The good thing about terrorism.
Here’s something you already knew: the Dark Ages were F’ing brutal. I’ve been studying those terrible centuries for my job, and they were worse than I realized. Someone doesn’t like you and says they saw you talking to the devil? You’re probably going to be burned alive. Sometimes slowly, on a pile of dried feces, maybe after they rip your tongue out. (These were all Christians, by the way.) There are lots more examples, worse ones, but let’s move on.
Back then, each town, family, and even guild often maintained their own armed force, and violence was the point of entry into the political process. You basically had to be violent in order to have a voice. Violence was assumed. Normal. And life was terrible. Then, magnificently, over the course of multiple centuries, we created a world in which political violence became nearly absent. (In parts of the world, that is. The parts where I’m sitting, and you most likely are too.)
This accomplishment should not be taken for granted, lest we can forget that we’re living in the safest time and place in human history. That gratitude and perspective are essential in combating terrorism. For millennia, violence was random and rampant, with no accountability or even reason. Then nation-states arose, and for a while they went to war, supercharged by the mechanization of murder. Now, with rare exceptions, Vladimir, nations do not invade each other anymore. We transfer immense amounts of power through entirely peaceful means. Our elections are still far from 100% fair, but they’re a helluva lot better than settling inheritance by the sword, as was the rule for centuries, in kingdoms, families, and even monasteries.
Now, in this peaceful world, where vast numbers of people cooperate on a basic level, terrorism has found a new potency by virtue of its exceptionality. If religious nutjobs killed twenty people in 1215, it wouldn’t have made the papers, partially because there were no papers, but also because it wouldn’t have been particularly interesting. Terrorism only exists when we’ve gotten used to safety. That’s the good news, that we’re actually incredibly safe. The bad news is that in our strength, we face the risk of being toppled by a relatively insignificant threat.
Because terrorism is the technique of the weak. It belongs to those groups who know that they cannot win, cannot even fight a real battle. They are weak, so all they can do is provoke you, hoping that in your response, you will make them strong.
ISIS wants a religious war, Muslims versus everyone else. That is not the current reality. They are a small minority, massively disapproved of, even in Muslim countries. Everyone hates them. And they’re weak. Yes, they took over a lot of territory very quickly, but it was territory that was barely held by anyone else. And at the time, the people thought (as they always do) that “The new guys will be better!” That illusion didn’t last long. (My lady and I heard a similar story about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when people, unhappy with the status quo, welcomed a change, until they saw that the news guys were worse. Then it took a few years to get rid of them.)
ISIS wants us to lump all Muslims together and blame them all, and they want us to “protect our freedom” by sacrificing it. They want us to reject refugees, and so far, 30 Republican governors and one Democrat have come out strongly in favor of ISIS. By opposing the victims of ISIS, they are effectively aligning themselves with it.
Is that how we will respond? Will we do exactly what ISIS wants us to do, and be manipulated into hating the wrong people? Will we take our anger and fear, and turn them into mistrust and segregation, and in so doing, work far more effectively than ISIS ever could towards creating the Islam vs Everyone Else war that they seek?