Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Terrorism: Know Your Enemy

It is either a brave or a stupid person who, in the current climate, would choose to write a blog about terrorism. And yet I find that I must, primarily because I see so much comment about it and so much of it seems, to me, to be either misguided, incendiary, ignorant, understandable but naive, or, often, all of these things. You may take it as read before continuing to read this blog that I am not in favor of random killings of any human beings by any other set of human beings. You may equally take it as read that I am not here to take sides as much of the media-led public would like people to do. I do not see killers and murderers of any persuasion as anything but representatives of themselves and their own beliefs. People do what they choose to do for the motivations and justifications that they themselves devise. So I am here to resist the notion that some belief system or foreign deity makes anyone do anything or that any text has mandated the deaths of innocent people. There is an ancient man who was quoted as saying "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone". If we follow that thinking then there should be no one around picking up any rocks.

The recent attacks in Brussels are, of course, horrible. Anyone with human empathy would feel that way I imagine. But, to me, watching the reactions coming in on social media yesterday, I couldn't help but think that many of the reactions I saw from western Europeans, who are largely those I would see the responses of, were somewhat naive. Yes, the bombings yesterday were horrible. But my mind wandered across the globe a little to the east and settled in the arab region. Some people, fueled by the incendiary and barely disguised racist thinking of those who would consider themselves nominally Christian (and almost always white), would like you to believe that an area from roughly Istanbul to Afghanistan is full of foaming at the mouth Muslim killers. This is what we see on the news, right? But, of course, this is not so. The vast majority of people here are just as normal, and as peaceful, as you or I would consider ourselves to be. They are mothers and brothers and sons and daughters. They want to feed and clothe themselves, work, get some money, build something of whatever kind of life can be made out there. In other words, no, not everyone out there is a foaming at the mouth religious extremist pledged to kill the infidels. And, what's worse, they actually get bombed and killed a whole lot more then we in the West do. I find this map instructive:

What this map shows is that in the last 15 months there have been horrific attacks in Europe and America. But relatively few (this does not lessen their horror, by the way). What this map further shows is that if you happen to be an ordinary person going about your business in northern Africa or what we may loosely term "Arabic Asia" then you are much more likely to be shot or bombed by terrorists. Indeed, there are some places in that area where I imagine this is a regular occurrence. Yesterday I read that certain politicians are saying we are "at war" with something. (I'm not sure what we are supposed to be at war with - an idea? a religion? certain individuals?) But it occurred to me that for people who just happened to be born in Sanaa or Gaza or Mogadishu or Homs - through no fault of their own - that their daily experience of life is war. They do not have the luxury of declaring themselves to be at war with anything. They are just there right slap bang in bombing central. They didn't ask for this anymore than Parisians, Londoners, Brusselaars or New Yorkers. They, too, are victims. And so this situation can never be the cartoon version that Fox News will present you, a thinly disguised version of white Christian protestants versus the filthy Arab hordes. The only fight this can ever be is between those who want to live in peace without blowing people up and those who are prepared to use violence and death to bring their ideas about. And if we use that definition it muddies up the waters considerably.

Yesterday the loudmouth troll, Katie Hopkins, a Z list celebrity from the UK famous only for the fact she is outrageously right wing for money, tweeted the following:

I don't dignify Hopkins by seeking to argue here that she stands for a certain point of view. She doesn't. She stands merely for padding out her ego with the most attention-getting thing she can think of to say. She is, if we must credit her with anything at all, merely taking sides. Of course, her notion is absurd and suggests that "refugees" and "terrorists who blow people up" are the same group of people. Yet, as I have already shown, there are many, many places in north Africa and arabian Asia where people are being even more terrorized than we are. Here a terrorist is not "someone who looks like an Arab" because there they all do. Because they all are. Hopkins, of course, does not have an argument. She is, like many, a mere sloganizer. It is remarkably easy, and remarkably simple, to see people who are not like you and who come from somewhere else and to regard them as all the same, the dangerous foreigner. In polite society we would call judging people by how they look racism but nevertheless. It takes a particular kind of mind held by particular beliefs to equate refugees fleeing their own death and destruction with people who might do the same thing to you. Has it escaped the mind of Hopkins and those who would think so shallowly about this that the really bad people, the ones who do want to kill people, might be taking advantage of their countrymen? There is a certain kind of person, and Hopkins is one, who seeks no answer to the problems of violence and also has none. They merely want to cynically prosper themselves by talking about it in bigoted terms, blissfully unaware of the disharmony and enmities that they sow or, worse, very much aware and joyfully stoking the fires of division.

(NOTE: So far, the Paris and Brussels bombers have almost entirely been EU citizens. NONE are refugees. So Hopkins is wrong as a matter of fact. If we had to label the perpetrators at all "criminals known to the police" would be the best description, not a faith or state-based description.)

So one point I want to get across here is that the terrorism we are currently enduring today is not a matter of a struggle of beliefs or of faiths or of Arabs against people with other skin colors. These are all PR agendas pushed by people with their own beliefs. If we think we are ourselves on some crusade on the side of right then we are no better than those who think they are on the other side. The thinking of both is equally flawed and in the same way. So there is no Islam versus Christianity here for neither those regarding themselves as true Muslims or those regarding themselves as true Christians can stand in for the whole of those belief systems. People do things in the name of other things. But it is all rhetorical. It is their retrospective justification for things. The Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik claims to be a Christian of sorts but do we judge all Christians by his measure? No. Should we? No. But in the West we find it very easy to judge an entire faith, one we don't personally happen to hold (quite coincidentally!), based on the actions of a minuscule percentage of people who claim adherence to it. This is a double standard. Instead, we should be saying that there are people who want to kill for their own reasons, criminal, violent people, and that they are our enemy. In fact, such killers are probably everyone's enemy.

Of course, it is not the case that only Muslims have ever wanted to kill people. The historian Ned Richardson-Little, who specializes in the area of human rights and has an extensive knowledge of German history from the past century, wrote a blog recently about the Deutsche Christen which was a Nazi protestant Christian denomination in Hitler's Germany. Richardson-Little makes many salient points in his blog and also gives the example of one Ernst Biberstein, a theology student and one time pastor (just like your local priest in other words) who went on to become an Obersturmbannf├╝hrer in the SS and was later charged with the responsibility for over 2,000 deaths, at least 50 of which he personally oversaw during a mass shooting in which the bodies were then pushed into a mass grave. This example serves to show only that it is not only adherents to various exotic religious beliefs who can become killers. Your common or garden Christian can too when the local village priest becomes a vicious killer. The narrative of "them and us" in which they are nothing like us is both insidious and deceptive. But what makes a terrorist a terrorist is not so easy to pin down. It is not to be equated with a faith or a race. That is simplistic in the extreme, flawed and simply wrong. Should all white Americans be judged as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma terrorist? Probably not. It was not his whiteness or Americanness that was the issue.

So what unites those who want to use violence? It is often thought that religion is the answer. The trouble with this answer is that religions are followed by many hundreds of millions of people, the vast majority of which are no more violent than the granny who goes to church and serves the coffee at the end of the service. For me what unites these people is not some generalized creed but the desire to use violence. Using violence is the creed that should be being attacked and not other, more easy targets which, in the final analysis, cannot be blamed. Neither Christianity nor Islam nor any other major world belief system that I have become aware of call for mass killings. It does not say in the Bible or the Koran "Blow people up with bombs". These are the actions of individual people with their own reasons and justifications. They may seek to hide themselves under a more generalized rationale but we should not fall for their rhetoric and make it something it isn't. Terrorism is a matter of making things seem other than they really are and pulling you into some huge struggle when really it isn't. The number of actual terrorists is a small number, relatively speaking, but they wish to embroil everyone in their death fantasy and we should not let them.

It is, of course, at times like these that you have to decide who you are. You need to ask yourself what you stand for. The men of violence (on all sides) want you to sign up to their fantasies and become a fantasy warrior on the side of this or that, thinking of yourself as good or bad. I think we should not do this. We should be clear-headed and think sanely. We should realize that our enemy is not anyone who looks a certain way or comes from a certain place. We should recognize that we ourselves are not mere ciphers for a state, country, land or faith. We are all individual people with individual responsibilities. Terrorists cannot palm off responsibility for what they do to a faith or a belief system or a state or an aim. And neither can we. 

We each live the lives we do and make the choices we make and are held responsible for them as individuals. That is the way it should be. Set apart and alone, each one of us wants the same things in life. But we don't all kill someone else to get it. If we are going to live together as societies without reverting to the law of the jungle (there is a whole other discussion here about whether "the law of the jungle" ever really went away but that's not for today) then those who want to live in peace need to come together to make that so. Life is ugly and we should not imagine that everyone can survive. Frankly, some will only be stopped by killing them because they are determined to live the life of violent criminals. But that harsh reality does not mandate indiscriminate killing by anyone else. American drones aimed at terrorists that kill innumerable anonymous bystanders are not defensible in my eyes anymore than suicide bombers in airports. It will simply require serious, patient work by those in our societies tasked with protecting our peace to establish who the murderers and the people of violence are so that they can be captured or, if necessary, killed. If we can do that without perpetrating our own violent stealth war for power and resources so much the better.

None of this is easy to deal with or to discuss. World geo-politics is a complicated business. There is much more that could be said here. Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to your vision of the world. When innocents die we feel many things - numbness, rage, disorientation, bemusement - and this is normal. It is hard to see other points of view but we must unless we are ourselves simply determined to destroy anyone who thinks differently to us. Revenge or a creed of killing is no better a way of living than that of the terrorist who thinks he can get what he wants by killing a few innocents. Violence is our enemy here and those who would use it. Those who think deaths are a legitimate means to a goal are those we should be against whatever they say they believe and wherever they come from.

Ned Richardson-Little's blog on the Deutsche Christen can be referenced at:

1 comment:

  1. Great piece, again - it is important that we always remember to put things in it's proper historical context. One persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter - it depends on where you are standing in the world.