Violence: Blame the Victim, Reward the Perpetrator
Violence: Blame the Victim, Reward the Perpetrator

By Israel Zwick

The Department of Psychology at the University of California Los Angeles issues a newsletter as part of its School Mental Health Project. This project is partially supported by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services. The Winter, 2005 issue had a feature article on "Bullying." In general, the article was comprehensive, well balanced, and supported by research. However, there were several aspects that were disconcerting, with widespread implications for educational, political, and social issues. The authors cited a recent article in the American Educational Research Journal by Watts and Erevelles. These authors studied school violence from the perspective of "the intersection of critical race theory and materialistic disability studies." They concluded that "school violence is the result of the structural violence of oppressive social conditions that force students (especially low-income, male African-American and Latino students) to feel vulnerable, angry, and resistant to the normative expectations of prison-like school environments."
As a result of this and similar research, the UCLA newsletter called for "comprehensive systemic change." The authors wrote: "When a student misbehaves, a natural reaction is to want the youngster to experience, and others to see, consequences. It is hoped that public awareness of consequences will deter problems. For these reasons, a considerable amount of school time is devoted to discipline and classroom management.
"To these ends, schools increasingly over rely on negative consequences and control techniques. In doing so, school staff model behavior that can foster rather than counter development of negative values and can produce other forms of undesired behavior. Moreover, the tactics often make schools look and feel more like prisons than community treasures.
"To move beyond over reliance on punishment and control strategies, there is ongoing advocacy for social skills training, positive behavior support…asset building, and character education. Relatedly, there are calls for greater home involvement, with emphasis on enhanced parent responsibility for their children's behavior and learning."
Ostensibly, this UCLA logic appears to be sensible and rationale. Let's say there is a fifth grade class with a violent, aggressive student. Let's call him by the generic name "Johnny" to avoid ethnic identification. Johnny is labeled "a troubled, at-risk student." He is assigned to a guidance counselor who will pull him out of class twice per week to have a chat, and be a support for him. A school social worker will be assigned to the case. She will contact the family and try to arrange assistance for domestic issues. Johnny will be eligible for a specially funded after-school program. In this program, he will get individual homework assistance, he will get to play in the school gym, and will even get free pizza with a can of soda. With all of this love and attention, Johnny will no longer be violent and aggressive.
There is another child in this class of 30 students. Let's call him "Jimmy." Jimmy comes to school every day, a little disheveled and a little dirty. Jimmy is hurting inside, but no one knows it because Jimmy doesn't bother anyone and doesn't cause any trouble. One day, Jimmy gets up from his seat, walks over to the bulletin board, and sets fire to it. Suddenly, the teacher notices Jimmy. "Jimmy, what got into you," the teacher exclaims, " your were always such a quiet, good boy." Jimmy was sent to the school board for a suspension hearing. At the hearing, the truth about Jimmy's domestic turbulence was revealed. Finally, Jimmy got the help he needed from Family Court.
In many respects, this situation is analogous to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Two recent reports from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees* and UN Development Programme** reveal some interesting statistics:

1. There are more than 5000 different ethnic groups in the world distributed in 190 independent countries.
2. In two countries out of three, there is at least one substantial ethnic or religious minority group representing at least 10% of the population.
3. Around 900 million people in the world face some form of discrimination because of their ethnic, racial, or religious identities.
4. There are about 22 million refugees in the world under the auspices of the UNHCR. Of these, 13 million are living outside of their country of persecution.
5. As you are reading this, there are about 35 ethnic or communal conflicts going on around the world, mostly in Africa and Asia.

Yet, there are few people in the world that are aware of these many ethnic conflicts and refugees. However, almost everyone knows about the 3 million Arabs that have been living in the UNRWA refugee camps for 55 years. The whole world seems to be concerned about the "plight of the Palestinian refugees." They are always in the news because they dispatch suicide bombers to blow up buses, schools, and hotels. Why do young men don a suicide bomb belt and go out to kill themselves, along with 30 others whom they never met? According to UCLA logic, they do this because they feel frustrated, angry, and desperate. Why do they feel that way? Because they have been living under "harsh, Israeli military occupation" since 1967. If they only had a little microstate of their own, they wouldn't feel that way. So according to UCLA logic, remove the "occupation," give them their own state, and they will throw away their bomb belts and return to raising goats and growing olives. The same logic can be applied to the shooting of Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip. Why do the Arabs keep shooting Qassam rockets at civilian homes? Because Jewish settlers came to Gush Katif and built nice homes, schools, farms, and businesses while the Arabs are still living in squalid refugee camps. So according to UCLA logic, remove the settlers and give the homes, schools, and farms to the Arab refugees. Then the Arabs will be content, and will no longer feel a need to shoot Qassam rockets. That seems like a simple, logical formula for peace and tranquility in the Middle East.
To understand the fallacy of applying UCLA logic, one has to understand that there are major differences between a 10-year old school bully and an Arab terrorist. The school bully is still a child who needs to learn respect for life and property. He needs to learn the concepts of diversity, tolerance, and compromise. He needs to learn that there are verbal techniques for resolving conflicts between peers. The Arab leaders who dispatch suicide bombers are mature adults, many of whom have advanced academic or religious training. They should have learned these things already. They should know that barbaric terrorism has no place in civilized society. They should know that conflicts should be resolved through negotiated compromise. Yet the US, UN, and EU are still eager to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at them each year to help them achieve their goal of "an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital." Perhaps our world leaders believe that giving the Arabs another state will reduce their violence and help to prevent a nuclear war in the region. The logic is flawed.
How long will it be until some more of these other 5000 ethnic groups decide that they would also like to have their own independent mini-state?
How long will it be until they learn that to obtain attention, support, and money for their cause, they need to blow up buses, trains, and planes?

* UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees, 2000
** UN Development Programme, Human Development Report, 2004

Israel Zwick

(c) 2005, I. Zwick, NYC

Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.

Reprinted by permission.