The Unwinnable Wars on Drug and Terror

The drug war has devastated our neighborhoods as wars on terror has destroyed countries.

I am against terrorism but cannot support the War on Terror. The same is true about the drug war. I am against drugs but oppose the drug war. 

It seems that any time we use the term "war" it becomes a license to be lawless and, shall I say, valueless.  We have declared something as an enemy and become ruthless toward it while demonizing a whole people.

That is how the world used to be, but we were supposed to become better now!  That's why we came up with laws of war, treaties, international law, the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court.

I have not consumed any illegal drugs in my entire life, but what infuriates me is the racial injustice of mandatory minimum laws. The form of cocaine primarily used by poor black Americans carries a far higher judicial sentence than the form of cocaine primarily used by wealthier whites. Rich, white Americans are allowed rehabilitation instead of prison and their records are cleared, almost as if they were never convicted of drug possession. Poor African-Americans enjoy neither of these privileges.

The attitude our society has toward drug offenses is militaristic and black-and-white. 

When you define something as war it dictates the use of the military (or militarized police forces, prisons, and other forms of coercion) as the primary instruments of policy. Violence becomes the means of decision, total victory the goal. Anyone who suggests otherwise is labeled a dreamer, an appeaser or even a traitor.

Contrary to the war mentality, imagination is exactly what is needed to solve this systemic issue of mass incarceration and terrorism. The war on terror and the war on drugs are both high in rhetoric and use a set of confusing measures to fight their nemeses in a way that evidence suggests is counter-productive.

Calming down this mentality of "war" is also needed where we are legitimately at war. There were no suicide bombings in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Yemen before the United States started bombing in these countries. Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago establishes this fact in his research, which has ben funded by the U.S. Defense Department.  When we make war on a group of people, it is natural that they will respond in kind.  Violence will likely be met with more violence, torture is likely be met with terrorism as documented by many, whereas peaceful interactions are likely to bring about more and better results.

While the international War on Terror has destroyed five countries and killed at least 1.3 million people, the War on Drugs has devastated a whole minority in the U.S. There's little difference in drug use between blacks and whites, despite the fact that blacks have a much higher chance of going to prison for it. In fact, due to mostly preventable, social factors such as homicide and heart disease, African-American males' life expectancy is the lowest in the country.

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror have both given way to legalized injustice. Using the rhetoric of "war" tends to subvert constitutional safeguards in the legal system, thus eroding our commitment to democracy.  For example, secret evidence is often used against immigrants, so they are unable to rebut the points made against them at trial. And this evidence tends not to hold up under traditional court standards for evidentiary support of claims. Putting the nation on the alert with cries of "war" derails our ability to act rationally and humanely toward our fellow human beings -- something the Due Process Clause of the constitution was specifically implemented to promote.

Some measures adopted for war on terror are used essentially in the war on drugs. For example the section 213 of the PATRIOT act, which allows the police to enter into a home or office without notifying the suspect for at least 30 days -- 90 days.

From October 2009 to September 2010, law enforcement agents executed sneak and peek warrants 3,970 times, according to numbers obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. Less than one percent of those cases had to do with terrorism. But 76 percent had to do with drugs. It was much the same story from 2006-2009, according to data compiled by New York magazine. In that time period, 1,618 such warrants were issued for drugs. Only 15 were issued for terrorism-related cases, with 122 being issued for fraud.

Although Muslim chemists gave the world the term "alcohol", an Arabic word, it is a sin in Islam to consume intoxicants. It was also declared a criminal act for Muslims in the peace sanctuary of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

However, the Prophet did not approach this illegality the way we do in the U.S. today. He was a leader of the peace movement of his time. He used a combination of spiritual connection with God with a message of mercy and forgiveness, serving humanity around him, along with a minimum set of laws to achieve a peaceful society. That is probably why he is honored by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1935 as one of the 18 greatest lawgivers of the world. But the merciful Prophet implemented God's Ten Commandments very differently. His aim was not to punish people but to save them from their wrong behavior.  If one approached him confessing that he or she had committed a major crime, the Prophet would seek excuses to avoid punishing them. Instead, he wanted them to feel remorse and reconnect with God. He did not define sinners as existential threats.

Out of about 6,000 verses of the Quran which mostly deal with the development of human character and alignment with God's guidance, less than 40 deal with the criminal law of Islam. Since Muslims ran a civilization for over 1,000 years, they naturally developed a body of laws to deal with governing society. These laws deal with issues ranging from fighting neighborhood crime to international laws of war and peace. It is true that Islamic criminal law has at times been implemented harshly, and even wrongly. Such an application of Islamic criminal law is void of God's mercy, which is considered His primary attribute in Islam. The primary purpose of law in Islam is to preserve life and order in society, not to create a machine of incarceration and punishment.

It was, therefore, character-building, not the ruthless, merciless execution of laws which changed the behavior of people. Character-building seeks to investigate complexity, not oversimplify. It seeks to heal, not to avenge. So let us abandon the War on Drugs which has failed. Instead, let us adopt a model which has worked: Smoking. This health and social vice has definitely been reduced in our country. But it is not because we were throwing people in prison for smoking. Rather, we used widespread education, raised awareness, and used the power of persuasion to convince Americans to stop smoking. So let us apply the methods of our "War on Smoking" to our War on Drugs.