In the wake of another awful attack on Tuesday, it’s time we started discussing some of the uncomfortable truths about terrorism. We owe it to the victims, not just of Tuesday but of various attacks here and abroad in the past. In order to stop it happening again, we need to understand what it even is, what we’re up against, and what is the most effective way to avoid it happening.
Of course, security services being vigilant, intelligence serviced being well-funded and communities being resourceful are all wonderful ways in which we already limit the horrendous damage from being much worse. But there is much more we need to acknowledge. Here are 4 uncomfortable truths we have to start talking about.
1) In the modern world, foreign policy has to be smarter with its use of violence.
It is little surprise that the bulk of the UK’s terrorist atrocities occur because of a chain of reactions often leading back to violent excursions into foreign lands. We go to war with the best of intentions, of course, but politicians should be much more aware that an enemy who perpetrates terrorism crosses borders. Attacking 1, 2 or even 3 different nations with bombs and troops will not stop the adherents here, and in other countries, from retaliating.
Very rarely do discussions and parliamentary votes on war take into account the likelihood of increased terror attacks; they get carried away, instead, with patriotism, opposing dictators, etc. They absolutely must also start considering the never-ending war of terrorism which it seemingly starts.
2) Terrorism isn’t a battle of territory, it’s a battle of ideas.
It may occasionally be necessary to arm rebels, fight on foreign shores and go after the regimes around the world which support terrorism. It also seems necessary to occasionally infringe civil liberties in order foil terrorist attacks which could kill multiple people. Yet that’s where our efforts mainly stop. We don’t seem to understand that this is actually a battle of ideas. As a result, we’re not even fielding a team to fight it.
ISIS, or whatever you want to call them, recruit around the globe with ideas. And these ideas are persuasive because they pitch the story of a deity-backed David vs. a cruel, imperial Goliath. Time after time, it is not terrorists from the countries we bomb which attack us, but the ideas they spread, which infect our young people, who do the damage for them. We are in a battle of ideas, and you need to grasp the next point in order to know how to fight it.
3) Terrorism is, almost always, religiously inspired or related.
In the wake of every attack, religious groups come out to condemn the actions, by stating the passages of their religious books which would seem to condemn these actions. Moderate religious people are rightly outraged that someone would commit such atrocities in their name, and they use their beloved scripture to condemn it.
Yet, it’s no mistake that the Bible and the Quran both inspire terrorism, whilst the ancient books of Aristotle, Plato or Pythagoras don’t. The latter do not tend to inspire violence, because despite their age, their work – full of intrigue and knowledge, but also doubt and wonder – has to be fully misunderstood, perhaps even completely ignores, to lead to violence. Whereas the aforementioned religious books have certainty in their commands, and all incite violence against non-believers in sections. That they contradict themselves later on with messages of peace or love is neither here nor there; kind people use these books to justify kindness, terrorists use them to justify violence. Both are equally valid if the book says both.
What’s more, despite what religious groups say, this point is reasonably obvious. For someone to make the ultimate sacrifice – their own life – one has to be both certain in one’s beliefs and sure that it will lead to a better outcome than before. That certainty, desperation to fend off otherwise rational ideas and promise of eternal reward is what drives suicide bombers. You simply do not find that anywhere but in the teachings of religion, be it organised or otherwise.
Terrorism is very difficult to explain without religion. Religion is very difficult to ignore as the cause of terrorism.
4) Secularism is a way forward, and the best idea we have to fight back with
That we do mental gymnastics following terrorist attacks, in order to get religion off the hook, is not wise. Terrorists are engaging us in a battle of ideas with our young people. And many times they win. Their message is of eternal reward, promised in ancient texts, and our response is ‘…love… peace…can’t we all just coexist?’ Well, no, not if that’s the best argument you’ve got.
This is a battle of ideas where the opponent is utilising what we have for centuries called the opiate of the masses. An organised, rebellious kind of religion where you can be a martyr and live forever in eternal happiness. And we are responding with meaningless platitudes on concepts most of us barely understand.
Yet, here in the UK, we are brilliantly equipped to fight such a battle of ideas. In fact, we helped start a revolution of thought several hundred years ago which has already fought off primitive thoughts in order to progress society. We were the society, along with countries like France, where the Enlightenment took place. Where people began to lay the foundations for reason, and the opposition to religion, which allowed science to flourish. In turn, everything from technology to medicine became completely, unrecognisably advanced.
We had these arguments on behalf of reason then, and we have them now. We just refuse to use them as we believe arguing against faith is arguing against religious people. It’s not. Religion is impossible to back with logic, difficult to defend in philosophy, and unsafe as a method of public reasoning. Faith is not a good way to form ideas, and it leaves people open to manipulation by people with unkind intentions. Whether it be the terrible Christian terrorism of the past (which continues in nations like America), or the current wave of Islamic terrorism, the rigid certainties of belief which religion provides are not useful or safe for society.
It’s okay to attack bad ideas. And religions are bad ideas. We need to be celebrating and championing uncertainty, doubt and debate, rather than devotion, faith and certainty. That is the way to win a battle of ideas with a particularly violent cult which is spreading across the globe. That is the way to engage, intrigue and win young minds – with honesty and intelligence. If not, even if Isis sizzles out over the coming years, there will be more groups just like it. Religious terrorism has been present throughout history and it won’t stop until secularism has confined religion to being the personal, spiritual belief it should only ever be; far away from government and communities.