Although the concept of terrorism is not new, the modern version has been empowered by sophisticated global technology which allows terrorist acts to be viewed and heard almost instantaneously – more effectively horrifying us and more quickly spreading our immediate emotional and often irrational reaction. It’s time to put on our metaphorical armour and declare war on individuals and groups that think they can bend us to their will, defeat our spirit, and give up our faith in humanity!
Terrorism is escalating because it has become more effective in achieving its ends – horrifying us, changing our behaviour in the belief that it is more widespread than ever before and we are more vulnerable than ever before, effectively turning us against each other. And wanting to feel secure, willingly giving up more of our own freedoms, living in mistrust of people who are different from us, and developing more restrictive and harsh government policies around immigration, law-breakers, and foreigners. This, of course, turns into a spiral of anxiety, feeling of oppression by targeted groups, and division within society which leaves our young people more open to radicalization, and the growth of extreme right-wing political support. This is how terrorists win! Our quality of life deteriorates and our humanity erodes under the fear and insecurity created for this exact purpose.
From the point of view of a terrorist, they have more impact by slaughtering one person in front of a camera then raising an army to conquer a nation. They are more like the bogey man under your bed rather than a tangible target, luring others into the darkness by appearing to be everywhere and invincible, fighting against large systems or institutions that are oppressive and faceless. And if we allowed ourselves to be seduced into their fantasy, we will continue to see it become a growing reality in our world.
We need to arm ourselves and our young people, not with guns or by building bigger walls, but by creating as powerful a narrative as the terrorists have created. Terrorists need an audience that is willing to believe what they are selling, if not to actually join them but to fear that they are as powerful as they would like to be seen. If instant communication, division and fear, and ruthlessness are their weapons, we then must fight fire with fire – the fire of our conviction in democracy, equality, and most importantly for our youth, a strong sense of purpose. Our institutions, though they may be far from perfect, must be supported to protect our freedoms.
The countries from which ISIS and many other terrorist groups originate live under regimes that are dictatorial, racist, misogynist, classist, and have successfully misdirected their people’s frustrations and anger with them, transforming into anti-western beliefs. That is not to say that western nations have not fueled these sentiments by allowing corporations and some government policies to exploit and oppress individuals in these nations (and we must review our roles and take responsibility for our behaviour in the world) but we are being used as scapegoats by these governments to obfuscate the mistreatment of their own people. Recently, we have seen the rise of revolutions against these governments and it is no coincidence that we have seen a parallel rise in terrorism. It is the perfect distraction, emotional release, and misdirection for those who are afraid of losing power and wealth.
Terrorism will continue to plague the world and steadily grow if people perceive these actions as legitimate and believe that these groups represent people who are justified in their hatred of organizations and nations that are targeted. It will continue to grow if our reaction is not just horror and sadness at barbarous acts of violence but a willingness to give up our own freedoms, target disenfranchised or disadvantaged groups, and create doubt about our own beliefs in democracy as not the perfect system but the best system to protect individual rights. Terrorists have declared a psychological war against us, one that inspires some of us to hide, others to strike out at people who are different from ourselves, and many of us to question our faith in humanity. Our media reflects our belief that corruption is everywhere, and hate and violence is more natural to us than kindness and tolerance – which further feeds into our spiral of extremism and radicalization.
If we want to get off of this merry-go-round, it cannot be strictly the job of political leaders and security personnel, but we must learn to recognize the song of the sirens that are luring us to our deaths. We must arm ourselves with a belligerent proactive refusal to give up on our faith in humanity and our democratic institutions. We must refuse to live in fear and act out of fear. And finally, we must shine the light on the governments and organizations that oppress their people for personal wealth and power, and dismantle myths that allow dictators (in the form of individuals, organizations, or corporations) to justify their rule and enforce arbitrary limitations on individuals based on religion, sex, class, and ethnicity. By doing so we will strengthen our own institutions and begin to disempower terrorist groups who believe we do not have the inner strength to confront their actions with conviction, rational thought, and determination to destroy their power at their root.
It is vital to remember that terrorism is a political act and its goal is to create change; it is about impact on a society. The terrorists’ objective is to disrupt the peaceful existence and diminish the quality of life of that society. If we refuse to change in the way they desire, their actions will eventually become futile. But if we fall prey to their tactics, we will not only diminish ourselves and empower them, but create a hell on earth where violence and hate are believed to be righteous while optimism and faith in humanity become a fairytale. And then they will not only have won, but we will become them.