Where Does Terror Begin? (RELS 348)

In the linked article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”, Truthdig, 11 January 2015, author and journalist Chris Hedges attempts to provide some context for the recent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. After the horrific incident, millions of people took to the streets and to social media to voice solidarity with the slain cartoonists. However, as Hedges’ analysis reveals, the line between good and evil is often not so simple as we make it seem. It is easy to divide the world in dichotomous terms, between ‘civilization’ and ‘barbarism,’ ‘moderation’ and ‘extremism,’ us versus them. However, upon further investigation, these black and white divides don’t hold up as well as we might like.

Hedges explains that in order to understand why terrorism has become so prevalent today, one must first examine the forces that drive people into situations where they see acts of violence as their only hope for meaning. For people who have no opportunity for advancement, who are discriminated against on a daily basis, or who have lost family members to the unrelenting global force of American imperialism, religion is often the last place where they can find refuge, where meaning and dignity can be regained. When even this sacred realm is trashed and mocked by privileged citizens of Western nations, a fury is stoked in the hearts of people who are already in a state of despair.

To attempt to understand the motivations of those who do evil is not to condone them. If we really desire to end acts of terrorism, then we must have the audacity to examine our own individual actions and international policies, and ask ourselves what damage our own ignorance and cruelty has caused to those who now wish us harm.

-KM

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