Caught in the crossfire between militant insurgents and government forces, unarmed civilians are often portrayed as helpless. Kaplan rejects this idea and finds that under certain circumstances, local communities can protect their members from civil strife. He bases his hopeful conclusion primarily on his extensive field research in rural Colombia; using secondary sources, he also finds local islands of peaceful civilian autonomy within conflict zones in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Syria—suggesting that even in extreme circumstances, civilians can organize to keep themselves safe. Successful strategies include building early warning systems to allow people to escape the fighting, opening dialogues with armed groups, and threatening to publicize acts of extreme violence. To discourage retaliation, communities must avoid openly sympathizing with one side or the other. So Kaplan warns U.S. policymakers against counterinsurgency or democracy-promotion strategies that could put the intended beneficiaries at risk by undermining their claims to neutrality.
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