Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Makes a Terrorist Tick?

“I don’t understand why these Islamic terrorist do the things they do.”

The speaker was, I believe, wholly serious. What does make a person so sure of the righteousness of his cause that he can justify an attack on innocent people in order to gain attention for his grievance? My response did not answer his concern directly but instead pointed to the fact that Islam is not the only religious, or philosophical, or political ideology that inspires such actions. Our own nation is peppered with survivalists, para-military, and neo-fascist groups whose behaviors mirror, in many respects the paranoia and radicalism of Islamic terrorists.

Before the horrific attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the failed attempt to target the Capital, an American born terrorism succeeded in blowing the front off the McMurray building in Oklahoma City, killing more than 400 people, many of them children under school age. Radicalism and violence are human traits, not associated exclusively with any particular nationality or race or religion. Human history gives us little reason to believe we can ever obliterate it from the earth.

Does that mean there is nothing we can do to lessen the frequency, and reduce the casualty rate of such tragedies? I don’t think so. My friend rightly pointed out that the only ultimate solution to mass killings and other atrocious violence is a spiritual one. Agreed! If everyone came to believe as I do (and as he does) those things would cease to happen. I’m against them. God is against them. Most of God’s people are against them. In a truly Christian world they would not occur.

But we do not live in anything resembling a Christian world, not even a Christian nation. Only a minority of the earth’s people live in a Christian household. So, what are we to do about the violence around us?

We Americans have a constitutionally formed government by which we can attempt to regulate the actions of our citizens through the enforcement of reasonable laws. But getting reasonable laws requires two things: 1) a willingness to be reasonable and 2) a willingness to relinquish enough personal freedom to allow agreed upon laws to function as they should.

We are in a debate right now over the need to protect ourselves from violence such as we’ve seen played out in theaters and churches and schools over the last few months. Sadly there are those who say they are appalled at the carnage, particularly of children, but who also say there are no “reasonable” limitations on the ownership of high power, rapid fire guns, such as those used in these incidents, that they would support. Most certainly they would not support the banning of such weapons of mass destruction. Beyond that, recent news items have quoted Sheriffs across the country who say that even if reasonable laws are enacted they will not enforce them.

It is beyond frustrating – it engenders a sense of futility – when national leaders (congress members, law enforcement officials, and community leaders) declare that they will not budge on any issue that restricts their freedoms for the safety even of their own children and grandchildren. That is the mentality of a David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians who led his followers to a fiery death because he would not submit to the laws of the land. It is the mentality of a Jim Jones whose whole community committed suicide rather than submit to legitimate authority. And yes, it is the mentality of Islamic terrorists who will sacrifice their lives and the lives and thousands of innocent people rather than work peacefully for the resolution of the problems they are concerned about; rather than give up an iota of their freedom for the common good.

So, what is it that makes a terrorist tick? First it is terror; a terror engendered by fear and ignorance. But it is more than that, it is arrogance; an assurance that the terrorist has all the information he needs to make life and death decisions for himself, his family, his followers, and those who will become his target. And finally it is access; access to followers, finances, opportunity, and instruments of destruction. Laws are limited in controlling the terror that drives demented minds, or the arrogance of sinful hearts, but they can make it harder for terrorists to amass the instruments of destruction needed to pull off the kinds of atrocities we’ve endured this last year. Laws can, and should, determine who can legitimately have and use the weapons of war.

Civil society (civilization) depends upon law and obedience to law in order to exist. It feels, sometimes, like our civilization is crumbling around us and that those we’ve elected to uphold it are letting us down. They speak the language of righteousness (even as servants of the Prince of Peace) and threaten to back up their words with a hail of bullets. Then there will be peace on earth.

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