Jakarta. Ankara. Brussels. Istanbul. Baghdad. Lahore.
Just three months into 2016, we have already seen these cities hit by senseless violence. Such attacks have shaken us up even halfway across the world, with only a minority of Singaporeans believing that a terrorist attack will not happen in Singapore.
Short of channeling the Calvin Chengs and Donald Trumps of the world, there are actually non-extremist ways that ordinary citizens can help to fight terrorism. Since this is a social media article, here is a listicle of what you can do to fight terrorism.
1. Understand terrorism doesn’t equal Islam
It’s easy to lump terrorism as Muslims, given how most high profile terrorist incidents in the 21st century have primarily been orchestrated by groups who claim to be part of the Islamic faith. In actual fact, Muslims, even extremist ones, don’t own the word.
Depending on who you ask, the word terrorism originated either with the French or with a Russian, though some would even argue that Guy Fawkes was the original terrorist in the failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up the British Parliament in the 17th century.
Indeed, if there’s one consistency about terrorists, it’s that they are religion blind. Throughout history, there have been terrorists in the name of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism as well as cults.
What is true, however, is that most, though not all, terrorist groups rally around religion. Why that is the case is simple to understand – people can justify atrocity most easily if it is done in the name of God. More than that, people are most willing to give up their own lives when they think they are doing the work of God. That, incidentally, is why killing their families won’t work, because religion teaches one to sacrifice one’s family if it is their god’s will.
So to fight terrorism today, you first have to understand that organisations like Boko Haram and ISIS are simply using Islam as a means to serve the ends of their own leaders, just as others have used Christianity, Buddhism and many other religions in the past for similar agendas.
2. Understand why people become terrorists
It is easy to think that people who join groups like ISIS must be psychopaths. After all, who could possibly want to behead people on video or blow themselves up with bombs?
There is a little truth in it, but I would probably limit the number of psychopaths within such organisations to the leaders. Scientists estimate that there are no more than 1% of the general population who are psychopaths, and even this number is probably exaggerated, because researchers often extrapolate this kind of statistic from sample groups, and no one can really argue otherwise because for most of us, the extent of our research stops at Googling.
If you look at the way ISIS has gone about recruiting, however, it’s clear that they are targeting Muslim youths. Dr John Horgan, a forensic expert and expert in analysing terrorist behaviour at Georgia State University, told Teen Vogue: “[It’s] that feeling we all had as teenagers: ‘I don’t fit. I don’t belong here. I want something bigger. I want to do something better with my life.” Those are the types of things recruiters latch onto and exploit, and they’re very good at it. It’s a fantasy, ultimately, that recruiters will use to keep the conversation going on.”
If you were to think about the fact that ISIS has to resort to teen psychology to recruit disenfranchised youths, it strongly suggests that there really aren’t that many like-minded sociopaths that would join them at the drop of the hat, at least not enough to become cannon fodder anyway.
So if these guys are psychopaths, why then are they so good at convincing young Muslims to join them? Partly, it’s because psychopaths are seductive and often charismatic.
Just think about it, it’s littered in our history and literature.
It doesn’t matter if the protagonist runs around turning humans into gourmet dishes or sucking blood, we find ourselves secretly rooting for Hannibal Lecter or blatantly proclaiming ourselves Team Edward. You would think that no one in their right mind would listen to a short, physically unattractive man asking a nation to kill all the Jews, but yet, a nation did.
It’s really important to understand that very few humans are actually evil by nature, just as it is equally important to understand that even good people can often do bad things.
Which leads to the thing you can actually do …
3. Je suis famille
Today, it’s really easy to rip into members of City Harvest Church, and boy, have social media really ripped into them. Yes, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but has any of the “are you blind?” or “are you stupid?” comments actually made any CHC member change their minds about Kong Hee and the church?
Indeed, the opposite was observably true, it made them ring fence around themselves and devote themselves even more. The more extreme they were accused of being, the more radical they became.
Terrorism, in many ways, is similar.
See, terrorists do not call themselves terrorists. They are revolutionaries, they are freedom fighters, they are Jihadis, they are mujahideen. But most important of all, and this is the one word that cuts across all group archetypes – they are family.
And when it comes to family, one is often blind to all the shortcomings. This is true regardless of whether it is blood family, church family, gang family or terrorist family. When one feels like they are part of a family, they will justify and rationalise the most atrocious of behaviours from other family members.
To beat terrorists, you have to be a stronger family than their proposition. No matter how black that sheep in your family is, and the word family here isn’t restricted to blood, you mustn’t give up on them. Everyone sins, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone.
And yes, some make them over and over again. Certainly, there must have been times that you wanted to bury your best friend where no one can ever find him, or worse, block him on Facebook, but most times, what they really need is a reminder that you are family to them.
A caring family. A kind family. A loving family. A family the way family should be.
It sounds really naive, that all it takes to fight terrorism is love and kindness, but in the past half century of trying to bomb each other out of existence, has anything else worked?
Bringing back into the fold friends and family that have strayed may not necessarily end the threat of ISIS, but every potential recruit that you can starve them of will certainly weaken them. If you have a young Muslim in your life today, do your part to remind them of the family they have in you.
The writer isn’t a terrorist expert, but for a loving family and friends, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to have joined a gang in his youth. And ISIS, he reckons, is really just a big gang.