Do purely evil factions exist in our world, really? Are there organizations bent on the destruction of peaceful societies? Do people engage in malevolent behavior for its own sake? I have come to question some of the most common preconceptions in human thought patterns toward the ‘other’, the enemy. We don’t compromise with our foes, not if we don’t have to anyway. We kill our foes and live happily ever after. After all, that’s what happens in the movies, right?
We are all influenced by the media we consume. Americans must consume more media than anyone else in the world, and I think we have internalized many of the prevailing messages contained within the media. When we see a movie for example, we already know what to expect. We know the basic plot from start to finish, even if only in the vaguest of terms. The protagonist, the good guy, will by mere circumstance or active choice come to conquer his incorrigibly depraved foe, often by murdering him. There can be no compromise, no discussion, he must die. This is a very nationalistic idea.
This sort of thinking seems to be derivative of the foreign policy of the United States, especially since the Spanish-American War. The ideology has really developed in the last century. We are the ‘defenders of liberty.’ When ‘terrorists’ attack the western world, they do so out of antipathy for our freedom-loving traditions and way of life. ‘They’ are evil, we are good.
But this cannot be the situation, not if we examine it carefully. People, regardless of religious beliefs, are not inherently good or bad. But we do react to things. When a man or woman is suffering from deprivation of some sort, they take action. When a community of people finds themselves perturbed by some outside force, they react against it, sometimes violently. When humans–as rational beings–react, we tend not to do so indiscriminately. The shedding of innocent blood is anathema to us. We react by striking back at whoever is inflicting pain on us. You know, like in the movies when the guilty man always gets his due.
Maybe the terrorists are simply reacting as rational human beings, acting on the information which is available to them. Our perception of the ‘other’ depends on the information which is available to us. The United States is perceived as a powerful nation. We know bits and pieces of how that perception came to be, but much of that information is impoverished, classified. Why would a small community attack a larger more daunting one unprovoked? Is that logical behavior? For the masses of us–not the power holders–there must be some misunderstanding when we think about the ‘other.’ Those reacting are doing so in response to real life situations which we don’t, can’t know about.
We need to understand out enemies, to discover the source of their striving. Only after understanding their motives will we realize that they are just like ourselves, peace-loving–yet stricken. Who among us would lie down in the face of our own threatened liberty? Perhaps they are not striving against us for what we have, but striving in pursuit of what we think we possess.