Rational, sober, logical citizens wonder what exactly the terrorists want. What purpose does it serve to fly planes into buildings, kill and maim police recruits by the hundreds, or blow up innocent commuters on mass transit? Such a question carries the assumption that there is a goal hidden beneath the madness.
Historically, terrorism has often been used to bring about a desired conclusion. The Irgun in Palestine pursued terrorist acts to achieve the state of Israel. The activists of the IRA sought a free Ireland without British garrisons or influence. The Russian Bolsheviks fought for food, money, and some semblance of personal power. In isolated pockets all over the globe, terrorist acts are being committed right now to give birth to political change, define a new national state, relieve the oppression of tyranny, or to economically and spiritually transform a society.
The current terrorists, the loosely organized confederation of Al Qaeda and its multiple offshoots, seem to have a different agenda. Their guiding philosophy appears to be anarchy: the absence of any structure or order at all. If they are merely anti-western, why blow up so many of their own people? If they want a fundamental Islamic society, why boycott the voting booth? If they want the United States out of Iraq, why attack the very security forces which are the only forces that can trigger an early withdrawal?
When we wonder what side they are one, we are led to the inevitable conclusion that they don’t have a side. They are fanatics without a cause, soldiers without a country, commandos without a mission. They have no underlying goals except disruption. They are ideological nihilists: nothing is worthwhile, nothing has any value, nothing counts.
Spawned out of a deep hatred fostered by utter powerlessness, lack of direction, and a total loss of belief in themselves or anyone else, they live only to act out their hatred in actions designed to convince themselves that they somehow count for something. With no goals but widespread destruction, how can they win? They can wound the world to assuage their own pain but it can’t get them anywhere because they have nowhere to go.
At the end of a war, soldiers return home with more, or less, successful adjustment to real life. The terrorists can never go home again. Their battle will never be over because fighting is all they have.
We use the phrase “The war on terror.” To call it a war suggests that there are opposing views in conflict and that one view will eventually prevail. Since the terrorists have no view, they can never win unless the entire world is destroyed. Failing their ability to get their hands on immense stocks of nuclear or biological weapons, that is unlikely.
So what is the world to do? Stand idly by while the laughter of innocents continues and disrupted economies lead to mass desperation?
No, we continue to use soldiers, weapons, and military tactics to thwart their efforts and wipe out their toxic existence.
And we get back on the buses and subways, just as the great folks of London and Madrid are, and reclaim lives and lifestyles that do have meaning, that stand for something, that represent a goal and a future. The soldiers can continue their mop-up sweeps but it is the commuter who returns to work, the police recruit who continues to train, the farmer who continues to plant, the production worker who continues to assemble, and the doctor who continues to heal, who are the real victors.
Standing for something, anything, will, by default, always triumph over the empty darkness that the black flag of anarchy represents.
Virginia Bola is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of an interactive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker’s Edge, she can be reached at http://drvirginiabola.blogspot.com