Terrorism can be beaten — but not by fighting

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When it comes to “fighting terrorism”, it seems to me that we, in the West, almost always get things exactly wrong.

I mean, even the term “fighting terrorism” ‒ which we sometimes call the “War on Terror” ‒ is an oxymoron. Because as soon as we start fighting – or warring – then terror will inevitably ensue.

And so, in the wake of the terrifying Paris attacks, you can hear the the drumroll of fear and the call to arms.

François Hollande, the French president, for example, has said France is “at war” with ISIS and has immediately closed his nation's borders. Closer to home, we hear more of the same, and talk of amping up the security apparatus. Of boots on the ground in the Middle East. Of even more obtrusive anti-terror laws. Of even greater targeting of Muslims and refugees. And people who maybe look a little different.

All the things we have tried before. All the things that have worked so very well up until now.

Of course, this is a predictable response. An understandable response. When someone bloodies your nose and knocks you to the ground, the first thing you want to do, in your outrage and humiliation, is to leap to your feet and strike them back. To hurt them as much, if not more, than they have just hurt you.

But is this a clever response? Is anything done in anger ever really clever?

And, of course, for the "reclaimed" souls among us who bubble effervescent about the supposed backwardness of Islam, it is not a very “Christian” response either. Well, not New Testament Christian, anyway. The Old Testament ‒ the ancient Hebrew bible ‒ does talk about an "eye for an eye" and of vengeance being exacted "sevenfold" upon ones' enemies, but Jesus Christ was really more of a SNAG.

I mean, take this Messianic quote:

'You have heard that it was said: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.'

In times like this, irrespective of your belief system, it strikes me that maybe our zombie god has a point here. It seems to me that the only way you can win against terror is by taking away people’s fear — or at least not adding to it. By love and compassion, not hatred and war. By setting a good example and winning people to your side, not trying to utterly rub out of existence those who oppose you.

Back to Paris. U.S. President Barack Obama said on the day of the attacks that ISIS had been “contained”. He has been pilloried now for that comment, of course.

People say that, no, the attacks in Paris show that ISIS is vibrant and strong. That it is on the rise.

But I think they are wrong. That Obama may have been right.

People do not blow themselves up ‒ not even religious fanatics ‒ if they have other, better options. A power that is comfortable and secure in its ascendancy does not send out suicide bombers. By definition, again, suicide bombing is a tactic of last resort. The Paris attacks, it seems to me, were a desperate tactic, perhaps from a declining organisation, under pressure, losing militarily and hoping to recruit new fighters to its cause. To bolster its shrinking inventory of murderers by extinguishing a few in the City of Light.

And so striking back in anger is exactly what our attackers want us to do. Why else would ISIS attack innocent civilians other than to stimulate outrage and encourage furious retaliation? When the West begins vilifying Muslims and limiting public freedoms, they must believe, then the conditions become right for more desperate and angry young men to join their war. And that closing borders might give many less angry young men no other choice. Join ISIS or die might be the only options available to them.

And so what is the answer? What do we do when pitiless murderers strike out against innocent souls?

The answer is to stay vigilant and to protect each other, but to not strike back in fear and anger. The answer is compassion. The answer, if this is at all possible, is to stop the wars and the killing. To remove the men of war. To stop shooting. To stop bombing. To own up, perhaps, for the sins of the past ‒ our own atrocities ‒ the invasions, and the looting, and the lies, and to try to show that Western culture, democracy and secularism is something worth preserving. Perhaps we could even try to open up our borders to all the millions of displaced people all over the world. The ones without homes. The ones without hope.

Perhaps we could try to rid the world of its rampant inequality and unfairness. Where the West has all and the rest have fuck all. Because this is what drives the young, angry and humiliated men to ISIS and its analogues. That makes people so angry and humiliated they feel their lives are forfeit. That makes them take up arms and take up bombs, and strike back at innocent, blameless people.

I think that’s what Jesus would likely do. But this isn’t a Christian thing. This is what any compassionate, aware human being would conclude. Christ simply being a classic – and arguably now highly ironic – public representation of good. Because most of the Christians I know are nothing like their Christ. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Because being like Christ is far too hard for Christians. We have weapons, and we have armies, and we have war and so we will fight. Of course. And the terror will escalate. And the piles of dead bodies will rise up high into the sky. And the fighting ‒ yes, the terrible fighting ‒ will go on forever.

And some day soon it will be impossible to tell who were the terrorists and who were the ones we sent out to fight them ‒ to avenge us ‒ as if there was ever any difference at all.

Except if we refuse to fight. If we turn the other cheek, perhaps we may all be saved.

You can follow Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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