Terrorism and Dialog

terrorist1Terrorism used to be a strategy of violence against a civilian population for political or religious expression. A terrorist act was a “statement” by people who otherwise had no voice.

It’s hard to imagine groups that literally have no voice in today’s interlinked world. That we don’t agree or comply with someone does not mean we have not listened. Dialog is an exchange of ideas.

Terrorism seems now to have devolved from the most primitive form of dialog, into simply brute punishment of those who disagree. Rather than trying to make a political statement, terrorist attacks have become simply a “fuck you.”

Such attacks are more horrifying than terrifying. What’s really terrifying is not the bombs, but the fact that when you look into the face of the bombers, you see that nobody’s home and that dialog is not possible. That is a terrifying prospect.

Not only do we disagree with the terrorists on matters of religion, philosophy, politics and culture, but we can hardly recognize them as sentient beings of our own species. There is nothing to say and no language to say it in. We feel helpless.

Unfortunately, we are well beyond the “lone wolf” crazy-ass bomber  who can be contained.  We confront a relatively coherent culture with an ideology, inarticulate and delusional though it is, accepted by thousands of fanatical followers. We can’t kill them all.

Can we possibly accommodate the ideas? Not likely. We don’t easily comprehend a culture that decapitates others for being different. What is the joy anyway in having everyone be identical? That’s not how humans are.

Today’s terrorists are men with the minds of children. They live in an untrammelled egocentricism that imagines them delusional “servants” of a self-projected god. That’s their substitute for confrontation and understanding the human unconscious, the id, the shadow, the instincts, whatever you call the uncivilized part of ourselves that must be managed for the sake of civilization. Their solution to that problem doesn’t work for the rest of us.

I’m afraid many established governments are going to respond by hunkering down at home,  becoming ever-more authoritarian, xenophobic and tribal. You think airport security is a pain in the neck? Imagine the same on all forms of public transportation, at concerts, sports events, libraries, office buildings, shopping malls, and even cafes and bars. People are always willing to sacrifice freedom in exchange for temporary security. Over the next two decades, life as we know it in the West will change significantly.

How can we respond to terrorism without strangling ourselves?  I propose a three-fold strategy. First, manage international travel better. This would have the immediate effect of isolating the problem geographically. If you’ve traveled to an identified “risk zone,” you can’t come back without extensive security clearance. It’s not about being “monitored” after you get back. You can’t get in the door until you’ve been scrubbed, and that could take months or years, given resources available.

Inconvenient and illiberal? Yes. It’s an immediate and practical response.  Mass migrations would be treated the same way. Extensive security clearance on migrants. Time-consuming and less than compassionate? Yes. The short-term goal is geographical isolation of the problem. There may be statistical ways to deal with the issue humanely.

Unfortunately, you know that politicians will confound “some” migrants are terrorists with “all” migrants are terroists, to purposely obfuscate the issue, to turn an anti-terrorism issue into an immigration issue. There’s nothing we can do about ignorant and/or evil politicians (other than vote in better people!).

The second strategy is to educate women in poor, developing, and war-torn areas. The mother is the first educator of every bomb-throwing man. A mother who reads and writes, who is at least marginally aware of history, literature, science, philosophy, mathematics, and other cultures, will produce a different kind of youth, and eventually a change in the entire culture.

The goal is not to create scholars, merely human beings whose world extends beyond the walls that surround them. Women are the best hope for that.

Finally, in the near term, isolate and neutralize the most violent extremists with whom no dialog is possible. Ideally, we could contain them. Let them stew in their own virulent juices. In practice, we probably have to kill them.

It’s the most primitive form of communication imaginable, to kill someone, not out of rage or revenge, but simply because you can’t talk to them. You don’t want to do it, but there are no more practical options. It’s a helluva thing that we’ve come to that.


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