With violence erupting anew and the controversy over bans on Muslim immigrants and terrorism, I feel it’s important to comment on the state of things and a fundamental misunderstanding of terrorism on the part of our elected officials. To whit:
Terrorism isn’t a person. It isn’t even a people. It’s an ideal.
This is where things get sticky. Our government officials have stated that we will “defeat terrorism” and that we’re already doing a pretty decent job of it. But what’s the measure being used? How can you tell how many people – ordinary, disenchanted, naturalized citizens of the country – are being influenced by this ideal and how they’re responding to our attacks on a vague notion of the “perversion of the religion of Islam?” The answer is, you cannot. To prove that, look at the recent attack in Orlando where, at what seemed to be the last minute in a seemingly uninformed statement by the killer, a natural-born United States citizen pledged allegiance to ISIS and murdered 49 people. He’s not alone.
That certainly puts this tragedy in a religious context, for why else would a deranged killer pledge allegiance to a group bent on theocratically dominating the world if not for the shared delusion and ideals of the group’s religion? We know that the man was outraged by homosexuality – possibly because he was wrestling with his own sexuality – but we have to ask ourselves from where this outrage comes. Do people naturally have an aversion to homosexuality or is it instilled as part of a religious narrative? I’d argue the latter. For that reason I can’t help but notice that the radical Muslim message being trafficked is more effective than we know. I’d argue that moderate religious people already have the basis for radicalization inherent in their beliefs; all they need is the one persuasive argument that pushes them over the edge. I’m not just talking about Muslims, either. This applies to Christians as well. If Christianity and Islam truly were “religions of peace” as they claim to be, then there should be no cases in which the religion is used to justify, condone, or command violence. The extremists are merely abiding by the literal letter of the law, while moderates and “indifferents” are picking and choosing the parts that suit their already determined set of values.
What this means is that as long as Islam or Christianity or Hinduism or Scientology puts bad ideas into people’s heads and those people spread those bad ideas to other people, you’re fighting a losing battle. Terrorism isn’t like an organization or a government where you can lop off the head and watch the body die. In fact, terrorism grows stronger with each head you lop off – it’s the most realistic vision of a Hydra we could possibly invoke!
The tool against terrorism (and, consequently, religion) is education, not war, and certainly not bigotry and exclusion. The more you oppress and discriminate against groups of people, the more willing they are to fight back – and in some instances those people may feel like they have no other choice. Hate- and fear-mongers like Donald Drumpf do one thing very well: they inflame the passions of the ignorant. As long as these people are permitted to spew their ignorance and hatred we’re going to see more and more moderate Muslims become radicalized and enter the fight for reasons they, understandably, consider “just” and “moral.” No amount of drone strikes, special ops, or surgical attacks will stop this from happening. This is truly one definitive instance where fighting fire with fire only yields a bigger fire.