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Nobody is Born a Terrorist

By Chris Agnos on Monday November 16th, 2015

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Nobody is born a terrorist

Could you feel empathy for someone who has committed an act of terrorism?

Forgive them, for they know not what they do – Jesus Christ

If you’re reading this article, I’m impressed. It is quite taboo in Western culture to have any view other than complete and total contempt for those who commit heinous acts of terror. To entertain another possible view risks being the target of that scorn usually reserved for people whose actions we can comprehend the least. But if anyone is interested in living in a more peaceful world, then there is one question we should be asking that very few seem to be looking for answers to.

What experiences must a human being have, what level of pain and disconnection have they had to endure to be capable of going on a suicide mission to execute disabled people one by one in a concert hall?

From retaliation to prevention

Is there something within you that does not want to entertain this question? Would offering empathy to those committing these acts in addition to the victims of them take something away from the victims? Let me say firstly that my goal by entertaining this question is not to promote some utopic vision of the world that denies the horrific experiences were felt by victims from both sides of these conflicts.

My goal is to find a solution to these atrocities. Whether they are committed in Paris or in Syria, it does not matter. All human life is worth the same. I am interested in prevention and in order to prevent a situation from happening, one must fully understand the truth of what compels that situation to occur.

Children are born wanting peaceChildren are born wanting peace

There are no terrorist infants

I think it is safe to assume that there are no infants associated with ISIS or Al Qaeda or any religion for that matter. No baby is born into this world hating another race of people. Hate is something that is learned through their experience on the planet.

Omar Ismail Mostefai is the name of one of the “terrorists” that committed the recent attacks in Paris. Sometime between the time that he was born and the time he died committing those violent acts of terror, something happened to him to make him no longer care if he lives or dies so long as the he could inflict as much pain as possible on to the world. Isn’t anyone curious as to what those experiences were, not so that we can justify what he did, but so we can understand why he did it?

I don’t mean the superficial “why” of “because Allah told him to kill all the infidels.” I mean the real deep “why”. What happened to Omar that made him want to kill another human being? What happened to make him decide to join ISIS? Did he have other opportunities for a peaceful life that he rejected? If we are interested in finding solutions, wouldn’t the answers to these questions be relevant?

How can we protect the peacefulness of childrenHow can we protect the peacefulness of children?

The truth about terrorism

We have this habit of creating labels for human beings that commit acts of violence towards innocent life. We use these labels to distance ourselves from them. We want to believe that they couldn’t possibly be human beings just like us. And so we use these labels to refer to them: “barbarian,” “savages”, “terrorists.”

The truth is that Omar is a human being anatomically no different from you or me. There isn’t some separate race of being called “terrorists” that want to wipe out all the “non-terrorists.” And this also means recognizing that each of us might be capable of doing the same thing as Omar. The question is what would it take?

For me, I imagine that it would take a truly catastrophic experience for me to want to commit an act of terror. There must be no possibility for me to live a peaceful life. If my family was murdered by a random bomb from the sky, if my government was infiltrated with corrupt diplomats with ties to foreign corporate interests, if access from the land was removed to grow food for people living abroad, I could see myself potentially being susceptible to a fundamentalist message that promised to give me some power, some feeling of control over the outcome of my life. But the truth is I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what that feels like. But I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t do exactly as Omar chose to do.

Nobody is born a terroristNobody is born a terrorist

Getting real about solutions

Look, we can continue to engage in the same responses that we have for centuries. We can go on more crusades, drop more bombs, create more chaos, more broken families, more desire for revenge. If we do, I think we should not be surprised when those feeling the brunt of such actions want to lash out and make other people feel what they feel. Isn’t this what we do when we get hurt and the one that hurt us does not care or show remorse for how they hurt us? Don’t you have a desire to make them feel what you feel?

We all know how to respond to terror attacks with fear and anger. How might we respond with love? I think we begin by asking some of these tough questions that get at the real root of the desire to commit harm towards another. Doing so won’t be easy. We will have to confront the systemic atrocities that occur as a result of global capitalist society. We will have to confront our own pain that comes from our forced contribution to this system. And we will need to work together to find more sustainable ways of living on this planet. All of this begins by asking the right questions and making the attempt to understand each other, even when what they did feels unforgivable. At the end of the day, it’s your choice to respond to all situations with either fear or love. I hope you choose love.

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Chris Agnos

Founder of Sustainable Human, author and producer of videos such as How Wolves Change Rivers.



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  • Ramla al’Aalam

    Thank you.
    My view is that in the moment and after the moment when the act of terror has been committed, there can of course be little sympathy extended towards the perpetrator and their ’cause’. We should have no doubt and not an iota of space in our minds — when the facts are certain, of course — as to the despicability of the crime. This is not acceptable.

    But the deeper thought and the longer view and perspective is required, and it must come, if foresight previously missed seeing the developments that led to the incident. If there was no foresight, let there be perspective and hindsight, and let the mind understand what makes a person the terror that they become. And this, I guarantee you, is a question that will have answers that are eventually a-religious and a-political and secular: I.e. they have got nothing to do with one religion or culture or skin color, but with fundamental human nature. Only, the exhibits of the pain that we feel MAY be dependent upon culture: I said to a friend not too long ago that while Muslims and some other people go for EXPLOSION, there are societies — mostly Western — that opt for IMPLOSION. Either way, the catastrophe is similar. The end point is the eradication of all that is Life, all that is valuable, and all that is human.

    We are not only failing to look at our own conditions, we are disallowing the other (person, side, hemisphere) to point out the situation to us… either through empathetic and engaging means, or through anger and combustion. We are failing to listen to ourselves, failing to listen to each other, and the death that we are facing is planetary and communal.

    The men who killed in Beirut and Paris killed themselves in the process. Clearly, they aimed to get nothing for themselves. So what is it that they are doing, and why are they doing it?

    And why can’t we see that the ones who are walking into schools and opening fire, walking into cafes and concert halls and blowing themselves up, walking into their GMO fields and hanging themselves, walking into their own homes and hacking their own families to death, walking off into hospitals and caregiving centers in states of dementia and catatonia…. failing to recognize their own loved ones….. why cannot we see that they are all the faces of One Doomed Silence?

    Please look into the eyes of Life and please hear the song of the Earth, please know what it means to be human and to be alive…. please help our sisters and brothers from the East and North, West and South….. please help the white, the yellow, the red, the black races and people. Please let one unadulterated blood course through the veins of the world.

    Or we are dead, we are dead, we are dead. And the acts of terror, suicide and murder only finalize the situation.

    Salaam — may you be wholesome and well by being whole.

  • justin

    nobody is born a terrorist, but some are just born to be one. there is no solution to war, for it exist as a duality with peace, we would not know peace if we didn’t experience war or chaos. there are some things you just cant change, but the way you choose to think about it can help change your perspective about this things.

  • Salsa Chick

    Has this been researched? Do you know that these propositions about a terrorist’s background are in fact the case? I’d like to see the qualitative data that show this experience across the majority of cases. I think this article is simplistic and a waste of time. Wondering what caused them to become terrorists is not having empathy; it is required if the phenomena is to be prevented.

    • Bruce Freedancer Foley

      Can confirm I asked 20 infants if they were terrorists and not a single one said they were, nor had any terrorist affiliations. Hope that helps.

  • Pirkou

    I was just thinking about this kind of approach as I was meditating the day after the attacks in Paris. Hate does not dissolve hate. What if the case was that these ‘terrorists’ never were treated with love and were never shown compassion? It is not an easy task to find compassion in one’s heart toward the ones who commit such unthinkable acts as they feel so disconnected from God or Source… but what if we could be a little more loving and compassionate towards all- unconditionally. The ripples of such unconditional love will spread. As we keep embracing and amplifying unconditional love and keep bringing forth our inner light, I believe love can be the way, the reality for all, and we will unite so no one has to feel so disconnected and separated to do such devastating deeds.
    Only with compassion and love can we bring an end to the cycle of anger and hate.

  • Charles Chidi-ebere Onwubuya

    As much as the concept of humanism is debatable, I believe that for the
    larger part, it is true. Every man, in my opinion, comes equipped with
    the template to act and to do good as well as to behave kindly. It is an
    instinct; a primordial disposition – a trait. Beyond the ability to
    reason and to apply logic to solving problems, this is what makes us
    ‘spectacular’ species, or if you like, creatures.

    While I
    unfortunately cannot make reference to any comparative study of
    infantile behaviors that attempts to analyze the tendencies to act with
    hostility or kindness by the human child as contrasted against how it
    obtains with the young of other primates and then the cats, birds and
    reptiles, I would like to rely on my personal observations that leads me
    to believe that while acts or expressions of hostility may be a defense
    mechanism, driven by survival instincts in the lesser animals, for man,
    this is certainly not the case. Hostility in man, comes from a place of
    pride, anger, fear, hate and even timidity. Just to be sure, hostility
    is a reaction and not an emotion. It’s a choice we make and not a
    judgment call.

    The recent terror acts in France that’s led to an
    unprecedented loss of lives is indeed sad. But unfortunately, tragedies
    such as this will continue to befall and plague our world as long as
    politics, religion and industrialization occupies center-stage in the
    scheme of things. By interpretation, terrorism thrives and is informed
    by these human institutions and greed lies at the heart of the ember
    that fans the flames of these institutions into conflagrations.

    quite agree with the writer of the thread above, concerning his
    inferred caution in making hasty judgments concerning personalities like
    Omar Ismail Mostefai, one of the perpetrators of the dastardly acts
    that claimed more that a hundred and twenty lives in locations around
    France, three days ago. For indeed, trailing the devilish actions of
    some terrorists are some really sad, pathetic stories of loss, death,
    grieve and injustice. But as it happens, there is no pain or suffering
    or injustice or grieve that the heart, truly cannot heal from. It is no
    mere saying that people who have had the most terrible and hurtful
    experiences are the kindest people. According to psychologists, for any
    true release from hurt and anger, a victim on the path to recovery
    naturally yearns to fill the void created by these emotions within
    him/her by helping those going through similar experiences to heal.
    (Instances of occasions where ‘mental glitches’ prevents this from
    happening or makes the victim to only become worse, turning to a
    socio/psycopath, occurs frequently, but how many can you trust?).

    addition, the ‘real terrorists’ – those responsible for the ideologies
    and principles that rule within the terrorist world; those who bank-roll
    and finance terrorist activities are actually faceless. The likes of
    Omar Ismail Mostefai are only cannon fodders – pawns and stooges sent to
    the battle front to absorb the archers’ arrows, but not before causing
    as much collateral damage as they possibly can, within the enemy camp.
    Protected by the veils of anonymity, these faceless bigots are only too
    glad, having someone else ‘martyred’ for a cause they claim, is
    sacrosanct to their personal existence. A crusade that ‘supposedly’
    means a lot to them.

    There is a third category to the composition
    of elements or entities that constitutes the terrorist cartel. I’ve
    heard speculations to the effect that while a world summit was holding
    some years back, with dignitaries and heads of governments, drawn from
    across the globe, wining and dining; pumping hands and slapping backs, a
    country, somewhere in the far-east was practically reduced to rubble,
    by air raids and drone attacks. The casualties, arising in the wake of
    the attack, were mostly children… innocent souls. Paradoxically, as
    the bombs dropped from the sky and decimated human and live-stock
    population, the same one who had ordered the attacks on the far-east
    country had received a standing ovation by his peers (other world
    leaders) for his sterling speech, concerning the value and dignity of
    human life. Talk about major irony!

  • Bita

    I appreciated reading this article. I have always been more concerned with finding solutions to a problem rather than perpetuating more hate. What I would like to suggest is that we take it even one step further. In your analysis, you speak of trying to understand the perpetrator and mention that “It is quite taboo in Western culture to have any view other than complete and total contempt for those who commit heinous acts of terror.” I would argue that that is the case when the violence is commited against us, but we do not take the same view when it comes to violence we ourselves have committed. If you look at the history of Western involvement in the Middle East since the 1930’s, it is clear that we have been part of the destabilization of the region. We have propped governments that committed brutalities against their people, sold arms to people who used them to commit heinous crimes and are now turning against us. Thousands have died in wars that we started or supported through proxies. I recently watched an interview in which the former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael T. Flynn, talks about how our actions led to the rise of ISIS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG3j8OYKgn4).
    So if we really want to understand, let’s look at everyone’s part in this, be open to what we learn, and fix it once and for all, for the love of all humankind. I have written more on this subject if you are interested in reading it: https://www.facebook.com/#!/notes/bita-diomande/hope-for-a-more-compassionate-global-citizenry/10153862111720572?pnref=lhc

  • By the time a person reaches a level where he or she is so full of hate that they can be a suicidal terrorist, that person is likely beyond saving. We must begin me reaching people of any age, infant to adult before they attain that level. Killing them first only radicalizes others.

    That’s why the middle eastern wars sponsored by the USA are all counter-productive. When we kill a genuine terrorist, ten more enlist in that cause. When we kill a civilian, no matter how “accidentally” 100 more join.

  • D Laurier Beaulieu

    People become “terrorists” because other people decide to declare them “terrorists”. Its a term used to demonize those who the democracy has decided to destroy.
    It is a descriptor applied to anything and everything, and it covers not only armed resistance, but also mere existence.
    Everything from planting trees, to practicing medicine, to educating children, to building houses, is “terrorism” when done by a targeted population.

  • Littleacorns

    This article felt like a breath of fresh air. It echoes how I feel about the world and our response to it. We have to search for different ways of ‘being’ other than knee jerk responses to violence and terrorism. We have so much evidence to show that our current methods of trying to ‘hit them harder’ does not make a better world. Examining what makes people capable of doing these acts of violence is very important and yes, we have to look deep into ourselves to ask the difficult questions of what would make us behave in violent ways ourselves. I have often heard people say that they would kill someone who harmed their children – or who threatened to do so – so many of us are capable of violence given a certain set of circumstances. There is so much fear in the world – greatly encouraged by our media and governments – we need to examine what the world would look like if instead of promoting fear, differences and boundaries we promoted love, similarities and openness. We get the world we create. We can each look at our own lives and decide to bring more love, harmony, acceptance and understanding into the world. Thank you for expressing so clearly a different point of view.

  • AVA

    Thank you for actually putting it in words. For years now I have wondered why no one has dared to consider the factors that make a terrorist or a rapist or even a schoolyard bully. To me understanding those factors and making them part of the solution is the only way to fight back, I would not say “”with love”” as I can’t love anyone who is so weak and pliable they can justify murder on a mass scale but with understanding of what drive them will come better solutions because clearly the current approach is not working.

  • djjreading

    The article makes so much sense if we are really serious about moving in the direction of peace.

  • Victor

    It is the training and circumstances that makes one a killer. Many scholars have said that as long as there is a Koran, there will never be peace in the world. The whole middle east was converted to Islam in 20 years – become Muslim or die was the motto. Bloody history by Muslims in India is not well known, but many many millions of people were beheaded, raped, tortured and had to pay jajia tax (non-Muslim) tax for not accepting Islam. We can talk about love, but if hate is taught as a part of their faith where would the love come from.

  • Frank Burton

    I fully agree with all that has been said in this article. Terrorism is an act committed out of desperation by people who have nothing left to loose and nothing left to live for. And as unpalatable this truth may be, their situation has mostly arisen because of the ill conceived, self serving actions of our capitalist, so called democratic governments, dictated to by the banks and multinational corporations. I feel compassion for victims as well as the perpetrators. Love and compassion should be the only response to these horrific situations. What we focus on increases, so it’s useless to hate and think of revenge, as that will just prolong a vicious cycle and drive more people into suffering, poverty and desperation.

  • Matti

    This a poignant and beautiful article Chris. From my heart I thank you. The world appears to be on the brink of a global catastrophe with global warming; but at the same time I think we are seeing a shift in consciousness, perhaps like nothing we’ve seen on this planet. This may well turn out to be the next evolutionary leap. To contribute to this shift, people need to recognise the interconnectedness of all life and release judgements that keep us in a war-mentality i.e We Are Right. Living in peace is the only way i.e Perfect Empathy and Compassion for Everything.
    With more love than you know.

  • fairly well done, and thank you for your courage. easy to ask questions of course, but I think this article is useful. the main adjustment I would make is in, “the systemic atrocities that occur as a result of global capitalist society.” Imnsho these atrocities are not the result of global capitalism except as capitalism is used to support CLASSISM. CLASSISM IS THE ENEMY, as well as any system that is appropriated to support it. Thank you for your thinking and sharing.

  • Ajay Singh

    We are seeking your support to expand some innovative ideologies that would overcome the perils of religious conflicts, terrorism and war.

    Presently peace and solidarity are essential contemporary need for any professional
    development, though War and terrorism are also a profession to develop the business of lethal weapon, that leading us towards an unnatural end, and disgracing the basis of humanity.

    Why it is important and how it is achievable?

    Many complicated questions confront the world’s leadership and all leading religious
    instructors who thirst for a unanimous conclusion for global security in the current predicament of nuclear proliferation, terrorism and war, within the context of the moral crisis in political ethics and religious conflicts.

    1. Is our world leadership united and coherent enough to combat the sources of terrorism and war given the rise of scientific insights that continue to design and manufacture lethal weapons for mass killing (that is, nuclear weapons)?

    (In fact, the effect of our genetic nature had always forced us to use whatever we have created for individual conceptions of safety and peace)

    2. Is it possible for the entire world led by God for human beings to uproot the sources of religious conflicts that erupt in the blood of massacre?

    (No! They are enthralled in the strictures of their own religious tradition. It is impossible for them to surrender their own religious profession to transcend their own faiths to fill in the religious gaps that divide human perception)

    3. Do UN bureaucracies and administrations have enough potential to lead the global community on the path toward peace and propel those in positions of leadership to overcome complicated political issues, humanitarian crises, and religious conflicts?

    ( No! The UN embodies potential political ethics are beyond the reach of the general public)

    4. Are we safe neglecting these larger issues that force us to an unnatural end?

    ( No ! Never!! )

    5. Do we have ample, sufficient, and appropriate ideas and resources to combat those masterminds that have converted humankind into “lethal bombs”

    ( No ! The current world’s political race is based mostly on professional issues, neglecting the true facts that separates the existence of humankind, within the mazes of religious and political views)

    To solve these contemporary controversies’ of this current human race armed by lethal Nuclear weapons, We’ve tried to approach the world literate community, beyond their inherited political and religious thoughts, to help the United Nation to overcome the perils of terrorism and war, by promoting the sources of MORAL education within the scientific and professional academic system.

    No Doubt! It is possible.

    Regarding the first step of our strategy, we have started a petition……..


    (Please review the petition to get aware of the path to “unanimous conclusion” of the most
    complicated questions that mostly ignored by the world Elite. PLEASE ONLY SIGN AND SHARE THIS PETITION AS FAR IT IS POSSIBLE FOR ALL OF US)

    First of all we are only human being and the LEADER of this invisible campaign for global peace, even we all are the real DECISION MAKER.

    Here H.E Mr. Ban Ki Moon (G.S. United Nation) is only the basic source to address the world leadership constructively. It is designed to support the world’s leadership and all leading religious instructors who thirst for a unanimous conclusion for global security in the current
    predicament of nuclear proliferation, terrorism and war, within the context of the moral crisis in political ethics and religious conflicts. In fact this is the only one way to empower the UN bureaucracies and administrations by the potentials of common people.

    Thanks for paying attention to consider, we look forward to share the full proposal if needed.

  • The Babies are the key,…~(IF)~ the international community(U.N>) and the big geo-philanthropists like Zuckerberg and Gates. made it the mission to give free energy to the world and eradicate poverty through wealth cooperative ventures in order that “Children” need not have fear or hunger or want for medical and health care…as a minimum global standard…..Then the erratic rage of religion could not nest and fester. The religious radical, extremist, zionist, would have no hate in the world because the promise of his faith is fulfilled in his babies full bellies and the affluence in their eyes…..Just a facility of a 100 square miles in the sahara desert of Solar Energy Collectors and a network wind-turbo trees…..can perpetuate and generate energy to thousands of homes and tribes and their enterprise and individual lives…Just one


UPLIFT stands for Unity, Peace and Love In a Field of Transcendence