09 April 2017

how to stop terrorism

"we live on such a beautiful planet 
but in such an ugly world." 
samantha morrison  

First, there was the Nice attack in France last summer where a man drove a 19-ton semi through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 and injured 434 innocent people. We were headed to Paris to live for a month soon after and were a little nervous but decided to go anyway. (It was fine.)

Then, we were really saddened by the Christmas market terrorist attack in Berlin in December where another guy drove a semi into a crowd of people and killed 12 and injured 56. These were again just innocent people trying to be merry during the holiday season. We were living here in Darmstadt (a small town in Germany), so the Christmas market again felt very close to home.

And now we hear about this senseless attack in Stockholm, and it just made my stomach drop. We were in Stockholm in August, visiting friends and marveling at how beautiful it was with its islets and sparkling blue water. My daughter saw her first "wild" swan floating just outside of Gamla Stan (the old town).

How can someone be so angry that they want to kill innocent people? People you've never met who you know nothing about? What do you have to tell someone to make them believe that murdering all of these people is not only acceptable but desirable? And maybe saddest of all, what does someone have to go through to want to do such a thing?

Terrorism is incomprehensible to me, and I can't imagine wanting to hurt innocent people. But here is some empowering advice for us all.

From Bruce Schneier, one of the most respected writers on terrorism:
most importantly, we should refuse to be terrorized. Terrorism isn't really a crime against people or property; it's a crime against our minds. 
If we are terrorized, then the terrorists win even if their plots fail. If we refuse to be terrorized, then the terrorists lose even if their plots succeed.
So, let us not be afraid. Let us live our lives with heads held high.

If we're in an airplane, and someone tries to threaten everyone, we must all start throwing objects at this would-be terrorist and do everything we can to stop them. We cannot let a few individuals ruin everything for everyone else.

But in thinking more about it, I agree with this:

I think terrorists are often lost, lonely people looking for purpose and community. Bruce Schneier said terrorists often go from one group to another, despite absolutely contradictory philosophies and aims. He says many of the 9/11 hijackers were originally planning to fight in Chechnya but they didn't have the right paperwork so they attacked the US instead. They may not be focused on any political goal at all; they just want to be in a group!

He compares terrorist groups to inner city kids joining gangs, and that really resonated with me. When I taught in a correctional facility for teenage boys, almost all of them were in gangs, and many of them either didn't feel they had a choice (were threatened or had to join for safety) or did it because it was their only source of family and community, no matter how harmful or dysfunctional it might be.

Schneider also shows that terrorism simply doesn't work.

Osama bin Laden had six consistent political goals, ranging from the US not meddling in Israel/the Middle East to stopping its pressuring the Arab states to keep oil prices low, but hardly anyone knows about them.

People think terrorists just want to kill and scare people.

As it turns out, they often have specific goals, but when the world has decided it's not going to negotiate with terrorists, and terrorists continue to use terror as a first resort rather than a last resort (after, say, trying to become involved in politics and other peaceful negotiation approaches), there seems to be a big disconnect.

By the end, even bin Laden supposedly had decided terrorism was not effective.

So, going back to how we can stop terrorism, if we can give people (especially young people) purpose and community and healthier outlets for anger, we can potentially stop them from joining terrorist groups altogether. It's simplistic, but I think it's possible, and that possibility is enough for me to want to at least try.


Malala Yousafzai's focus on education seems to be exactly what we need more of. What if we spent our military money on education instead? This is again very idealistic thinking, but just imagining even a small fraction of the world's resources pooled to build schools and nurture young people gives me great hope for what can be.

Three Cups of Tea is a book about doing just this, and while there seem to be holes and problems with this specific story, it became a number one New York Times bestseller for three years. 

Clearly, something powerful was at work here, and if we continue to pursue what works (disregarding what didn't), perhaps we can really make the idea of "promoting peace one school at a time" a reality.

I have been trying to figure out how I can be a useful human being, and this is something I'm compelled by and want to dedicate my time to. So, let's see what we can do to help our world become a safe and peaceful place for all.

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