Nobody is Born a Terrorist

By UPLIFT on Monday November 16th, 2015

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.



Transforming Anger into Compassion

Peace in the World Begins with You

The Evolution from Conflict to Connection

The Evolution from Conflict to Connection


Learn to be Soft and You Will be Strong

Choose Her Every Day or Leave Her

Eustress: Meeting the Positive Side of Stress


Subscribe to UPLIFT

UPLIFT is dedicated to telling the new story of inspired co-creation.

Get free updates and news about UPLIFT events and films.




the yoga channel


follow UPLIFT on   



Join the Conversation

23 Comments on "Nobody is Born a Terrorist"

newest oldest most voted
Ramla al'Aalam
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… Read more »

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
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
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.

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… Read more »
Charles Chidi-ebere Onwubuya
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
James Smith

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.