Once again, the world is reeling from another tragedy that humanity just cannot rid itself of. The constant drumbeat of conflict has reared its ugly head again with the terrorist attacks in Paris. I am not interested in the motives of the terrorists, I am interested in what can be done to address the underlying causes of these events. Terrorists are only a handful of people on this planet, but they command huge influence by committing acts of violence.
The first thing that has to be addressed is religion. I am an Atheist so I want to make sure that is understood up front before I go any further. My perspective is that religion can be warped into a justification for anything that can be imagined. This is true regardless of the religion involved, in this instance they are all the same. Religion is dangerous in situations like these because it provides people with a culturally acceptable excuse to do the things that their own supposed beliefs clearly state are wrong. There is nothing more dangerous than a handful of people with a supposed inside knowledge of what god wants, no matter the name they give to god.
Religion provides these people with an excuse to commit acts of terrorism. Religion is used as their justification, and again, this is dangerous because it absolves the terrorists of actual guilt (in their eyes) for their acts. Being a warrior for god is a convenient excuse for people to use when they want to get their way. It eliminates the ability to reason with these individuals and convinces them of their own infallibility. There are no terrorists other than those we as humanity have
With religion established as a shield for these actions, we now have to look for other motivating factors. Political oppression is one of the big ones. When people in parts of the world cannot live in peace, then violence becomes their norm against which they judge events. The Paris attackers will clearly use the situation in the Middle East as their justification for their actions. Without the religion aspect being thrown in, this is a political attack. When one country uses military force against another, it is called WAR. When the people who suffer from this war cannot respond in any other way, then terrorism becomes their preferred alternative since it basically their only alternative.
I always wonder about the mindset of someone who is willing to kill themselves for their cause. Is it any different to throw oneself against a military force while strapped with explosives or firing a gun than it is to do the same things against civilians in the country that sent those military forces? Obviously from the point of view in the West, it is. The problem is that people in the West have become so accustomed to fighting a war somewhere else that it loses the real impact that it should have on us. While we will bemoan the loss of innocent lives, what make that any different from the innocent lives that are lost every day in those countries where military force is being employed? From the perspective of the terrorist, there is no difference. In their minds, it is simply visiting violence upon others as it has been visited upon them. No amount of trying to complain about innocence will change that argument. Sitting in a cafe in Paris is no different than sitting in a cafe in Beirut or Baghdad or Kabul to them. Sadly, this is a very important point that we never want to address. If we spent the time to reason things out, we would be closer to finding a real solution to the problems that inspire terrorism.
The next item we should look at is the political oppression in these countries. When foreign interests dictate what type of leadership will be tolerated in other countries, is it any wonder why these leaders are not viewed as legitimate by their own people? When these leaders are seen as tools of the nations that would, or already have, use military force to get their way why should we expect them to be respected and viewed as legitimate by the people they allegedly lead? Trying to install a leader that is acceptable to us is not the answer. We cannot impose our values onto another country. This is not because our values are wrong, it is because they will not be viewed as legitimate by the people in the countries where this is attempted. It is a form of colonialism or imperialism in their eyes. We should lead by example within our own countries and not try to impose what we hold dear onto others unless they ask for help as a nation, and not as a leader who lacks legitimacy.
Next on the list of things that have to be addressed in hatred. This ties very closely to the religion aspect mentioned earlier. When one version of god is viewed as superior to another version of god, conflict is inevitable. The problem is once again that religion serves the purpose of absolving terrorists of the blame for their actions. This is true whether the terrorist is a bomber pilot of a suicide bomber. Acting in "god's name" is a means of justifying oppression. It leads to the dehumanization of those who do not share the same belief system.