No one is born a terrorist; they are all created. Each and every single violent young suicide bomber who blows himself up in an act of martyrdom, and every single young man who goes off to wage holy war as a jihadist, was forged by the evil fires of despair.
Somewhere along the way, every single one of these terrorists – all of whom are equally heading towards their own deaths alongside their innocent victims – was brainwashed into believing that these evil acts of violence they commit offer the elusive chance of reaching Paradise. They each were offered an apple so enticing they could not resist, and they reached out, took ahold of it, and ate. In doing so, their hungry bellies began to be filled with the sick and twisted lies that fuel the fires of terrorism; that give the courage to push the buttons which explode the suicide bombers’ belts; that sends the young jihadists off to their own deaths in very un -holy, holy wars. Yet none were born monsters such as this. These monstrous instruments of death were all brought to life by something, by someone along the way…
And who better – who easier – to convince that heinously murdering innocent people is the only way for certain that one can enter into eternal salvation, Paradise with God, than angry young men dwelling in urban slums and refugee camps with no hope of ever escaping the awful realities found in their very real worlds of despair? Personally, I can think of no other.
When the Arab Spring began with the Tunisian Revolution in December 2010, to be quickly followed by revolutions and uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the fires were initially fueled by economics, and not by religion. Initially the masses were not on the streets demanding Islamic-style governments be installed.
The cries of the poor in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Syrian streets were calling for more just societies where all citizens would be treated with dignity and equality, where all citizens would have access to basic services such as education and health care, and where the prospects of employment would be more than mere pipe-dreams. Unfortunately, as the governments were toppled, and new ones were put into place, the voices from the streets were not heard by the out-of-touch elite who replaced the previously out-of-touch elite. Instead, the cries of the poor and the shouts of the masses were heard by the religious fanatics, such as the hardline Salafist movement in Egypt, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, al-Qaeda in Yemen, and al-Nusra in Syria. And it is those groups who are now taking advantage of and looking to exploit the dire economic situation crippling the Arab World.
The current reality is that the number of young men being recruited into terrorist networks is increasing with each breath we take. The number of slum-dwelling Egyptians being ushered into the Salafist and al-Qaeda-inspired movements is multiplying rapidly. The number of young Palestinians seeking to join Hamas or Fatah with the objective of blowing themselves up on a bus somewhere – anywhere – in Israel is increasing. And the number of Syrian refugees living in the filth and squalor of the makeshift refugee camps, who are inching closer and closer to reaching out, taking ahold of, and sinking their teeth into the forbidden fruit of terrorism, is growing with each word I type, and with every word you read.
I know this: I saw and lived it every single day, week after week, month and month, year after year, for more than a decade while I lived and worked within these refugee camps and urban slums of which I speak.
While I consider myself to be one who knows and understands how very real the threat of radical Islamic extremism is, and unfortunately believes that lethal force must sometimes be used in today’s world because of this sick reality, I do believe an affirmative answer to the question, “Can hope kill terrorism?” is key in fighting, and ultimately winning, the war against the terrorists. I, for one, wholeheartedly believe giving people real, tangible hope for a better future is a way in which we can eliminate the possibility of individuals so much as even entertaining the idea of joining the ranks of these terrorist organizations before they begin to venture down that dead-end road.
What if the teenage boys arriving day after day in the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, having escaped the tormenting hell the Syrian civil war has produced, were given the chance to work through their trauma by participating in a creative-writing program run within the camp, versus the only outlet to release their anger being found in joining one of the violent terrorist organizations actively recruiting these young men?
What if wealthy business-entrepreneurs from both neighboring Arab countries and the West would financially invest in Syria’s eventual reconstruction efforts in ways that would focus on creating jobs for the masses of unemployed young men who were made jobless due to the war, instead of merely focusing their financial endeavors on ways in which they will be the primary profiteers?
What if one day each week doctors would freely volunteer their services without pay to run a clinic in an urban slum which served the urban-poor slum dwellers who cannot afford health care on their own, versus the only other option to receive the health care they need be by going to one of the clinics run by the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas?
What if – just what if – both you and I would first and foremost ask not what others can do for us, but what we can do for others? What if it was that spirit-from-the-past which we allowed to guide us all? What if, just what if?