In the wake of yet another terrorist atrocity, in Tunisia, I took some time out to conduct a thought experiment. What follows are the results.
How to create a terrorist:
Step one: take one young person (usually a boy) and cause harm, pain or death to someone that they love.
Step two: let this pain cement itself into a deep hatred for you and all that you stand for.
Step three: introduce the irrational belief that by killing groups of random strangers (and probably themselves in the process) he or she can make the pain go away, punish their enemies and help to stop those enemies from harming them or their loved ones in future.
We could get into a discussion of religion at this point, but regardless of your denomination or creed, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most of the earth’s inhabitants would not consider the premeditated murder of numerous strangers to be a rational act.
(A rational act: by which I mean likely to be of benefit to the person carrying it out or anyone else that they care about).
Now let’s try to do the same thing in reverse…not quite so easy.
If I wanted to drag someone out of the loop that an irrational belief system creates, then I have a massive problem. Irrational beliefs are about trust. They are formed not by an independent assessment of the facts, the evidence and a careful scrutiny of one’s personal thoughts and doubts but by deciding who’s version of the truth you trust the most.
A terrorist already hates me and distrusts me. Now, somehow, I need to convince them that instead of their parents, their friends, their relatives, their relatives’ friends, their countrymen or their priest, they should instead trust me; their sworn enemy.
It’s not rational to expect violence or force to diminish someone’s hatred for us. It may protect us and limit their ability in the short-term to do us harm, but it can only perpetuate the cycle of hatred: I hate you because you harmed me, I harm you because I hate you, you harm me because I harmed you, and so it goes forever.
So does ‘the West’ harm those that hate us in ‘the East’? Constantly.
Do we quench our thirst for energy with their natural resources? Yes.
Does our drive to out consume one another lead to exploitation, dominance and economic subjugation of other countries? You bet your ass it does.
Does that mean we deserve to be massacred on a beach ‘for our sins’? No it does not.
We can tighten up security, we can send in the troops, we can ‘bomb the crap out of them’ as some suggest, but no one with a long term view can really argue that this would magically turn an angry young man or woman from a terrorist into rational human being. In fact, you’d almost certainly be doing the total opposite.
Now I’m not a pacifist, and a threat does not disappear simply because you decide to stop fighting it. But of all the levers that the west can pull, the only ones that make sense are those that tackle the hatred of those that attack us. If violence and force cannot accomplish that, then all that is left is to reach out to the people that the young, angry, hate-filled and vulnerable trust the most. We have to hope that rightfully distrustful fathers and mothers, from lands we rarely give a second thought for yet intimately rely on, are willing to give their sons and daughters a view of the truth that highlights just how futile hate will always be. Otherwise we’ll just continue sending our own to kill and die for a hopeless cause that sends the whole thing right back to square one again.