So far in the fight against terrorism, all the momentum has been on the side of fundamentalist ISIS, and forerunner Al Qaeda. They have cunningly hit each nation where they know it will hurt the most, starting with the iconic twin towers in New York, symbol of American pride. Their followers attack American children. They go after wealth-bringing tourists in the Middle East. They decimate innocent concert goers, shoppers, travellers and celebrants in Europe. They stage public beheadings on television. As of this writing, the most recent atrocity is the killing of a French priest, most sacred symbol of civilization, in France.
Each of these attacks is calculated to keep us reeling in a state of shock; how can civilized people act like this? How do we retaliate?
The standard answer is with force: planes and bombs and drones are mobilized as western nations strike out with fury, killing innocents and resolving very little. Violence is, after all, what ISIS thugs know – what they expect. They are not afraid of death or mayhem – they are the cause of it. Our retaliatory violence plays into their hands, keeping many people whose families and loved ones have ended up being “collateral damage”, tolerating what ISIS does even if these innocents are not totally on their side. Our killings only help ISIS among the populations where they reside, even as we drive them back physically on the lands they have invaded.
So what other strategies might there be?
Take a step back and think. What are they most afraid of? The answer is doubt. The answer is ridicule. The answer is being laughed at. The followers of ISIS are fundamentalists, people who can only thrive in a world of absolutism, where certainty is the critical ingredient of survival. They have absolute trust, an unshakable faith, that their way is the right way and the only thing that can move them is uncertainty, doubt and ridicule. Why else go after Charlie Hebdo? The truth does not set these people free – their idea of truth shackles them to a rigid road that leads, they are sure, to their vision of heaven. Casting doubt on their beliefs terrorizes them just as the killing of children or priests may terrorize us.
Yes, we have to defend ourselves and prevent them from setting up a stronghold of physical territory, but instead of just sending out the heavy artillery, let’s try using social media and all the other communications means at our disposal to tell them they are being ridiculous, that while we regret the loss of so many innocent lives due to their stupidity, it all adds up to less than a single drop in the oceans of humanity and that we consider their puny efforts to be pitiful.
Quote their own scriptures back at them to prove that what they are doing is against the teachings of their God and that those who take other lives in this flagrant way will surely be damned.
Make fun of their anonymity. Real heroes stand up to be counted; real heroes protect their women and children; real heroes don’t attack like jackals in the night – they fight like men who have something worth fighting for.
We need the collusion of the media to make this happen and the finger has to point very directly at the perpetrators, carving the zealots out of the herd so that innocent Muslims are not implicated.
We will never rid the world of fundamentalist thinkers or their mistaken and sometimes mentally deranged followers, but we can let them know that their way is a pointless way, leading to their own downfall both on earth and in heaven.
If nothing else, it may help to turn the tables and demoralize them in the way they hoped to demoralize the rest of the world.