Recent events in Woolwich and Boston, and reactions to them has yet again brought to the fore the complex issue of 'terrorism'. It all serves as a poignant reminder that we don't seem much closer to ending the 'war on terror'- a decade after 9/11. Yet, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and the whole world will go blind and toothless. We need new solutions and to get there we need to look at the problem with different set of eyes. We need to understand its deep root cause.
What is the 'war on terror'? US President George W Bush 'coined it' - but what is it really and what or who are we fighting?
Terror is something that evokes extreme fear, so we can label people that frighten us as 'terrorists' - because what they do evokes a feeling of terror - extreme fear within us. Being caught up in any life threatening situation is frightening. That is easy to understand. 'My life is in danger because of 'terrorists' acts'. But the fear of the violence, and the fear that triggers the violence in the first place, is more than a physical threat to our lives.
It is about our fear of that which is different to us, that which we don't understand, that which we think threatens us and our way of life, be it another religion, culture, scarcity of resources, an economic system, other people's rights such as those of women and children, or other's right not to live in extreme poverty or pollution. Perhaps rights that we don't know how to meet without sacrificing our own needs. These fears haunt us whether we are rich or poor, black or white, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, man or woman, etc. It is our collective fears that are the real cause of the different kinds of violence we are seeing.
Global peace could be defined as the absence of violence and war, but the root cause of violence (emotional, verbal and physical) is fear, and hence peace is actually the absence of fear. Fear is often about not understanding the unfamiliar and of being afraid of losing something - often love, money, power, self-esteem, or the imagined security found in our traditions, religions, cultures and money. From fear of losing love, power and resources, comes global insecurity.
In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru;
"There is perhaps nothing so bad and so dangerous in life as fear"
Because of fear we spend billions on defence, whilst we could spend more money on addressing the root causes, such as uplifting those that have fallen behind or building bridges of understanding. This in the long run will be more effective and rewarding.
We are caught in a spiral of fear, leading to more violence and not leaving enough room for love. So a big real part of the 'war on terror' is one which takes place within us. It is one where we let our fears lead us to hate. 'Fighting' our own fears then becomes the war worth fighting and the way we can stop this cycle of violence. And we need to start uplifting others along with us.
Martin Luther King once said that; "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programmes of social uplift is approaching spiritual death". Similarly, a person, that year after year acts out violently (in thoughts, words or deeds), or acts out of greed alone, rather than out of love for our common humanity, is left unfulfilled. Ultimately human happiness, as Aristotle noted, can only come from virtuous action.
Global peace can only come to the peaceful man, and man can only be peaceful without fears. When we are self-assured we become less threatened by others, and we are then less likely to judge, hate or be jealous - all emotions of fear.
Peace is about love for others as we see them as part of our common, but wonderfully diverse humanity. It is about standing strong in who we are as individuals, as a community or a nation - but without diminishing the same right of others. We can live our 'ideals' but they mustn't infringe on anybody else's human rights. It is about compassion for others, their suffering or hearing their different views (even if we don't agree), it is about forgiveness, and it is about fairness.
We all have equal right whoever we are, and where there is doubt of this - upholding these rights together as a world community is important (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). We can also do that on an individual level in our daily lives, by simply practising the Golden Rule - do unto others as you wish done to you - a rule that can be found in some version in all religions and ethical traditions.
Meanwhile, we must also be careful with our words so not to incite more fear and hatred. When we are quick to label others as the enemy; 'extremist', 'terrorists', 'neo-fascist', or 'radicals'- we risk negating and isolating them. We risk evoking even more fear in the accused, who then need to prove us wrong. When we label them as different to us we instantly distance ourselves and become 'us' and 'them' - which is the opposite of building bridges of understanding. We should not accept hatred and violence but we must also try not to evoke more of it. Whether we agree or not, one man's 'terrorist' or 'fascist' is often another man's freedom fighter.
We need to meet our fears and thereby end the violence. The foundation for this is love, compassion, forgiveness, equal human rights for all, and lifting people up from emotional and economic poverty.