Thomas Buonomo – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 12 Apr 2021 04:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In our Time of Insurrection and Divisive Violence, can Psychedelics help in Peace-Building? Mon, 12 Apr 2021 04:05:59 +0000 Washington, DC (Special to Informed Comment) – In July 2020 the US Institute of Peace published a report titled “Violent Extremist Engagement and Reconciliation: A Peace-Building Approach”. In the wake of riots in several cities across the country that summer and the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection that the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump for inciting, the report has become highly salient to US domestic as well as foreign affairs.

Its authors highlight, “Legitimate grievances such as state predation; discrimination; exclusion from political structures, systems, and processes; historical or collective trauma; intergroup conflict; and oppression are at least as likely to contribute to a person’s engagement in violent extremism as ideology.” Associated drivers include shame and humiliation. The authors describe a negative feedback loop that must be disengaged.

“….trauma can lead to significant barriers to building social bonds, empathy, and a sense of belonging due to the erosion of trust and the neurobiological changes in brain function and processing that occur as a result. And people who have engaged in violent extremism likely have been traumatized across several dimensions.”

Trauma can alter “threat detection and vigilance and emotion regulation processes, which may make some people more aggressive or more inclined to violence.”

The specific role of post-traumatic stress as a contributing factor to the violence in the US over the last year is not precisely quantifiable. What is clear is that the pandemic and quarantine measures (however necessary the latter), their devastating impacts on the economy, and violent abuses of state power are mass trauma events.

The overrepresentation of current and former members of the military among the Capitol insurrectionists is attributable to several variables, of which post-traumatic stress may be a significant one, in addition to traumatizing propaganda and disinformation specifically targeting them.

Improving basic subsistence conditions for those who have been left most vulnerable by the state of the economy, along with vaccine deployment and efforts to hold disinformation operatives accountable, are clear top priorities to help stabilize the country. A closely related and similarly pressing question is how to address the mental health pandemic precipitated by events over the last year especially. If this problem is not adequately addressed, the negative feedback loop of trauma and engagement in violent extremism could exacerbate already severe political instability in the US.

A scientific paper on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, offers potential solutions based on clinical and neuroscientific analysis. Its authors note “correlational, experimental and longitudinal evidence that provides direct links between psychedelic use and empathic functioning.”

Another report published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology concluded that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in “magic mushrooms”, significantly increased emotional empathy, defined as the ability to not merely intellectually comprehend another person’s emotional state but to actually experience it. This is essential to bridging racial and other divisions that have generated much of the impetus behind political instability in the US.

Natural psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms have been used by indigenous cultures throughout the world for millennia, including for peace-building. Rooted in these traditions, Decriminalize Nature is an inspiring grassroots movement working to establish bubbles of legal protection from federal statutes that prohibit the use of psychedelic plants and fungi. It has had policy successes in Oakland, Denver, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, and Oregon. DN has the potential to help effect a cultural shift in favor of more accessible, community-based solutions to the interrelated fear, hatred, racism, trauma, political radicalization, and violent extremism plaguing the country. Partnership with indigenous healers, therapists, and peace-builders who are experienced in creating spaces for dialogue and psychedelic-assisted healing will be critical to its success.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Harvard Medical School: “Psychedelic Medicine: From Tradition to Science”

How Evangelical Leaders worshiped the Golden Calf of Trump’s Authoritarianism Mon, 08 Feb 2021 05:02:29 +0000 Washington, D.C. (Special to Informed Comment) – In the last four years, disinformation propagated by Republican political elites including, most outrageously, Donald Trump, has threatened our democratic republic no less than the pandemic has threatened our lives and devastated our economy. Evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Paula White-Cain aided and abetted them by providing Trump a façade of religious legitimacy and by characterizing every effort to hold him accountable for his grave abuses of power as stemming from cynical intentions. Their myopic and self-righteous fixation on sexual control and, in White-Cain’s case, more pecuniary motives, led them to turn a blind eye to the brazen corruption of their champion in the White House and his loyalists in Congress.

Some, such as Jeffress, acknowledged the results of the 2020 election earlier on and condemned the insurrection but shrunk from properly attributing blame for it to Trump and his loyalists. Graham and Perkins finally, begrudgingly, accepted President Biden’s victory after former Vice President Mike Pence met his constitutional obligation to tally the certified results of the Electoral College vote despite Trump’s efforts to effect a coup via insurrection.

This high crime against our political system came very close to culminating in the assassination of Pence and numerous members of Congress. It was an act of state terror perpetrated by a man who’d clearly and consistently communicated his willingness to indulge in such violence for the last four plus years; who had tellingly announced that he would designate leftist radicals as terrorists while refraining from any action against their more violent right-wing counterparts.

These Evangelical leaders responded to this intolerable act of aggression with silence or denial. Graham went so far as to criticize those Republican members of Congress who had the basic courage and integrity to fulfill their oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, as being divisive.

Perkins complained that the seditionist Senator Josh Hawley’s publisher dropped his book. Contrary to Perkins’ and Hawley’s views, their decision wasn’t an alarming act of censorship or “wokeness”, it was an act of patriotism. Hawley deserves to be politically exiled and respected private publishers have no obligation to damage their reputations by indulging him.

The hypocritically selective moralizing of these religious leaders is absolutely unacceptable and Americans should not tolerate it, their pious pretensions notwithstanding. Their willful disregard for the facts and distorted perception of the Democratic Party as somehow untrustworthy because of its liberal values, combined with their seemingly unshakeable belief in their own camp’s righteousness, are appalling.

The moral injury they’ve inflicted on Americans should give them cause for deep introspection and repentance. They allowed themselves to be thoroughly manipulated by an archetypal anti-Christ—a foreboding indication of their dubious ability to detect the anticipated deceptions and aggressions of a more cunning and formidable one.

The world in reality is not so clearly divided between “good and evil”. Trump claimed to care for the lives of the unborn because he knew his political viability depended on the sustained support of Evangelicals, who have irrationally made this issue, along with rolling back LGBTQ rights, their top priorities. Trump’s general disdain for human life should have been apparent, however, considering his efforts to accelerate the destabilization of our planet’s climate, his nihilistic response to the pandemic, and his exploitation of the downtrodden. Far too many of the most strident ostensible defenders of the “sanctity of life” within the Evangelical community have demonstrated that they care far more about the lives of the unborn than those who are already born into this world and struggling to survive within it.

It’s time for these religious leaders to do some deep soul-searching and to sift through the counterintelligence and criminal investigations into Trump and his loyalists with their own eyes. Government officials who were responsible for these investigations need to engage with them.

Evangelicals need to learn the painful lesson that just because a “shepherd” speaks “the Word” with great charisma and appears to be pious does not necessarily mean they are speaking with integrity or with an accurate understanding of the complex, sordid political intrigue happening around them. Whether acting based on naïveté, cynicism, or flawed utilitarian moral calculations, religious leaders can and do make terribly wrong judgments, however purportedly close their connection to God.

Americans broadly need to learn how to exercise clearer discernment by developing our analytical abilities—a fundamental civic responsibility—as we navigate our way through an increasingly murky fog of deception in domestic politics and international relations. Transnational violent extremists, aided by hostile foreign governments such as Russia, will divide and destroy us if we do not. The future of our democratic republic depends on our ability to distinguish truth from lies.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

“Evangelical Christians in the USA” | DW Documentary

How the US could Restart Negotiations with Iran Sun, 08 Mar 2020 05:03:39 +0000 (Special to Informed Comment) – Trump‘ s policy of exerting maximum pressure on Iran, highly provocative targeting of Quds Force General Qassem Suleimani, non-recognition of Congress’s war powers, vow that as long as he remains in power Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and Iran’s increasingly alarming violations of its own obligations under the JCPOA indicate a high probability of war perhaps even before the 2020 US election.

Although Trump communicated during his highly inflammatory State of the Union speech that the possibility of reaching compromise is entirely up to Iran, his lack of any substantive effort at constructive diplomacy and all-or-nothing approach to negotiation makes it nearly certain that Iran will continue to breach its own obligations under the nuclear agreement until the US or Israel acts militarily to stop it.

Trump’s ability to change this devolving dynamic may depend on his instinct toward what may be termed moral realism, in contrast with the more Manichean paradigm of those within the US foreign policy establishment who demonize Iran as exceptionally diabolical.

“You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump’s rebuttal ( to Bill O’Reilly’s skepticism on engaging with Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian ruler of Russia, could just as readily be applied to Iran. The latter’s adversarial relations with the US seem to be felt on a remarkably deep emotional level among an American political elite that prides itself on its ostensible rationality. This intense fear, hatred, and incomprehension of Iranian leaders distorts perceptions and inhibits US officials from realizing the potential for constructive engagement with Iran.

The US is indeed not so innocent. It may come as a shock to those accustomed to taking at face value US officials’ framing of the 41-year adversarial relationship between the US and Iran in elementary terms as a conflict between “good” and “evil”; reality, however, is comprised of shades of gray.

During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the US and other Western governments knowingly supplied ( Saddam Hussein with the precursors he needed to produce chemical weapons, which he fired on Iranian soldiers and civilians alike, with the help ( of US targeting intelligence in the former case. When Iran sought accountability by presenting the UN with these allegations, the US government obfuscated ( by withholding the abundant evidence it had of Saddam Hussein’s horrific war crimes.

The only semblance of an official apology for this came from the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Although she never actually referred specifically to these abhorrent actions, she acknowledged ( in her March 17, 2000 speech, “….aspects of US policy towards Iraq, during its conflict with Iran appear now to have been regrettably shortsighted, especially in light of our subsequent experiences with Saddam Hussein.” Mistakes were made.

Unsurprisingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected ( this relatively tepid effort by the Clinton administration to pursue a moderation in relations. Khamenei objected to its criticism in the same speech of the Iranian state remaining under the control of “unelected hands” as well as his perception of a lack of behavioral change on the part of the US toward his regime.

As long as Khamenei remains in power, he will bristle at any efforts to encourage democratic reform in Iran, viewing it as a Trojan horse intended to undermine the Islamic Revolution.

This does not mean the US and other Western powers should not support relative moderates through various means but rather that it should focus primarily on constructive diplomacy with Iran’s current political leadership. This will have the less provocative and over the longer term probably more influential salutary effect of strengthening the positions of reformists, who will be able to point to substantive efforts by the US to heal deep and bitter psychological wounds.

Perhaps the best way the US could pursue this would be to issue an official apology and offer without precondition to provide medical technology to treat the Iranian victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks.

Critics of such an initiative may point to Iranian leaders’ own largely permissive response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s extensive use of chemical weapons against the Syrian population in the horrific civil war still ravaging the country. They may also ask why the US should offer something for nothing.

The question is, does America want to risk making the problem worse by expanding the conflict, which may draw in Russia ( and perhaps even China ( on Iran’s behalf? If the answer is no—as most Americans maintain (—the political momentum toward war must be reversed by attempting to introduce a virtuous dynamic into it that Iranian leaders just might be able to persuade Khamenei to reciprocate.

At the very least, such a constructive diplomatic initiative might make it more challenging for the ailing Supreme Leader of Iran to maintain Iranian elite and public support for an escalation in hostilities with the US. If it failed, little would be lost but Americans’ naiveté, which does not serve the country well in any case considering its role in inhibiting ( diplomacy. In the age of nuclear, cyber, and hypersonic weapons, learning how to excel at the deeply challenging work of diplomacy is a moral and existential imperative. It must start with deep introspection that leads to a renewed sense of vision rather than a self-destructive guilt complex.

If Americans want peace, they must encourage their elected representatives to cultivate the qualities necessary for conflict resolution and discourage those who are intent on prematurely embroiling our countrymen in another war that will in all probability cost tens of thousands of American lives, the death and displacement of millions more Middle Easterners, trillions of dollars, and even the political demise of our democratic republic, which we are already precariously close to in significant part because of our hostile relationship with Iran. It’s time to change course.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Iranians react after US bans travel to Iran”