Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Power Paradox

Here is a paradox. It seems that a group of people professing to believe in Islam, a religion of Mercy and Compassion, decided that it was their religious duty to kill as many other people as they could and cause the maximum possible sorrow.

The idiocy of this is obvious. Much harder to understand is the logic. It is all too easy to say that the terrorists are simply ‘evil’, and thus absolve ourselves of the task of attempting to understand how they came to believe the indefensible.

The motives of terrorists are usually explained in terms of grievance. “The people of my community are oppressed,” goes the argument. “I will strike back against the oppressors, and thereby protect my community.”

It may be that the foot-soldiers believe this to be true. In a simplistic sense, it might seem a coherent argument. “You hit my brother and I will hit you. Thus, you will not hit my brother again.” But reality is obviously the opposite. When an oppressed group commits an act of terrorism, history shows that the result is the increased oppression of that group. The foot-soldiers of terrorism may believe the result of their actions will be the protection of their community but they have mistaken black for white.

Perhaps we need to look higher up the chain of command to the intellectuals who send the foot-soldiers out. They must know what the result will be. Backlash. Further oppression.

The leaders of terrorism are usually seeing a bigger picture. They know that further suffering causes further radicalisation of their community, which causes more young men and young women to be attracted to the cause. More foot-soldiers. For them, the backlash is not an unpleasant consequence of terrorism, it is the objective.

More foot-soldiers lead them closer to the day of revolution, so goes the argument. However, there is another result. More foot-soldiers, give the leaders of terrorism greater power within their own community.

Although I write this as the atrocities in Mumbai are unfolding, I could be writing just as easily about any episode of inter-community violence, from present Islamist terrorism back to the obscenity of the Crusades, where Christianity, a religion of love, was used to justify the slaughter of the entire non-Christian population of Jerusalem. The power-hungry have ever used community grievances and violence in attempts to achieve power for themselves.

Thankfully the peaceful have an even more powerful tool at their disposal. If the organisers of terrorism intend to gain power by generating a backlash of hatred against their own community, every one of us has the opportunity to undermine that goal by showering the community in question with love and fellowship.

As Abdu'l-Baha said: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”

No comments: