Apr 23, 2019

Is tit for tat terrorism now inevitable?

When you are a child your first instinct is to hit back at others who have hit you or with whom you are frustrated (I see this a bit with my 19-month old grandson). We have to be taught not to lash out at others – in other words to resist our natural reactions. This is a learned, not a natural, behaviour.

In some religions this has been phrased as ‘do unto others as you wish them to do unto you’. In other words, think about how you want to be treated and then treat those around you similarly. What a great world this would be if more of us took this to heart!

Alas, this does not seem to be happening a lot these days, especially when it comes to terrorism. The Sri Lankan government reported today that the horrible attacks on Sunday, believed to have been carried out by a hitherto relatively unknown Islamist extremist group, were in retaliation for last month’s massacre in two New Zealand mosques in Christchurch by a far right extremist, who claimed his actions were partly in response to a terrorist attack in Stockholm, Sweden in April 2017 by an Islamist extremist in which a young (supposedly) Christian girl was killed . The blame game and the revenge attacks go on and on….

Before going on to what this means I’d like to express my surprise at this recent intelligence. How does a group of nobodies plan eight near simultaneous suicide bombs and other explosive attacks a scant five weeks after what happened in New Zealand? Is that even possible? Or was something in the works already and the mosque massacre has been used to justify killings in churches? Will we ever know exactly what transpired?

If these attacks were indeed meant to take revenge for NZ this is very worrisome. It points to a far greater capability than many would have thought possible for National Thowheed Jama’at (another group was also named – Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim). Or it supports the theory that the terrorist outfit had outside help. In this light Islamic State claimed responsibility today: we have to take this announcement carefully as IS also said it was behind the Las Vegas shootings in October 2017, and we know that not to be the case. IS needs good news in the wake of the loss of the so-called ‘Caliphate’ and getting back in the headlines can help the organisation recruit new followers.

But back to the main theme. Will these heinous acts invite for tit for tat ones? Are we destined to ratchet up the violence ad nauseum? Will far right extremists in Sri Lanka – or more likely Buddhist extremists (no, that is NOT an oxymoron!) – target Muslims now (NB Buddhist extremists have used violence against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community, a phenomenon I analyse in my upcoming book Gods Made Me Do It)? Will someone like Anders Breivik (he of the 2011 Norwegian terrorist attacks infamy) step up to the plate somewhere else? I am getting a bad feeling about this.

We need to allow our security forces to be the ones to track down and punish terrorists. This is not a job for John Q Public. Allowing everyone to exact vengeance for violence will just lead to more violence. There has to be a better way. Yes, violent actors must pay for what they did, but no that payment is not to be exacted by anyone who is angry. Nor can innocent people who happen to share some of the characteristics of terrorists (religion, ethnicity…) pay that price.

There is another religious saying “An eye for an eye…”. For some this justifies the right to mete out punishment. Except that if we follow that the only outcome is that we all end up blind. Not a cheery thought that.