Dreary weather, insufficient sleep, and a largely unmotivated me. It’s been a eventful week, capped by the most recent set of terrorist attacks in London, and as I work on re-orienting myself, I’m reminded of these very wise words from Victor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
By its very nature, terrorism looks to force an extreme reaction. It ultimately thrives on extreme reactions. At the most fundamental level, a terrorist uses violence to frighten people into compliance. Or tries to. On a micro level, within communities, this frequently does work. Attack a busload of female schoolchildren and people often decide to keep their daughters safe at home. Kill a few politicians and judges, and local crimes get overlooked. Bomb a women’s health clinic, and frighten some women out of medical care. But on a macro level, something else often happens. Governments step in and close borders, they launch military strikes, they round people up indiscriminately and keep them detained away from public view. They meet terrorism with terrorism. Of course, when governments do it, it isn’t terrorism – it’s a ‘police action’ or an actual act of war. The problem with this strategy, a reaction to the fear and anxiety that terrorism provokes in the general population, is that it generally doesn’t work. What is does is provide the group behind the terrorism with inspiration for new converts.
Historically, and by definition, terrorism is about political ideology, In the 60’s and 70’s, it was primarily over independence – for the Irish, Puerto Ricans, Basques – or for a governmental overhaul – the Red Brigade, Baader Meinhof. Anarchists always had an affinity for terror tactics. But the last few decades have seen the rise of fundamentalist religious terrorism. Everyone thinks immediately of Islam and the Middle East, and that has certainly been a loci, but I’m not sure what else you call ‘christians’ who bomb women’s healthcare facilities – or kill abortion providers. In the name of very old texts, much retouched by people with their own sensibilities through the centuries, the fundamentalist extremists seem to think that the clocks should all be brought back to the times that those books were written. And that everyone needs to believe as they do. But the electronic, global, interconnected world we inhabit today is very much not the nomadic desert or river plain agrarian world that it was when those books were written. If you believe that those books are the word of God, then surely they are metaphor, and in parts, obsolete – for it takes a great deal of hubris on our part to think that an all-powerful, all-knowing, God would have allowed humanity to progress this far if his intent was that it be otherwise. But in religion, as in politics, it is nearly impossible to change the mind of someone with extreme views. And logic doesn’t matter when discussing faith.
So it is our response to these attacks that needs careful consideration, and I still don’t pretend to have an answer. But there is certainly much truth to the axiom that an eye for an eye will only make the world blind.
Better to see, I think.