Terrorists Are People, Too

Terrorism takes many forms; all insidious, devastating, and unfathomable for the great majority of the world.  The questions following such a tragedy are always the same: who is responsible; why did they do this; how can such senseless violence still happen?

And the response, regrettably, is always the same as well.

While there is an initial outpouring of empathy and support from the international community, cries for vengeance and retaliation always break through the sorrow.  We saw this yesterday, when over one hundred people were killed, and many more injured, by calculated terrorist attacks in Paris.  What began as shock and sadness quickly devolved into mob-fueled internet hatred, plucked from the palette of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the like, and splattered across my Facebook feed.

“Bomb ISIS, kill them all!”

“Nuke ISIS, no more threats.”

“I want the heads of ISIS fighters put on display in Paris and sent to the families of the victims.”

It is easy to understand these sentiments.  It is perfectly reasonable to feel anger towards the perpetrators of such massacres.  But when your proposed solution is more akin to the plot of Se7en than anything else, perhaps it’s time for some self-reflection.

More than anything, I want terrorism to be eradicated.  But that doesn’t mean I would condone everything to reach that goal.  Many have suggested that the only way we can stop these attacks is by eradicating extremist groups through force.  And maybe these people are right.  But there are costs for such violence.

How much are we willing to give up to secure our safety?  Civilian lives are at risk if we retaliate via airstrikes; American lives would undoubtedly be lost in a boots-on-the-ground invasion.  More or less than would be without large-scale action?  I don’t know.

What if we were able to kill all extremists without losing any other lives?  I’m certain that many would readily embrace this end-all hypothetical.  But it’s not as simple as that.  I’m sure many of these extremists have families.  What should we do with their children?  Kill them?  Let them live?  At what age does one become an extremist?  Maybe we could use puberty as an effective cutoff.

Even if we were able to eliminate every single extremist in the world, we would create a cultural vacuum.  Where fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors once stood would be nothing but death.  You can try to explain to a child why it was necessary to kill his or her parent, but all that child is going to hear are justifications of why you took it upon yourself to take the life of their loved one.

And in the end, is that really any different then the terrorism that prompted retaliation? Sure, they initiated it, but we have long since passed the time where eye-for-an-eye was an accepted metric for punishment.

It is this very kind of retaliatory policy that allows geopolitical conflicts to fester for generations.  Once we begin killing each other, we will never be short of reasons for vengeance; it won’t even matter why we are fighting, only that WE need to kill THEM, and THEY need to kill US.

This is hardly a constructive means of achieving peace.  We need to recognize that extremists, while destructive, distasteful individuals, are people too.

They are not Satan.  They are not demons.

These are people who have a certain set of ideas, stemming from their particular instantiation of faith, or their heritage, or their upbringing.  Their ideas and actions are, in large part, the product of their environment.  They are not harbingers of evil from the depths of Hell, killing willy-nilly because they derive pleasure from their own malevolence.

These are people who have seen friends killed in American drone strikes.  People who have been held in totalitarian regimes uplifted by Western Imperialism.

These are PEOPLE.

And while our impulse may be to impose upon them the pain, the loss that we all feel, it is an impulse we have to fight.  If we give in to the fleeting satisfaction and closure of vengeance, then we are no better than the ones over which we claim such moral superiority.

The terrorist attacks yesterday in Paris claimed the lives of many; let’s be sure that they don’t steal our humanity as well.

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6 thoughts on “Terrorists Are People, Too

  1. You say “They are not harbingers of evil from the depths of Hell, killing willy-nilly because they derive pleasure from their own malevolence”. In fact, they are. They enjoyed killing the 100 + innocent people of Paris two days ago, because they are evil. There is NO justification on their end, for doing exactly what you say that we must refrain from doing. I agree that it will become a never ending pointless circle, but the fact is, while we have killed their people in drone attacks, it does not justify the ‘eye for eye’ killings in Paris, that you say we now can not do in retaliation to this eye for eye backlash. There are hundreds of more ways to get the point across, that they do not like the Western world, without killing innocents. Regardless of the fact that they have families, there is no sane reason for ever slaughtering innocents. Look at Sandy Hook, look at the movie theatre shooting, look at the countless shootings of U.S. citizens against U.S. citizens. These people suffered some of the same mental reasonings that you say ISIS has now used to justify their killings, and yet, we don’t say to the gunmen behind the massacres and slaughters within our nation that hey, we’re sorry for the pain you felt from bullies, or your parents, or whatever reason you felt you needed to kill people. The reality is, we don’t forgive them for killing, because they chose the WORST AND MOST HORRIBLE conclusion to get back for their pain. Taking innocent lives. There is no justification for this action, in any and all forms.

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    • Well, it’s worth noting that I never argue that terrorist attacks are justified, only that they are reactionary or in part due to external factors, rather than caused by inherent evil residing inside terrorists, which is what many (yourself included?) seem to believe. In no way am I condoning such slaughter by raising questions regarding the severity of our response. I only hope that we avoid sinking to the same level with our foreign policy. While I don’t advocate for mass extermination, I never claim that terrorists should be forgiven for their actions. You raise examples of killers in the United States — killers who we did not kill, but took to trial. Of course we didn’t forgive them; but we did manage to curtail our anger long enough to afford them the due process guaranteed by our legal system.

      Again, never did I state that terrorist attacks are justified. They are not. Thankfully, we can see what policies have led to such attacks (not justifications, but contributing factors that lead to the growth of terrorism), and take care not to enact policy that could contribute to more violence on both ends.

      The big takeaway here is that is easy to dehumanize terrorists in the wake of an attack. It is easier for us to cope if we see the perpetrators as evil, non-human entities. However, they are indeed humans, acting in certain ways, for certain reasons, and it is naive and counterproductive to dismiss them as evil evildoers acting to satisfy their evil urges (evilly) because we don’t want to be uncomfortable with the fact that if we bomb them, we are killing other people.

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    • To further progressivepublications’s reply: I think that the idea in this article is that we have to stop dehumanizing people. I would take it further: we have to stop dehumanizing people who are white. In America today, the reactions to a black person shooting people vs. a white person shooting people. For the black person, they are a “monster”, an evil “animal”, an inhuman piece of scum. When it’s a white person, it’s “unstable”, “loner”, “mentally-ill”. We justify the white person’s actions, but demonize the black person’s. It is the same (if even worse) for people who aren’t citizens of America. We automatically don’t view them as human. They are numbers to fill quotas, numbers that drown in boats smuggling them to safety, numbers that die in massacres in the not-so-safety of their homes/villages/cities. We don’t even look at ‘others’ as people. It’s not unfair to say that if you’re not white, you’re not even human. So when you have the audacity to condescend and apologize “for the pain you felt from bullies, or your parents, or whatever reason you felt you needed to kill people” you are adding to this narrative. You are saying that for whatever reason my life is more important, more valid, more of a ‘life’ than yours and I can judge your actions and condemn you to death accordingly. This article is saying: pull your head out of the sand, take a look around, and recognize that this issue has a long, complex history and that we shouldn’t just kill the people we are scared of, especially when we have played a role in creating the instability that allows these extremist groups to survive.

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  2. I understand your point in this article, but it’s just a little difficult to agree with. Yes, terrorists are people, but people are defined by their actions. These people that did these attacks on Paris are horrible people and they did the absolute worse thing possible, taking the lives of innocent people. The group ISIS continues to do horrifying actions against normal people-journalists, students, family members etc. If someone is part of this group then naturally they are now targets of the countries that they have harmed. How would you suggest that America, France, etc. deal with the groups such as ISIS? The members of ISISI continue do act the way that they do and it is reasonable for any country to retaliate against them. They continue to target innocent lives and without any qualms. The acts that they are taking are selfish. Now, new immigrants will face stigmatization just because they are middle eastern and France has recently tighten their borders, making it harder for refugees to enter. Now, a new islamic group wants to lead a similar attack against the United States. How is the United States supposed to respond to this? Obviously, the don’t want to completely eliminate a group of people as you mentioned in your post. Would you suggest that they capture them and bring them to trail? How should countries like France, America and other victim countries respond when their people have been massacred?

    Sources:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/11/15/what-did-it-really-mean-when-france-closed-its-borders/
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/11/16/a-new-islamic-state-video-threatens-a-paris-style-attack-on-washington/?tid=hybrid_experimentrandom_1_na

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  3. I do agree with a couple of your comments. However, I fundamentally disagree with the point you are trying to make. Sure, terrorists are people that have families, children, brothers and sisters. They instill terror and fear in the lives of others because, as you say, “they have seen friends killed in American drone strikes and have been held in totalitarian regimes uplifted by Western Imperialism.” However, to what extent is that reason enough to lend even the slightest bit justification for bombing innocent people who were just eating out for dinner, watching a soccer match or dancing around at a concert? What about those people? They also had families, children, brothers and sisters, who are now grieving for their loss. I know that you agree that the terrorists attacks in Paris were monstrous. However, I would like to add, that the people, or the terrorists, who carried out these attacks were also monstrous. How can we be sure that their next target is not soon, maybe somewhere near by? Yes, they are people with families, children, brothers and sisters. But, even they can only belong if they trained to carry the same hate, brainwashing one another. The hatred of those terrorists were so strong that they felt justified to kill innocent people, instill terror in the world and kill themselves in the process. They ended their own lives, to kill others. They are not scared of death, but you wish to spare it. They are people, but not the type of people me or you are. They are terrorists.

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  4. I think that humanizing terrorists that seek the death and pain of innocent lives is fundamentally incorrect especially when you tie their actions to faith and culture. These “people” do not care about faith and culture and they start out with the goal of political power and use American drone strikes as a method to further recruit others. Yes, drone strikes and American foreign policies in the Middle East has caused a lot of pain but we don’t see every civilian alive in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. joining their nearest militia to exact revenge. What separates people and terrorists is human compassion and logical thinking. Daesh (ISIS) has never been motivated to kill those people that have terrorized them or else how would you explain Bashar Al-Asaad’s forces still reigning while small and weak villages have been completely wiped off the map? Tying them to a culture or faith only hurts the large majority that follow that faith and manage to evade hurting others but I do agree with your overall message which I believe is that we can’t let ourselves be consumed by the same hate they have and follow their barbaric methods.

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