The (recent, as of this writing) terrorist attacks in Paris have been on my mind all weekend. Obviously, I am deeply saddened and my heart goes out to all those affected by the attacks. But the other emotion I feel is one I’m sure is shared by other metas: frustration.
In my line of work, we pride ourselves in being able to stop the bad guys. Many of us work closely with government agencies, to some degree. But the vast majority of us are not actively engaged in counter-terrorism work. So when we see events like this, we feel impotent. We feel useless.
As with disasters, both natural and man-made, we’re there for the mop-up. We are useful in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, but not in preventing them. And, I hate to say it, but frustration is a feeling we need to get used to.
Terrorism, of course, is nothing new. It’s been around for centuries and will continue to be. Declaring a “War on Terror” is about as effective as a “War on Drugs.” Or, for that matter, a “war” on anything. Because war doesn’t really solve anything. It might put a temporary stop to certain actions, but war does not get at the root of any problems. As long as the world is filled with radically different ideologies (i.e., forever), there will be war and there will be terrorism.
There’s some truth to the statement in the above graphic, but it ignores a cruicial difference. War is essentially a failure of diplomacy, of relations between nations. Terrorism is an (unquestionably disturbed) espression of social unrest, not of nations, but of smaller factions.
In the case of the Paris attacks, ISIS (or ISIL, if you prefer) has claimed responsibility. For those who still think of the 70s superhero TV show when you hear “ISIS,” let me clarify. This is a religious extremist group, believers in Islamic apocalypticism. They believe the final judgement day is near.
I know a lot of people are anti-Islam because of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, but keep in mind that the majority of Muslims regard these groups the same way that most Christians regard the KKK or the Christian Identity Movement. Islam is not the problem any more than Christianity is (though there could easily be a case made for both being major problems).
We have well over seven billion people on this planet. It’s inevitable that there will be disagreements on major issues, some of them huge. And there will always be those who are so insistent that their views are right and that everyone else’s are wrong that they will happily kill in an effort to hurt those holding opposing views.
So until we collectively care enough to put our arrogance aside and try to understand opposing views and reach compromise, we’ll always have war. And because there will always be unreasonable extremists of all stripes, we’ll always have terrorism.
But that doesn’t mean it should bother us any less.