Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Reflection on Terrorism and Evil

"Evil is an anti-life force and if we start going out to kill it, exterminate it we then become contaminated by it because we become killers." - M. Scott Peck , The Open Mind, PBS 1983

July 22, 2011 Terrorist attacks in Oslo and on Utøya island claim 76 lives with 96 injured.

"Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy." - Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Havana, April 16, 1967

On Friday July 22, 2011 Norway suffered two brutal terror attacks that claimed at least 76 lives and injured at least another 96 in downtown Oslo and a nearby island Utøya where Labor Party youth were gathered.

Today in Cuba is a public holiday that is celebrated with parades and speeches. On this day in 1953 a group of armed men organized by Fidel Castro led an assault on the Moncada barracks in Cuba. It was a disaster most of the men were killed and the rest captured. Fidel Castro went on trial and used it to spread his propaganda and later become a national figure in Cuba. During the revolutionary struggle between 1953 through 1959 acts of terrorism and bombing were common in Cuba. Following the Castro regime's consolidation of power state terrorism became a part of the revolutionary government's policy.

The now self-confessed Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik who claims to be a far-right anti-Islam crusader published a lengthy manifesto in which over the course of 1,500 pages repeats three times the same quote by Fidel Castro who he describes as a "Marxist terrorist and mass-murderer":
“I began the revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 individuals with absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.”

The adjectives this terrorist used in describing Castro condemn but the quote is part of what inspired this mass murderer to action. What is troubling is that this Castro quote is presented in popular literature as an inspirational message.

Fidel Castro has also been involved in ordering at least one premeditated attack that on July 13, 1994 led to the deaths of 10 children and 18 youth along with 9 adults in the "13 de Marzo" sinking that totaled 37 dead.

AMIA community centre in Buenos Aires 85 killed in July 18, 1994 bombing

On July 18, 1994 a bomb exploded and destroyed 7-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre in Buenos Aires killing 85 men, women and children. This terrorist attack was linked to Iran but the individuals responsible have yet to be prosecuted.

The embrace of hatred to overcome ones own conscience so as to enable a person to engage in gruesome atrocities is an approach described by Che Guevara in the quote above. This self-dehumanization is what makes the sinking of the tugboat, the bombings in Buenos Aires and Oslo combined with the systematic slaughter of children and young people at a youth camp all in service of political agendas possible. Bomb making and terrorism crosses ideological lines. In outlining how to be an effective bomb maker Breivik cites Che Guevara as an authoritative source on the manufacture of explosives:

And according the Marxist terrorist and mass-murderer Che Guevara; half of the people he sent to manufacture explosives blew themselves up (probably due to them using lacking instructions, ignoring precautions and using open flames.

Mark Juergensmeyer an expert on religious terrorism in a July 24, 2011 essay titled "Is Norway’s Suspected Murderer Anders Breivik a Christian Terrorist?" In the essay Juergensmeyer offers an overview of the manifesto made public by the terrorist and reaches the following conclusion:

Is this a religious vision, and am I right in calling Breivik a Christian terrorist? It is true that Breivik—and McVeigh, for that matter—were much more concerned about politics, race, and history than about scripture and religious belief; with Breivik even going so far as to write that “It is enough that you are a Christian-agnostic or a Christian atheist (an atheist who wants to preserve at least the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy (Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter)).”

But much the same can be said about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many other Islamist activists. Bin Laden was a businessman and engineer, and Zawahiri was a medical doctor; neither were theologians or clergy. Their writings show that they were much more interested in Islamic history than theology or scripture, and imagined themselves as re-creating glorious moments in Islamic history in their own imagined wars. Tellingly, Breivik writes of al Qaeda with admiration, as if he would love to create a Christian version of their religious cadre.

It is not only the Norwegian bomber that has expressed admiration for Osama Bin Laden but also admirers of Che Guevara that have profiled the Al Qaeda leader as a revolutionary leader in the Argentine website Che Guevara.com .

According to Irish writer Eilis O'Hanlon the bloody legacy of Che Guevara is still having an impact around the world for example in September of 2009 in Ireland a 600 pound bomb was diffused twice as large as the one that claimed 29 lives there a decade earlier.

In addition to Bin Laden, Castro and Guevara, the Norwegian terrorist while denying he is a Nazi extensively quotes and mentions Adolph Hitler throughout his 1,500 page rant. There are no links to the manifesto on this page because there is no desire to promote it because it doesn't offer answers as to why. At its root terrorism, whether carried out by individuals or a state, is an evil act. This requires taking a look at the inner workings of a human being.

C.S. Lewis in his 1952 book Mere Christianity made the following observation: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. ...“For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” One could add that it would also apply to those who have replaced a religious life with a secular/ideological substitute.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung observed in the video below that "the only real danger that exists is man himself, he is the great danger....We are the origin of all coming evil."

Another and related perspective on the nature of evil is offered by the late American psychiatrist Morgan Scott Peck who wrote People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil and in the 1983 video is interviewed about the book on PBS in the program The Open Mind. During the interview he states that "Evil is an anti-life force and if we start going out to kill it, exterminate it we then become contaminated by it because we become killers."

Watch the full episode. See more The Open Mind.

On the entry for Evil on Wikipedia there is a decent summary of M. Scott Peck's views on evil reproduced below:
Peck characterizes evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness which results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children or other people in relatively powerless positions). Peck considers those he calls evil to be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience (through self deception) and views this as being quite distinct from the apparent absence of conscience evident in sociopaths.

According to Peck, an evil person[8][9]:

  • Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
  • Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception
  • Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets, scapegoating others while appearing normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective") [10]
  • Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
  • Abuses political (emotional) power ("the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion") [11]
  • Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury

He also considers certain institutions may be evil, as his discussion of the My Lai Massacre and its attempted cover up illustrate. By this definition, acts of criminal and state terrorism would also be considered evil.

In the end the man that called others terrorists and mass-murderers apparently as a critique became one himself and as M. Scott Peck would say crossed the line and slid into evil. There is a way to fight evil and that is to be able to spot it in yourself and struggle against it to be a better person and externally use nonviolence to combat it. Mohandas Gandhi issues a challenge when he says that "Nonviolence does not signify that man must not fight against the enemy, and by enemy is meant the evil which men do, not the human beings themselves." Norwegians demonstrated how to fight this enemy with their silent Rose March and rejection of hatred.

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