When something happens like the Paris attacks, the bombings in Lebanon, or the shootings in Kenya, we’re all left with the same question: What should I do?
We get messages from every direction, telling us to feel shocked, asking us to vote differently, or suggesting we send bombs, or money, or boots on the ground. It feels like the whole world is demanding our support, our anger, or both.
And it’s in these moments that I’m reminded of a simple way to fight terrorism without ever leaving my home, or joining the army, or voting for someone who promises to wipe ‘them’ all out.
How To Fight Terrorism With Compassion
1. Understand Your Enemy
Normally we think of this as understanding the political and economic situation in a region of the Middle East or Africa. But understanding our enemy is simpler than that.
Here’s all we need to know: Our enemy is driven by love.
Every bomb set and every war fought, was fought for love. Often a twisted, distorted, fear-driven version of love, but love nonetheless.
Fighters in Afghanistan leave the armed forces to join ISIS because the pay allows them to take care of their families. Young men are radicalized because they feel lost and hopeless and extremists give them a pathway to feeling whole and powerful. People fight for the love of their God because they feel connected to something greater than themselves and want to serve it.
Their actions are deplorable, insane to us, but the root of those action comes from the same desires you and I feel everyday.
I understand how you can convince yourself to kill others, because I’ve convinced myself to do some despicable things. I’ve lied to myself as I’ve cheated on girlfriends, stolen from jobs, deceived my parents, and punched holes in walls. I justified each act with the skill of a Washington lawyer or a religious zealot.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
It’s not easy to see our enemies as humans, but they are. They are people suffering in the way that we would, who have come to a conclusion that seems unimaginable only because we can’t imagine the path of their lives.
2. Understand the Battlefield
Some people think the battlefield is outside ourselves. They see it in Syria, or in Iraq, or Kenya, or on the streets of Paris.
But the most powerful weapon the terrorists wield aren’t bombs, or guns, or even Twitter accounts. Their most potent weapon is fear and what fear makes us do. It’s this fear that makes us fight wars, reject refugees, and hate our enemies.
The battlefield isn’t out there in the world; it’s behind our eyes and underneath our ribs.
We can’t stop darkness a world away but we can seek to understand and know the darkness in our own hearts. We can’t change the minds of every extremist but we can seek to change the nature of our own minds. We can free ourselves from the delusions, prejudices, and barriers we place between our compassion and the world we fear.
3. Do Your Duty
Our greatest ability as humans is to love and it’s also our greatest duty. And while this life asks a lot of us, this duty asks even more. It asks us to love killers, to empathize with lunatics, and to value the lives of even our most hated enemies.
It feels good to get mad, to resort to the rhetoric of war, to post angry rants on Facebook, or to throw up your hands and give up. It’s much easier to hate our enemy and paint them as inhuman monsters, but this isn’t the truth. If we dehumanize the enemy, we simply do what every despot and radical leader from Hitler to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has done.
Instead this duty of love asks us open our to what seems impossible. It asks us to find a way to love boldly and bravely and without borders.
Because while our ability to end the violence in the world is tremendously limited, our ability to end it within ourselves is boundless. And it’s in this ability that our greatest hope for victory ultimately lies.
Our ability to end the world’s violence is limited, but my ability to end it in myself is boundless.”