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Terrorism in the West

Terrorist actions in the Western world require, in most cases, the perpetrators of such actions to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to both convey a message and change their own lives. Indeed, they seek to change their own dissatisfying and meaningless lives by sacrificing those same lives: the hope in the life afterwards is, on one level, a rational alternative to what is seen as a hopeless emotional and social situation in this world. While many of these people are by no means deprived (they come from wealthy families, such as Mohammed Emwazi, or “Jihad John”, or Osama bin Laden himself), they see themselves as existing, in the Western world, in a spiritually and emotionally desolate environment where organic human relationships are swapped for structure and mechanism. Islamic cultures are organic cultures, just as any other religious cultures. Religious communities are primarily organic communities, where the relationships between people are warm, direct and intimate. Modern liberal democracies more often than not appear detached, highly centralized, very procedural and thus – highly alienating. This creates systematic pockets of distrust between those particularly in need of, or used to, organic human relationships, and the modern liberal society. The dominant discourse in modern democracies as to how to regenerate and create trust is misplaced, because it is largely a discourse which focuses on more structure, more distribution, or redistribution, more regulation. What is required is the opposite. The way to address terrorism (and many other social and security ills in the modern society) is not to kill the terrorists, but to change the society. Terrorism is a symptom of the illness: we should not fool ourselves that terrorism is the illness and that the society is healthy. Terrorism is an ugly symptom of the latent madness which rules our societies, where the human face of our interactions is usually subdued to the increasingly vicious demands by the state. The state, rather than society, sets duties, rules and the tone of our relationships, and this situation produces violent reactions by those who see themselves as hit the most.

I propose that the trust that one must have for one’s community does not derive from one’s conviction in or observation of the power of the society’s institutions to guarantee certain declaratively specified rights and entitlements. Rather the trust must be based on a particular sense of belonging, on the feeling of warmth and safety that the community instills in the person, and these feelings are associated with the care and protection that the community strives to offer the individual. In other words, the relationship with the community which gives rise to genuine trust is friendship; it is an organic relation. This is a situation where one is able to wholeheartedly identify with one’s community, to claim that one’s social identity (even one’s political identity, or citizenship) is a crucial part of what or who one really feels himself to be. Such a sense of belonging and connectedness with one’s community requires that the community shows convincingly that it strives to know the person who is its member and that it cares for that person. As the community, even when it is moderately sized, cannot really personally know all of its members, it can show its concern by fostering certain values which are close of most of its members and foster a climate of mutual loyalty between its members, mutual support and concern. Such an empathic culture with a strong cognitive and emotional role of sympathy (in the sense I discussed earlier on in this book) is able to become permeated with relationships with trust and solidarity as I described them earlier on. All of these moral emotions at the same time represent interpersonal relationships which are fundamentally organic; they stem not merely from the cognitive or rational appreciation of norms, liberties and rights, but rather from a deeply emotionally felt closeness with the community and the others in it.

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