Sean Edwards

The American Resurrection

Terrorists Don’t Kill People… Ideas Do

Ideas Kill PeopleUnfortunately, barbarity and terrorism are as old as mankind.

For all of recorded history, people have used violence and fear to control others.

But in the last 200-300 years, the western world evolved beyond most of that. We’ve rejected violence in every situation but self-defense.

And for decades, the modern world has watched with horror as Arabs, Muslims, Africans, and a host of others constantly kill each other.

And until recently, it has just been these groups. Arabs killing arabs, africans killing africans, and so on.

But now, people from Western nations are joining the ranks of ISIS and other groups like it.

The Rise of Western Terrorism

It is one thing when a radical muslim from the Middle East commits an act of terrorism.

It is another thing when our neighbors willingly join these same groups to commit the same acts of terrorism.

In the past, we could look at terrorism in the Middle East and say, “Well, sadly those societies have not yet evolved. Violence is just a part of their life.”

Without speaking to religion (because Christians have been just as barbaric as jihadists), this is somewhat true.

The Middle East has rejected many western principles of freedom and equality. This isn’t true across the board, but it is true enough.

As a side note, this is our own fault. We constantly forced our will on these people, installed dictators, and armed terrorist groups that benefited us. Arabs have a right to dislike the West.

But they also threw the baby out with the bath water. The West adopted a certain set of principles that many people in other parts of the world have not.

That does not make us better than them. It is just an observation.

However, things have changed lately. Now, instead of writing terrorism off as a symptom of a “less evolved” society, we are seeing our own people join in the barbarism.

People who have gone to western schools. People who have studied the Civil Rights movement in the United States. People who have learned about William Wilberforce in England.

These are people who studied history and saw the results of war and violence. These are people who have lived in our wealthy nations, eaten our abundance of food, and experienced the freedom that western ideology offers.

These are people who were brought up in a culture that valued life, individual rights, and freedom of faith.

And in spite of all this, they still choose to be animals.

In the west we have isolated forms of barbarism, like a sociopath going on a killing spree.

But the people who are joining ISIS are not sociopaths. They are normal people. Teenage girls. Twenty something men. They were born here. They grew up here. They played on our high school basketball teams. They had dreams of playing in the World Cup.

I would argue that this is the reason we find ISIS and recent terrorism so abhorrent.

These are not ignorant people (for lack of a better word) committing atrocities. They are people just like you and me.

Now we are faced with a new reality. How do we reconcile the fact that people like you and me are choosing to be a part of this horror?

It also exposes a flaw in our thinking: Middle eastern terrorists are not terrorists because they come from a “less evolved” society. Since westerners are joining the fight, we have to reassess why people become terrorists.

Bombs do not kill people.

Guns do not kill people.

And people with bombs and guns do not kill people.

Ideas kill people.

Bombs, Guns, and Terrorists Do Not Kill…
Ideas Do

Ideas can make a human become the enlightened epitome of western thought. Or they can turn a person into the most deadliest of animals.

Ideas can inspire people to become artists, teachers, philanthropists, innovators, philosophers, and poets.

Or they can turn people into rapists, thugs, mass murderers, and the authors of darkness the rest of us cannot imagine.

Evil ideologies are the most deadly weapon out there. They turn good people into devils.

If we want to win the war on terror, we have to win the war on thought.

We cannot bomb savages into enlightenment. If we gain any ground against terrorism with guns, that ground will have to be maintained with guns.

We need to defend ourselves, and we need to neutralized militarized threats to freedom in the world. I am not advocating pacifism.

I am saying that if we truly want to win the war on terror, ultimately we have to fight it with ideas, not cruise missiles (though I am very thankful for cruise missiles).

How A Rational Mind Can Come To An Abhorrent Conclusion

So, how do people become terrorists?

People think. It is our nature. We cannot escape it.

Our senses give us information about the world around us, and our minds take all of that information and form it into a view of how the world works.

We look around and decide what things are good, and what things are bad. We learn how to survive and thrive. We build systems of thought on what is right and wrong.

We think. It is what we do. We need to understand the world around us. We need to make sense of what happens to us. We need to think.

When people from the west decide to become savages, it is because that barbaric worldview offers them something the west does not.

To them, it appears to give them a more complete view of the world around them. It answers more questions than what they are receiving at home, or church, or school.

“People become terrorists because they have determined that radical islam offers the best description of the world around them, and the best system for living in that world.”

This is a serious problem.

Our government’s actions in the Middle East can explain why many Arab nations have rejected western ideals.

But that doesn’t explain why westerners are becoming attracted to groups like ISIS.

This Reveals Something Even More Troubling…

For many, radical islam now offers a better view of the world than western ideologies.

Why? How did this happen? How did the West get here?

I think there are many causes and factors that go into this. People are complicated, emotional beings. But this one reason why I believe this has happened.

Post-Modernism, a hall-mark of modern western culture, deprives people of purpose.

Post-modernism and moral relativism have taken any sense of purpose from the hearts of young people.

For whatever reason, people have a need to feel important and a part of something bigger than life.

We need to believe in something beyond ourselves.

For centuries, that need was met by the Christian faith. There were ups and downs. Within Christendom there were barbarians and philosophers alike. But there was a belief in something greater.

For many people, especially younger people, that sense of purpose and identity is gone.

In many ways, especially in Europe, we have become a post-Christian culture.

I am not arguing the merits of one faith over the other. I am merely making an observation.

Faith gave people a sense of identity and purpose. For many that is now gone.

It is like a power vacuum. Something has to fill it’s place.

Some people adopt a vague form of agnostic mysticism.

And others grasp onto atheism (which requires it’s own kind of faith).

How Terrorism Takes Hold Of A Western Heart

For many westerners, these faith structures meet their needs, at least to an extent. They offer answers to questions in their hearts about identity, life, and purpose.

But for some, that isn’t enough. This vague sense of mysticism can’t stand toe-to-toe with more robust belief systems.

When a young person is looking for meaning in their life, they are open to anyone who has an answer. And a jihadist who is willing to die for their faith is appealing.

They says, “If this person is willing to die for their faith, they must know something I don’t. This must be something to this…”

It offers a certain appeal over the vague, meaninglessness of postmodern relativism.

This is something concrete. And as ISIS grows, the feeling of purpose grows with it. To many, ISIS’s conviction and purpose is appealing.

When you  to feel significant and a part of something great, that level of conviction can attract you. Because it tells you something. It says, “There is something more to life… and these people have found it.”

Groups like ISIS invite people to join a cosmic war, where the fate of good and evil hangs in the balance.

This worldview will entice hungry people. It doesn’t matter if they grew up in the wealthiest, most advanced nations. They will abandon their old way of thinking in an instant if they believe someone can answer the deepest questions in their hearts.

How does the west win this fight? We need to speak to the hearts of people. We need offer them an identity and a purpose.

Our Ultimate Victory Rests On Our Ideas

People of all faiths can take hold of western principles. Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and Hindus can all believe different things, while recognizing that people are free and have individual rights.

We have to earnestly take hold of our values, and with love and compassion represent them as best we can.

The principles of individual rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression allowed for the greatest explosion in health and wealth in the history of mankind.

Our principles work. They make life and the world better.

We can not force people to be free. But we can show them what true freedom looks like (and why they want it).

We need to lay down our bigotry, racism, and fear to win this war.

The West needs another renaissance. We need to love ourselves again. And I’m not talking about blind patriotism. I’m talking about a deep resurgence of Western principles.

We need to see that our ideas and heritage are powerful, good, and noble. We need to forgive our mistakes. And we need to proudly proclaim our ideas in a way that fosters unity in diversity.

Terrorism will naturally die when the world sees a better way. We have that way. We only need to find it within ourselves again.

About Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.

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2 Replies

  1. Your point is well taken. Although ISIS exercises brutality that shocks the modern world, is it really more brutal than, say, crucifixion, which was quite common in ancient Rome? If we use history as a guide, civilzations evolve: they are born, they have a heyday, they mature, they age and eventually fall apart. Sometimes, the falling apart is brutal, like that of the Roman Empire; sometimes it isn’t, like the fracturing of the British Empire. When civilizations suffer a violent downfall, the cause of it is not known until those who study history delve into it. The capture of a Roman Emperor never happened before, so when it did happen, the shock to the psyche of the Roman Empire eventually did lead to its downfall. Those who follow financial markets say that the debasing of the Roman currency played a role as well, and use that as the main reason for wanting a commodity-based money standard, such as gold.

    In my opinion, if it weren’t ISIS, it would be someone else. Western civilization, like the other empires before it, has been declining for some time, at least 100 years, since the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, if I had to pinpoint an approximate date. Although he did sign the act that created the Federal Reserve, that in of itself is not the main driver. It is the transformation of our nation from the belief in the individual’s ability to create for themselves what they want to the desire to outsource all facets of our life to someone else; that someone else somehow, obtained an “expert status”, mostly through fraudulent research. In the process of doing that, western civilization placed blind trust in technology and science, even to the point of calling skeptics “terrorists”.

    Outsourcing our lives has a profound effect on our psychology. The belief that we are too ignorant to manage our own affairs has enabled a small group of people, not all of them industrialists, to hijack our political process to the point that 40% of the millenials believe that if free speech offends ANY unmamed someone, it ought to be curtailed. By creating a whole generation of victims, Western civilization morphed from one of the most prosperous civilizations in history to one that is so sensitive to free expression, that we can no longer have functional dialogue about anything. It is easy to blame Congress (and absolve the President as so many do) because Congress “makes” laws. Well, as part of that process of outsourcing our lives, Congress outsourced legislating to unelected government officials; and now there is a move to outsource the executive branch decision making to a world body.

    So, you’re right. We do lack purpose, but it isn’t a new phenomenon and is at least 100 years old. In order to change that, though, each one of us, not just millenials, has to make the decision once and for all to take responsibility for ourselves, our lives and the lives of those we care about. As long as we are satisfied with outsourcing our decisions to companies like Monsanto, the disintigration of Western culture will continue, until freedom to do things like post a response to a blog is a thing of the very distant past.

    1. Sean Edwards

      Hello Eileen. Thank you for your thoughtful response. You are correct in that we need to once again take responsibility for our own lives. However, I would challenge the idea that Western civilization is in decline. According to all available metrics (life expectancy, average income, infant mortality rates, etc…), the world has never seen better times. And that is even more true in modern, western nations. Do we have challenges? Yes. But we’re making progress. I do not say this to “correct” you. I say this an encouragement. We have been told a lie that the world is getting worse. But the data doesn’t back that up. And as you said, if we relearn to take responsibility for our own lives, and respect the rights of individuals, the world will continue to improve around us. Thank you again for your insights and comments. I love hearing from my readers 🙂