First let us look at the enemy, so to speak. I heard of a story on a Muslim talk show where a 3 year old child was interviewed. The subject was how the child felt about Jews. While you might expect the interviewer to be objective and the child fairly normal, instead the child was clearly brainwashed and the interviewer helped complete the child’s thoughts in the malevolent form expected by the audience. What was truly remarkable was the mundane manner in which a 3 year old child spouted off hateful comments towards the Jews as if self evidently true. In some ways it was reminiscent of the trial of Eichmann, the Nazi torturer who sat calmly by as witnesses testified to his atrocities. When asked if it was true, he remarked in a matter of fact manner that he was just following orders. In fact, after the Holocaust, social scientists engaged in substantial research finding that the majority of average people would harm or even risk accidentally killing innocent people if they were ordered to do so by an authority figure. They did not lose their sense of ethics, but suspended it in favor of a perceived authority figure.
With this underpinning, mischievous individuals within the Islam whose view of the world is distorted manipulate people to create a narrow view or oversimplification of their conflict with the west by echoing historical conflicts such as the Crusades. These individuals propagate anger which is based upon a distortion of reality. Then when their distortion of reality takes on a life of its own, suddenly it generates more anger. This situation is disastrous. When we look at the broad population of people willing to hate and kill Americans from the Muslim world, we look at their “training” and the traditions of hatred spanning centuries, solving the problem is clearly daunting.
As the source of the problem, we can look to the poverty and exploitation of the Arab world. Certain jealousies are developed and hatred directed to us, as we do have the responsibility for exploitation to acquire oil and have benefitted economically. Further, a certain rigidity in thinking about religion is an additional factor. Perhaps the view that there can only be one Allah, and the existence of a multi-religious society such as America is a threat to this view. This factor really highlights a lack of education on their own religion, as Islam itself is more open to people of other faiths and abhors violence. Ultimately, these factors are combined with enormous hatred, strong willpower and determination leading to suicide bombing.
The problem is clearly long term in nature. So adopting a short term solution will not address the underlying cause. Short term solutions are very important – we need to patrol our borders and try to stop terrorist acts in any manner we can. But without addressing the underlying long run causes, for every Osama bin Laden we kill, we can expect 3 more to pop up.
The long term solution needs to address the education, poverty and oppression of the Arab people. Rather than separating them from us, we need to look at all of humanity as one family. We need to view the world in pluralistic form and help each group to find the peace and happiness we all seek in our lives. Different approaches will certainly apply to different populations, but we all aspire to the same goals. In the Arab world, the common man on the street has been unjustly treated by their governments in many cases. In our relentless drive to acquire material possessions, we traded oil for the well being of our Arab brothers and sisters. Many of these governments were replaced by other oppressive forms, but the man on the street still blames us to some degree. We need to take personal responsibility to improve the lives of these people, both individually and through our government.
We also need to work towards improving their education. While education may include technical knowledge which will enable them to elevate their lifestyle through better jobs, education of the heart is also included. Fortunately many Arabs already have a natural affinity for the Muslim faith, which when properly practiced includes ethics, compassion, nonviolent responses to problems, alleviates hatred and promotes peace.
When we consider a large swath of the Arab population as having a distorted and oversimplified view, we might consider that such a long term plan would not work. Many “Soviet citizens” still march to their death in support of Lenin and hating the west. In fact, people who have been brainwashed may never inspect the assumptions underlying their “training.” That said, if we educate the young and as many of the elderly as will accept new information, and then we take away the reasons the Arab world may hate the west by working to eliminate their poverty and oppression, long run results will clearly be improved. We will cut off the new supply of potential suicide bombers, and the current batch is limited. Over time our risk of attack will decline and eventually come to an end.
While it may be difficult to embark of such a program of education and improvement in social conditions in the Arab world, we need to consider the alternative should we wish to end terrorism. The short answer is we really don’t have any. The short term patchwork of preventing attacks cannot work on its own as more suicide bombers are born every day. The Arabs in question suffer from a distorted view of the source of their own misery which is used to promote anger. Only by communicating with them on the level of their perceived misery, that is ending their poverty and oppression, can we challenge at least their determination if not the underlying view itself. Educating the mind to become more open, flexible and ethical further undermines their view. We must prioritize the needs of these people above our own relentless pursuit of material gain or suffer continued risk of violent attacks.
Another question that may arise from this discussion is whether hatred is learned or taught. The answer is actually both. A mind in a peaceful state does not move. There is no greed or hatred. On a fundamental level we can think of the notion we have of ourselves, which is inherent at birth. Greed represents pulling towards oneself things we believe will make us happy. Hatred represents pushing away the opposite. An infant definitely has both. As we learn more about our world we may experiment and find that relinquishing both the pushing and pulling allows a greater sense of peace to emerge. With sufficient quiet on our part, we may inspect our underlying assumptions about who we are and whether the objects we believe will cause happiness or misery actually do what we think. We may enter a world without distortion. Even someone who is brainwashed (i.e. taught to hate) can get tired of the lack of peace and happiness found from hatred and experiment to find greater peace. Eliminating these irrational emotions will result in a more peaceful and happier existence in every human being who ventures into this experiment.
So while we may fear that learned hatred can never be reversed or that hatred is inherent to our existence, we all have the tools to eliminate hatred and find a greater sense of peace within ourselves. The simple fact that all paths to happiness lead away from hatred can inspire some confidence in us that a long term plan such as this can work. By removing the superficial source of hatred through education and improved economic/social environment, even those brainwashed may find themselves freer to inspect whether their “training” leads to happiness or misery. Suicide bombing is quite an extreme event. We do have sociological studies that suggest the majority of people are willing to risk killing someone else if ordered by an authority figure and no penalty is present. How many would be willing to kill themselves when they have a comfortable life and exist in a more pluralistic/educated culture? People born into a culture of hatred spanning centuries can learn and the cycle can end, but it won’t happen overnight.