Thursday, July 07, 2005

How to treat an enemy

Like everyone, I was shocked and saddened to hear about the bomb attacks in London today. I send my condolences to anyone personally affected by today's violence. Naturally, there was a lot of coverage of the attacks on NPR and the BBC today, the two news sources on Public Radio that I listen to while commuting to Bloomington. In all the coverage, there were many clips of the statements by George Bush and Tony Blair from the G8 conference. These statements had me thinking about the proper way to treat or talk about an enemy.

On one hand, we as a society do not want to condone such acts of violence. We don't want any groups to think that committing terrorism will help them, otherwise groups may be encouraged to act violently to advance their cause. Therefore the acts should be strongly condemned, which usually involves condemning the terrorist groups.

On the other hand, these terrorist groups consist of people, not monsters. They are desperate and misguided, but it seems to me that most such groups are trying improve their world, not destroy it. (I admit that I could be quite naive about this, and welcome any corrections.) The best way to stop people from acting out of desparation is to give them another means of affecting change. This means communicating with these people, and they won't want to talk to governments that characterize them as inhuman: monsters, killers, no moral values, etc.

Perhaps the Christian ideal of "hating the sin, loving the sinner" should be used when talking about terrorist acts. Condemn the acts, and make clear that those involved will be arrested and charged. But also acknowledge that the terrorists were desparate because of A, B, and C. Maybe nothing can be done about A, B, and C, but it is more truthful than saying that the terrorists only want to "spread an ideology of hate."

Of course, the danger is that acknowledging the terrorists' complaints may be exactly what the terrorists wanted to achieve, so their terrorist acts would be rewarded, encouraging further terrorism. How can we break the cycle of violence, and keep from treating the terrorists as things, rather than people?

Update: John McGowan writes about this much more completely and cogently than I can, over at Michael Bérubé's blog.

1 comment:

Lisa Hirsch said...

I think those are very fine and heartfelt comments, Steve. Thank you.