Monday, December 14, 2015

How do we defeat the terrorists?

I could probably expend a fair amount of effort discussing why the tactics we've been using to "defeat" terrorism won't work.  In essence, killing terrorists only serves to recruit more terrorists.  Vengeance is a bad strategy, as violence only calls forth more violence in return, in an endless cycle of futility and death.  It's the tool the terrorists employ, and if we employ it, we cede the advantage to them.  They're better at it than we, and that's something I'm pleased about.  I see no particular reason for pride in being better at violence than anyone else.

Today, I saw a FaceBook post about someone here in the US who did a random act of kindness to a muslim at a Starbucks, by paying the tab as a gesture of support for muslims.  It was an act of personal defiance to the Trump-ish fear-mongering against muslim Americans and muslims seeking refuge here.  It dawns on me that kindness and love for our fellow human beings is the only way we defeat terrorism.  The whole machismo thing about "kill 'em all!" and hostility toward muslims isn't working and never will, so the way to defeat them is to make it so clear that the west is not at war against islam, that the terrorists become utterly repugnant to most practicing muslims.  Without a support base, terrorist groups whither and die.  After all, islamic terrorism is aimed at both creating fear (and many of us have allowed that to be a successful tactic) and convincing muslims that the christian west is their enemy.  Our vengeance tactics will never eliminate the threat.

Is it not the christian way to love your "enemies"?  Is the parable of the "good Samaritan" not a cornerstone of christianity?  Has our jingoistic machismo simply forgotten the admonition to "turn the other cheek"?  Is hatred and xenophobia the christian path?  What I know about christianity is that hatred is not the important message of christianity.  In earlier times, christians sought to proselytize at swordpoint, as we now seek to export democracy at gunpoint.  It simply doesn't work that way.  Moderate christians long ago gave up the mentality that drove the Crusades.  Unfortunately, some muslims have yet to learn that lesson.  Certainly not all muslims, though.

It's no secret that I'm not a christian, but an atheist - an atheist born and raised in a predominantly christian world.  As an atheist, it appears to me that many Americans, in their politically-encouraged virulent hatred of muslims (or other ethnic groups, including jews and minority races), have completely forsaken the peaceful christian message of love for our fellow human beings.  They prefer violent suppression of the legitimate desires of minorities and vengeance visited on our 'enemies' as the answer to differences.  Yes, I suppose the terrorists laugh in derision at any sort of proposed peaceful response to their evil deeds.  But did not Ghandi preach of the sacrifices along the path of nonviolent opposition to oppression and evil?  Was his approach not ultimately successful?  Did not Martin Luther King preach the same message of nonviolent opposition to injustice?  Were his efforts a dismal failure?  Surely history vindicates optimism concerning the path of nonviolence.

Tribalism is an 'instinctive' evolutionary characteristic of humans that has become a major impediment to human progress.  Imagine the colossal waste of our world resources in wars! How much of value has been destroyed, including human lives?  Although loyalty to one's tribe can lead to many good things that benefit one's tribe, the concomitant distrust and hatred for those in other tribes has become a liability in an increasingly connected world where we're more and more dependent on each other.  We humans have to overcome our evolutionary tendency for distrust of those who differ from us in some superficial way or another.  Race and religion are foci for tribalism and yet both are increasingly irrelevant in the modern world.

I think the path to a world where terrorism is no longer a viable threat starts with the very christian ideals that so many christians seem to have discarded in favor of vengeance and violence.  If we show, not by our words, but by our deeds, that we're willing to accommodate other races, other religions, other 'tribes', then the terrorist message can be repudiated in the most powerful way possible.  If we respond to hatred with love, we can demonstrate to the muslim world that the terrorist message is a false one.  We can show by our actions that the principles we claim to live by are not mere empty words but a powerful plan for mutual accommodation.  Live and let live.  We can, in fact, revel in the diversity of our different cultures without the need for one culture to claim superiority over all others.  We have no message we need to export at gunpoint.  The only thing that truly matters is that we're all human beings, trying to cope with what life offers to us as best we can, while enjoying the simple pleasures we all share:  good food, good friends, family support, and a joy in being alive.

Give peace a chance.  Repudiate violence.  Resist the temptation of the terrorists to respond in kind.  Love one another.  In the end, love can conquer hatred.