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.
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?
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.
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.