Who are the terrorists?
If you ask most people this question, it seems that the near-universal response is “Islamic jihadists” or some variation of this. This is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to summarize it. But let me try.
First, the facts show that jihadists are responsible for a tiny percentage of terrorism in the world. In fact, most terrorism – somewhere in the range of 90%+ – is carried out by by ethnic separatists rather than religiously motivated folks of any stripe. Think Progress details some of the data on this here. I have read other accounts of this with the same clear message: we have been duped into thinking of terrorism as an Islamic extremist thing since 9-11.
Second, even the jihadists are likely motivated more by the economic and social conditions of their lives than by Islam, even in its extreme versions. Chris Hedges expresses the radical notion that terrorism is:
…a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.
We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.
Third, nearly everything the US and other wealthy developed nations are doing is making terrorism worse: more desperate, thus more likely and more extreme in nature. This is complex, but essentially our imperialism and our media sensationalism work together to create the conditions in which terrorism thrives.
For a more detailed, and nuanced, discussion of this, read my friend Gareth’s insightful new post, We’re Fueling Terrorism. Gareth also makes the important point that Muslim leaders are speaking out against Islamic terrorism, and includes a great essay from Rabbi Josh Lesser illustrating that much-ignored truth.
In addition to these ways in which we are creating terrorism on the mundane level, it is also true at the deeper level – what might be thought of as the quantum spiritual level – that we are the terrorists.
As Buddhist teachers (especially Thich Nhat Hanh) have been saying for many years, we are one with all that exists. We are the victim, we are the perpetrator. It is only our ignorance – born of the dualistic conditioning to which we are all subjected – that leads us to see ourselves as separate from the other.
We are the victims, we are the bombers; we are the imperialists, we are the dispossessed. The deeper we are able to sink into that realization, the greater our understanding of reality.