The solution to the terrorism problem

Terrorists: it's what the big army calls the little army.

As a child, I lived through two wars, and I was exposed to various acts of terrorism. When people speak of "terrorism on American soil" as if it were a new thing, I begin to wonder where they've been living the past few years. While incidents such as the Oklahama City bombing or the bombing of the New York World Trade Centre [in 1993, as well as the attack in 2001] might stand out as highlights, every action, whether it be the government's at Ruby Ridge and Waco or the Ku Klux Klan's in the name of White Supremacy, or the Panthers in the name of Black Supremacy, that uses systematic violence as a means of coercion is terrorism.

I abhor violence. I don't think violence solves any problems. This is not to deny that at times violence does provide a therapeutic or cathartic release, or even treat a problem, but it doesn't offer a cure. Violence may satisfy bloodlust, but in the end will only lead to more violence.

Terrorism is usually about making a statement. A government that wages war against a country whose policies it doesn't agree with is no better than a terrorist who wages war against the same government whose policies they don't agree with (and governments of the world past and present are some of the greatest mass murders). Both end up making a statement about their ideologies, and both end up killing innocent people. However noble their goals might be, in either cases, their actions are unjustified.

Draconian security measures are not the answer to the problem. I think it is impossible to prevent terrorist acts from happening, if someone really wants to do it. Sure, we can always punish the perpetrators, but that is not a solution. Anyone who commits terrorist acts as a statement is trying to say something that was not listened to before. The solution lies in analysing the cause of the terrorist act, and figuring out what the message is, and going to the source of the problem. If the source isn't tackled appropriately, eliminate one terrorist, and another will take their place. No amount of security, not even the kind found in a police state, can really curb terrorist attacks. As technology improves, as more and more freedoms of the people are attacked in the name of security, we don't see the world becoming a safer place to live in.

Take for example the recent pipe bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. There was a lot of security at the venue, and there were plenty of precautions taken. Yet someone managed to cause damage by targeting a weak spot. Weak spots cannot be completely eliminated. The harder the law enforcement officials try by enforcing measures that exchange freedom for security, the more likely it is that other terrorist attacks will follow. There are several reasons why this should be: (i) increased security may be perceived as a challenge, (ii) increased security may be perceived as a sign of fear and/or acquiescing to the terrorists' actions, and finally, (iii) increased security might lead to further dissatisfaction with the establishment, leading to a new breed of terrorists.

On the other hand, if we could figure out what exactly made people who engaged in these acts unhappy, perhaps we could solve the problem once and for all. This is definitely not going to be possible in all cases, since some acts of violence are simply unexplicable, but this should be a better cure than passing rigourous laws that trample on the freedoms of the people. In the case of the 1996 Olympic games, it's clear that the Atlanta officials might've stepped on the toes of various people. Perhaps in some cases, the officials didn't know or worse, didn't care, about the people whose lives they were disrupting. Anyone of them could have been angered by such incidents and the pipe bombing could've been a retaliation. Is it possible to completely avoid stepping toes? Clearly not, but I think steps can easily be taken to minimise this, more easily and with a greater marginal benefit than taking harsh security measures. Even if stepping toes is inevitable, care should be taken that when it happens a resolution of some sort is reached. If not, it could hit back at you when you least expect it.

John Cage, the great composer, was once asked if there is too much suffering in this world. His response was that there is just the right amount. In a similar vein, one could argue that there is just the right amount of terrorism, i.e., it's a part of human nature to hate and to be hated, and to coerce those who don't submit to pet views. Does this mean we should just give in to it? Does this mean we should stop trying to find a solution? No, because attempting to find a solution is also part of our destiny. The solution, however, lies not in targeting anger at the people who perform terrorist acts, but in analysing the cause of why the acts were performed in the first place. Instead of asking how someone could be so hateful, one needs to ask what has happened to create such hatred.

Some quotes in this regard:

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 one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." --Matthew 5:38:45 [I'm a staunch atheist for the record, but as a pacifist, I find this quote inspirational.]
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. --Gandhi
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. --Nietzsche


I wrote this a few years ago, in 1996, but my observations hold true even more today, two days after the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.

Pseudointellectual ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||