically shifted into a place where most of the people on the internet don’t have to worry about it.

We can’t do anything about it right now. But we can hope that by the resolution of the underlying tension – namely America and Russia using the Middle East as a chessboard – will eventually give way to peace and security.

As the values of freedom, equality, and brotherhood spread around the world, there will be oppressors who resist; this is inevitable. But in order to truly let the western values of peace spread to the Middle East, the West needs to stand by and honor its ideology, not pander to oppressors because it is convenient.

Not to mention, we need to learn when to meddle and when not to.

Furthermore, again, Europe wasn’t much better only recently. If we had stackexchange, somehow, while Europe was undergoing all of these revolutions, I’m certain there would have been similar questions: “What can be done to change Europe and America’s violence?”

Time. Time can and will change things – not necessarily for the better. All we can do for now is vow to treat all human beings as equals, and hope that the leaders of the Middle East and the rest of the world will do the same… and hope against hope that one day, the people of the Levant, and Africa, and everywhere else, will wonder at all of those wars, famines, and rebellions for all of ten seconds before taking comfort in all of the blessings - and more - that the developed world has to offer.

EDIT: Ah. A fictional narrative. I see. Let me modify this to apply.

The likely result of instability is likely similar to that above. The solution lies in the question itself: find the roots and destroy it. Other states around the fictional empire's remains must learn to respect its independence, states within must learn to respect themselves. Once the root cause of the violence is found, mutual understanding can, over the course of a century, bring peace. Remember, 100 years ago, the Great War was still the war to end all wars. Change comes, and it comes inevitably, especially when the "peaceful democracies" of your world put their money where their mouths are.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm considering asking and answering the same question with the title "how to stop the conflict in the Middle East?", but I think that might be even more off topic on worldbuilding SE. $\endgroup$ – Midwinter Sun Nov 14 '15 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of good information, well-phrased, and easy to read. Unfortunately, it's a history lesson of a real world situation and not really a worldbuilding response. (Granted, the question is marginally on topic with the strong allusions you specifically identified.) While I like it, I won't upvote this. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 14 '15 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre, I'm making this a blog post somewhere. It really isn't worldbuilding related at all. $\endgroup$ – Midwinter Sun Nov 14 '15 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have that blog post somewhere? This is a great summary of why things are so broken. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Nov 20 '15 at 15:24
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The first part is easy. People turn to destructive ways due to lack of appealing constructive alternatives. The local governments are corrupt and oppressive and prevent people from making things better. The local governments in turn are propped up by external meddling and thus political reform is unlikely as well. Or that is at least how it looks to younger generations. Essentially the status quo has been fixed to a local maximum and can't progress towards the global maximum. The graph really shows it better than my words.

This frozen society leads to frustration and anger. Because foreigners are with good reason blamed for the state of affairs the anger is directed at them and their values. Foreigners and minorities are the standard scapegoats in such situations anyway. Because the locals are religious the anger and violence takes religious form.

The easy solution is to withdraw from the area completely, let all the local governments collapse, stay away without meddling until something stable starts arising, and then re-engage. The side effects would be very close to the genocide you do not want, though. And letting long time allies and suppliers of vital resources collapse is not really practical.

An alternative might be collective bargaining. All external states would only with the locals thru a single collective authority which in turn would only deal with the collective organization of all the local governments. This would allow enough meddling to maintain some stability in the area, but hinder the kind of preferential meddling that keeps the area unhealthy.

Realistically, the situation can only be fixed by the locals. They need a political movement that is willing to take the long view put aside the old grievances and pay the price to take long step to another better path. This would require a local political leader with vision and great charisma to start. Such movement would need to be local to have any legitimacy, so only thing outsiders can really do is look for it and not meddle if such movement arises. You could probably discreetly spread the concept of such movement around to improve the odds and reduce the wait time.

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It turns out that the concept of "good" is far more nuanced than most of us tend to think it is. As a result, this is going to end up being a two part answer. The first part is breaking things down (probably more than was expected), and then the second part will try to put it back together.

A distinction between "right" and "wrong" (or "good" and "bad") is one of a short list of cultural universals that anthropologists have identified. However, while every culture has right and wrong, the cultures do not always agree on what is right, and what is wrong. Moral absolutism presumes that there exists a "correct" moral sense of right and wrong for actions, and that sense is intrinsic (such as your insinuation that "mass murder is wrong" without any concern for context thereof). Compare that to Moral relativists, who would argue that moral status of an act depends upon the culture of the observer (and thus an act may be "right" to one person and "wrong" to another). In the middle is moral universalism, which states that an act has a moral status which is independent of the culture of the observer, but does include context surrounding the act (universalists have a much easier time approaching the "would you travel back in time to kill Hitler" questions than absolutists do).

I bring this up to point out that, after literally thousands of years of philosophical debate, no one approach has risen to the top as "the correct approach to morality." They continue to churn amongst themselves, analyzing situations and trying to point out where the other approaches have limitations. If a problem looks impossible to solve, there's a good chance that it is easier to approach from one of the other mindsets.

Your wording suggests a tendency towards moral absolutism, given the way you portray the "religious extremists" and the "peaceful democracies." (If this is intended to be an analogy to the current situation in the world, you'll find that not all democracies are "peaceful," they just hide their violence better than others).

If we presume a moral absolutist point of view, we ask ourselves the question you ask: how can others contort "good" so far as to do "bad" with it. However, there's a question to ask before this: how did we decide on what is "good" and "bad" in the first place? If we are a "peaceful democracy," presumably we voted on it. But if there's disagreement (less than 100% agreement), how did we resolve it? The democratic answer is "the 51% that agree must be more right than the 49% that dissent." That shouldn't sit well with you, given just how important the concepts of good and bad are. Surely we must have a different non-democratic process to handle this? Did you know that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not ratified by all UN members? Some actually consider it an evil document which stands in opposition of their state religion, and have signed a different declaration of human rights instead!

Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.

We have fallen victim to the same trap we claimed the extremists fell into. We presumed that we must be right, because how else could it possibly be? In doing so, we damn others to being "bad" or even "evil," and then we don't mind shooting them or dropping bombs on them using drones which cost more than the entire operating budget of the "bad guys."

Maybe this isn't the answer.


Let's take a step back and take a different approach. We could take the moral relativist approach. Maybe what's good for them is actually bad for me, and that's not a moral issue at all! Of course, this will bother many people, because many are brought up to believe that their morals are absolute, and thus any moral relativist approach will just fall on deaf ears. Instead I'm going to take a modified approach. Let's assume moral absolutism for the discussion, but with a twist: we presume there is a moral status assignable to each act, but we do not presume we are 100% certain as to what they are. To demonstrate with some arbitrary numbers, we might say "we are 50% certain smoking marijuana is bad" or "we are 99.99% sure murder is wrong."

This phrasing is unusual, but it permits me to rephrase one of your earlier statements into a form which allows for solutions to be found. Instead of "mass murder is wrong," as you state, we can soften it just a little bit to "I am as confident as I can be that mass murder is wrong." It allows you to hold your opinion as strong as before, but simultaneously requires you to admit your own fallibility. It permits you to change your mind in the presence of contrary evidence.

Now that I'm questioning my own morals, it allows me to open doors I couldn't open before. I can risk a discussion of mass killings, or abortion, or other highly contentious topics which were otherwise non-starters for debate. If I say "murder is wrong," and declare it can't be questioned, I'm not playing ball. If I can say "I am as confident as I can be that murder is wrong, so lets go test it." Of course, there's no reason to offer something for nothing. Why let your idea get tested when the other side isn't ponying up as well? Perhaps they support ritualistic female genital mutilation, and that really ruffles your fur. "I'll put my theory on murder to the test, if you're willing to put your theory on genital mutilation to the test at the same time." Embargo everything they could want to do which they aren't willing to risk putting to a test, only let them out of their corner if they choose to play ball (this is important: you can't force someone to change their opinion, so if you're avoiding genocide, you have to give them a way to play ball). Try to stack the discussion such that you don't have to win to be content. Maybe you think you can win both topics, but you'll be content as long as you win at least one. If you can adjust the shape of the test such that you can't lose both, then you don't really have to have been right. You are in a position where you can afford to have been wrong!

Who knows. Maybe you find your morals are more flexible than you thought. Maybe its okay to have mass murders on the second Tuesday of a holy month because, in exchange, you convinced them to stop female genital mutilation, and you're confident you'll eventually win on the mass murder topic.

This points to one of the most important traits of all: patience. You cannot change an entire culture overnight, and you cannot assume the path will be simple and straightforward. You may have to make some strange temporary calls along the way in order to finally arrive at a peaceful state.

Don't like this? If you put genocide (or at least murder) on the table, a whole bevvy of strange and questionable solutions become available. Many of these are actually being done, "meddling" with their affairs against their will. However, if we're trying to take the highest most respectable approach we can, this is an approach which doesn't end in genocide (unless the other culture commits apoptosis and kills itself off).

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  • $\begingroup$ Love this answer. I know the question was a question and not an answer, but "religious extremists in a cycle of violence" and "peaceful, good democracies" is a gross oversimplification of the real world. $\endgroup$ – Midwinter Sun Nov 15 '15 at 20:01

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