They are extremists. Sick in their minds and sick in their hearts. They care nothing of human rights, seeing people unlike them—those they view as sinners, weak and unworthy—as not merely disposable, but deserving of unimaginable suffering. Collateral damage for a greater cause.
They often cite their religion as the basis of their actions, but make no mistake, their deeds are not holy. Sadly, their bastardization of what is, at its core, a religion of love, connectedness, and service to mankind, is warping outsiders’ views of that religion and its followers, branding it and them as hate-based and hateful. That definition is wildly inaccurate, but it is factual to say that the worst of those claiming such faith get talked about, written about, and tweeted about until fact and fiction steep together in a toxic brew and the stench of the most rotten parts repels people and makes them fearful of the whole lot.
While fearing followers of an entire love-based religion is surely a mistake, it’s not unwise to recognize and rein in the actions of those who aim to misuse it to control and/or abuse others. The extremists make clear their belief that everyone should be made to abide by their rules, to live under the umbrella of their specific faith. For those of us who’ve been raised in parts of the world where religious freedom is a given, we rightfully rail against such attempts to control us based on principles we do not share. I believe even those who’ve never experienced the freedom to worship (or not) as they see fit must, somewhere deep with them, recognize the wrongness of such attempts to control, for within each of us is a compass that no outside force can sway. Still, there are some who try, and if they can’t change minds and hearts, they use whatever power they have to force others to at least live in ways they define as most virtuous.
Cowards, extremists plan much of their evil in secrecy, holing up to plot before unleashing onto the public. Their actions are often shocking and when news hits, people are understandably angry and afraid. And like all cowards, they feed on that fear. They count on it, in fact. They count on fearful silence, on retreat. And it matters because again like all cowards, they are afraid. They know fully well that an uprising could and would unseat them, so they do all they can to appear confident.
We are not who we once were. We are finger pointers and liars. We are selfish and greedy and unsympathetic. We condemn those we view as different, equating different with dangerous and decidedly less. And the moment we see someone else as less, it becomes easy to rationalize closing ourselves off from them and their needs.
We need to remember that while the news may reflect a dangerous trend, these extremists are not the norm. They do not speak for the masses of people who care deeply about one another and the planet we share. I’d like you to close your eyes for a few moments and reflect on three questions. What do you believe is our human purpose? What do you believe is the greatest gift we have to give? And finally, how do we best manifest that gift while we are here, sharing this earthly life?
We use the word terrorist because it is so precisely appropriate. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “terrorize” as: to fill with terror or anxiety : scare : to coerce by threat or violence. Terrorists derive their power from the fear and worse, the indifference of those who are not directly impacted by their actions. There’s a troubling “Oh how terrible that happened to them” followed by a quiet sense of relief that it didn’t happen to us atmosphere. Extremism grows stronger when it builds a following, and those powerful in the business know how to recruit. They purposefully seek the most vulnerable, learn of and exploit their fears to make them malleable, and then feed them enough lies to turn them against all but those doing the lying and exploiting. It’s not rocket science. Street gangs use that very same method: Seek out people who are at risk, for any of a variety of reasons. Get people to adopt an us/them mindset and you can make them indifferent to the suffering of others. Get them to believe those others are bad people and you can get them to actively contribute to their suffering. Get them to believe those others are bad people who aim to strip them of their power and you can get them to rob and even kill. Extremists as terrorists know how to do this and they do it very well. Some act alone and while they can do damage, they are much more powerful when they garner the cooperation of others.
Here’s the thing: We give extremist groups their power. Sometimes indirectly, by standing in horror and grief when they use their sick minds and hearts to do what is clearly wrong but then going quietly back to our own lives. Sometimes more directly, by rationalizing some level of control and abuse as at least partially the fault of the victimized—if they only thought better, lived better, did better, or were better, they’d not have been so at risk. Sometimes very directly. Sometimes we fund them and spread their ideology. Sometimes we vote for them.
My youngest granddaughter, who carries the wisdom of millions of years within her four year old human self, calmly states that bad never wins. “There’s nothing stronger than love,” she says. “Bad people might think they’re winning, but they never win. Love always wins.”
I believe she’s right and I believe the answers to how love wins are the very same as the answers to the questions I asked above: What do you believe is our human purpose? What do you believe is the greatest gift we have to give? And finally, how do we best manifest that gift while we are here, sharing this earthly life?