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The following article appeared in the Denver Post on November 27, 2015 under the title “Guest Commentary: Look to roots of violence, not just deeds.”

According to the Global Terrorism Index Report, over the past fifteen years there has been a “dramatic rise” in terrorism, with “conservative estimates suggesting a fivefold surge since the year 2000.” Apparently, the vaunted war on terror has been counterproductive.

Western leaders’ reactions to the terrorist attacks in Paris are as predictable as they are clichéd. Demanding revenge and flaunting xenophobia, the demagoguery of politicians only serves to exacerbate the factors that encouraged the violence in the first place.

The reason Western policies have been counterproductive is because their formulators are not interested in addressing the root causes that swell the ranks of violent extremist organizations. Our politicians prefer to take advantage of emotionally painful events such as Paris by pandering to hatred and fear. If their empathy for humanity matched their passion for political gain they would ask WHY? Why do people become terrorists? Why do they want to kill Americans, French and others? What are the stimuli for their behavior; and, especially, have we in some way provoked their behavior? If our leaders really want to end the carnage these are some of the questions they must ask. But I have not heard a single politician inquire into anything like this. Nor do I detect even a hint that they understand a deeper reality, which is that nothing occurs in a vacuum and that there are direct and proximate causes that contribute to all manner of behavior.

It was inevitable that groups seeking revenge would rise from the ashes of policies that decimated large swaths of the Middle East, contributed to the deaths and displacement of millions, and nurtured despair. Thousands of disaffected youth, no longer able to conceive of a meaningful future, have been driven into the arms of ISIS. When there is no future there is no hope. Without hope, people have nothing left to lose.

ISIS is a fundamentalist, apocalyptic cult that targets Muslims as much as it targets other religious groups. Its ideology is founded upon an interpretation of religion that divides the world into believers and apostates. But most of ISIS’s recruits are not so much drawn to its religious ideology as they are drawn to the opportunity for revenge. Joining ISIS gives them a sense, nihilistic though it is, that they can exercise some control over their destinies.

Frankly, their lust for revenge is similar to the revenge motives we commonly hear from some political leaders. And in their minds, I am sure, they believe that by taking the initiative and doing something, no matter how abhorrent, they will die with dignity, no longer passive victims of western imperialism.

At least President Obama is demonstrating some common sense by rejecting the rhetoric of politicians who call for a total ban on Arab Muslim immigration or a religious test to determine if immigrants can enter America. These politicians either don’t care or don’t understand that most Arab immigrants are casualties of the west’s foreign policy, and that most of the Paris terrorists were citizens of either France or Belgium. Should the United States ban entry of French and Belgians to its shores?

In any case, how can we put our trust in those who, while expressing outrage against ISIS, fail to criticize a Saudi government that beheads people, about 200 this year alone, for crimes such as sorcery, witchcraft and gay consensual sex?

If our leaders and politicians are upset with the actions of what some refer to as “radical Islamic terrorism,” why don’t they speak out against radical Jewish terrorism, which routinely harasses Palestinians and even burns infants to death, all with impunity, and which occupies an entire people under some of the most deplorable conditions on Earth?  How can anyone who enables such brutality be trusted?

Politicians, who view the world through the prism of Us against Them, are selective in their concern for human life. They mourn the suffering of those they identify as Us but ignore the suffering of those they identify as Them.

For all the proclamations of sympathy for its victims, as long as our society refuses to look into the root causes of despair and anger, fear and discrimination, as long as it fails to self-reflect and recognize that it too is just as capable of violence as ISIS, it will continue to sow the seeds for more violence and more self-destruction. Societies that lose touch with their ability to self-reflect inevitably lose touch with their humanity. Then, their moral disintegration is but a heartbeat away.


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  1. A bull’s eye Richard, on every point. I’d love to repost this on my “Musings” blog; your thinking on the subject is very similar to my own.

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