Terrorists Don’t Kill People… Ideas Do
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 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.