Divest from Terrorism

By Irfan Khawaja

People often ask, "What can I do to fight terrorism?" Short of enlisting in the military or joining the FBI or CIA, the answer might well be: join the divestment from terror campaign. Click the preceding link to learn more about “DivestTerror,” which is currently organizing the campaign. 

As someone who does scholarly work on divestment issues, I can attest to the accuracy of what “DivestTerror” has to say about the case of divestment from apartheid South Africa. The evidence is clear: the public campaign for disinvestment from corporations doing business in South Africa led to divestment, which led to sanctions, which played an important causal role in destabilizing the apartheid regime, and eventually to dismantling apartheid. (For an excellent discussion, see Robert K. Massie Jr.'s book, Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years.) And the analogy seems clear as well: if it was wrong to give financial support to South African apartheid, it is surely wrong to give support to countries that sponsor Islamic terrorism. 

The sheer persistence and discipline of the South African divestment movement should be noted, however: The first major conference on the topic took place in London in 1964, but the policy of divestment did not come to fruition until the mid 1980s, apartheid did not collapse until 1990, and the first non-apartheid leader did not take office until 1994. So we can’t expect terror-sponsoring regimes will not collapse over night; a divestment campaign involves a long time-horizon and enormous amounts of grunt work. 

Meanwhile, what movement is flourishing both in the U.S. and in Europe? The divestment from Israel campaign. One doesn’t have to be a hard-core supporter of Israel (I'm not) to regard this as a ridiculous moral inversion. Nor does one have to back the war in Iraq, or the USA Patriot Act, or be a Republican, a neo-conservative or a Bush supporter to see the merits of the divestment view. If there is one policy that might unite all of us despite our differences, this is it. 


Irfan Khawaja is adjunct professor of philosophy at The College of New Jersey and Montclair State University.