Spirit Wisdom II
One of your era’s most frightening and infuriating phenomena is terrorism. Not only the United States, but also European countries—and even Islamic states—are targets of militant Islamic hatred toward the West. Many elements are intertwined in this complex global phenomenon, which we will tease apart and examine with an eye toward a deeper understanding.
First, a definition: terrorism is the individual’s usurpation of war-making powers reserved to national governments. For all its apparently uncontrolled nature, modern warfare is as regulated by international agreements as are commerce or aviation. That is, states agree on the rules governing the conduct of war, and what acts are permissible or not on the battlefield and in the treatment of prisoners of war. Generally, reckless attacks on civilians are forbidden. Also, of course, national governments arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to wage war on other states.
Terrorism violates these international protocols root and branch. First, nongovernmental agents—individuals or groups—assume the powers of warfare reserved to national governments. Second, instead of attacking military personnel, civilians are deliberately targeted to enhance shock value and incite widespread panic. Confidence in government—which failed to detect and deter the attack—is shaken. National governments are thus doubly outraged—first by an act of war by an “unauthorized” agent, and then by their citizens’ anger and doubt directed toward them.
Terrorism has a long history, for nations are forever under attack from without and within. Many nations, in their official histories, revere the terrorist acts of their forebears which led to the downfall of oppressive governments. The Boston Tea Party, the storming of the Bastille, the revolutionary movements of North and South American colonies against their European masters—all were terrorist acts at the time, regarded by the threatened powers with the same revulsion with which you now regard suicide bombers and airplanes rammed into skyscrapers. Context and time determine whether terrorist acts are reviled or revered by history.
The Tragedy of Civilization
Civilization is a recent upstart. It arose when a few clever individuals discovered that cultivating wild grains yielded more consistent and bountiful harvests, with less effort than hunting and gathering. Settled agriculture meant releasing the nomadic lifestyle of tribalism. It is still possible for agricultural tribes to maintain tribal identity and cohesion as long as their numbers are managed. But as numbers grow beyond the threshold of tribal cohesion, and settled tribes become settled villages, some organization is required to manage the burgeoning complexity and numbers. On a very small scale, this was the template of civilization: a governing class, wielding power and authority; and a larger working class taking orders. From this primal template has grown the massive complexity of civilization, with its kings and priests and warriors and slaves.
Because civilization is unnatural, nothing about it is perpetually self-regenerating: civilized societies decline and fall with clockwork regularity; leaders win and lose power by ballot or bullet; nations are swallowed by larger nations; economies buckle and heave; new gods arise and are forgotten; jobs, houses, and fortunes are won and lost; the very foundation of life is a gnawing, unquenchable insecurity. Appease it as you might with trinkets of security—power, wealth, land, fame—you can never quench that insecurity; it forever festers and burns.
The Ultimate Security Trinket
The security trinkets we have mentioned—land, power, wealth, fame—are traditionally the sole province of the ruling classes. In modern times, in progressive states, a comfortable middle class enjoys its share as well. But what of the poor—bereft of land, power, and wealth—even of control over their own persons—what security trinket have they to ameliorate their misery?
Marx said religion is the opiate of the poor. We might add that religion is the security trinket of the poor. Without hope of earthly power or wealth, they can only look above and beyond: into heaven, or a future life; and there place their hopes and dreams for a small measure of security and comfort. The world’s great religions rest—like the rest of civilization—on the backs of the poor, who are their most devoted followers.
While religion is the only security trinket available to the poor, its appeal is universal; every religion counts devout believers among all social classes. Who wouldn’t want divine favor and blessings on life, family, and nation? Who wouldn’t want to be singled out by God or gods for favorable treatment? What leader wouldn’t want priestly blessing on wars and conquests? Religion is free—anyone can pray—and, with its tantalizing promise of divine favor and eternal bliss, deeply appealing to the perpetually insecure members of civilized societies.
The Age of Jihad
National leaders often seek religious blessing on their worldly affairs, seeking to justify them to their people by invoking the deity (an easy sell, the people being just as eager for divine favor). No army marches off to war without the requisite blessing by priest/rabbi/imam. Yet anyone can similarly invoke religious justification for any act, however heinous or violative of religious principle.
A study of the crackpots of history, who arrogated to themselves the personal mission of reforming the world according to their private ideals, would reveal that many were strongly religious—in their own perverse way—and felt called by God to wreak vengeance on a sinful world. It is important to view this psychological mechanism for what it is—madness wrapped in a self-rationalizing religious veneer. No ego can say to itself, “I’m an angry lunatic acting out of gross madness.” Instead, the ego seeks justification by invoking the deity. “Being on a personal mission from God” trumps “gross madness” as a justifying motive. In other cases, a homegrown terrorist may wrap himself in the flag of patriotism; again, “avenging patriot” trumps “disgruntled loser” as ego-soothing motive.
Islamic terrorism is an oxymoron. Nothing in the Koran justifies the deliberate and wanton murder of innocents, nothing. While the Koran doesn’t share Christ’s message of “turning the other cheek”—a value no “Christian” nation has ever followed—it urges restraint in warfare and equable relations with other faiths. As terrorism fails the test of any religious justification, we must look elsewhere for the real motive behind so-called “Islamic” terrorism.
History, ancient and modern, offers a clue. During its Golden Age stretching over five or six centuries, Islamic civilization was the crown jewel of the world, whose influence continues to reverberate in your age. Arcing from Asia to Europe, this polycultural empire is renowned for its achievements in science, the arts, scholarship, and ethics: tolerant, humanistic, and rational in pursuit of scientific truth (within limits of the time).
Fast-forward to today. Despite its global prominence due to the chance wealth of oil beneath its sands, the Muslim world not only doesn’t hold the world’s respect, it is held in revulsion by many for its archaic and primitive culture. Veiled women, hands lopped off in public, strict moral codes, stifled intellect and curiosity—these are the features of conservative Muslim cultures. Who in the post-Enlightenment West would regard them with anything but repugnance?
In the modern age, power, prestige, and wealth lie with the West—Europe and North America—to the burning resentment of Muslims, who recall with anguish the glory days of their empire. The thirst for revenge, for global power and respect, burns hot in the hearts of those who once knew power and glory and, despite their oil wealth, are regarded with repugnance by those ruling the world.
Ultimately, terrorism is born of impotence. It is a furious lashing out of those bereft of power and influence, striking out against those they view as depriving them of their due. The suicide bomber strapping explosives to his chest and destroying himself and bystanders is deluding himself if he thinks his death means anything but the ultimate self-abnegation of the impotent. His act violates the Koran; the slaughter of innocents offends Allah; he only strengthens the state he despises.
Again: terrorism is an act of private madness or revenge; it can never be justified by religion. As with any madness, religion is often invoked as justification, to assuage the ego and elevate an act of impotent revenge to holy war. Intelligent persons should see through the delusional self-justification and recognize the act for what it is.
The challenge of your age is that globalization, mass movement of peoples, and ever more refined killing technologies make it that much easier for terrorists to inflict spectacular damage on target nations. This gets them the media attention they crave—at last, elevation to world importance!—thus winning a hollow victory. Hollow because the West will never be taken down by sporadic acts of terrorism, but only strengthened by such attacks.
Agents of Disequilibrium
The foundational principle of Nature is balance. Every natural system, from atoms to galaxies, strives to maintain a stable equilibrium. But there is a difference between equilibrium and stasis. Equilibrium is life, stasis is death. There must always be an elasticity, an allowance for movement and change, the adaptability to meet and master fresh challenges: what constitutes equilibrium in one moment differs from successive equilibria. A natural system is forever in motion, forever adapting and self-modifying, forever forging new states of equilibrium. Equilibrium is dynamism held within sustainable bounds.
Nature thus “packages” agents of disequilibrium within every natural system. Their purpose is to disrupt equilibrium, to prevent deadly stasis, and to force the system to adapt or die. The wind is a universal agent of disequilibrium—it challenges trees, plants, and animals to withstand its force. Dead and diseased trees, unable to resist, topple. Only the strong, the resilient, the adaptable survive, strengthened for the challenge. Fire is another agent of disequilibrium, and while its incendiary power vaporizes many smaller life forms, larger, stronger trees not only survive but thrive in the newly cleared forest. Wind, fire, rain, the shifting seasons: all are agents of disequilibrium forcing natural systems to adapt or die.
You carry many such agents in your body—bacteria and viruses that could turn deadly under the right conditions. Even your immune system can turn against you. A healthy body keeps these agents of disequilibrium in check, beating back their thrusts and parries, restoring an ever-shifting equilibrium, stronger for the challenge.
We raise this seemingly digressive material because it carries over into human society. Every human society—be it a tribe in the jungle or an industrial state—is governed by natural principles. Within and without, agents of disequilibrium are forever at work. Criminals are such agents, disrupting the “equilibrium” of safe streets. The economy is prey to countless agents of disequilibrium, as any investor knows, forever shifting in its mercurial temper. A marriage suffers constant agents of disequilibrium tearing at the marital bond, testing its strength and resilience.
Terrorism is an agent of disequilibrium. It challenges the equilibrium of the state’s control over its borders and its protection of citizens’ lives and property. It challenges the equilibrium of personal freedom versus state control. It challenges the equilibrium of a global empire with military bases planted in the land of the Koran. It challenges the equilibrium of a smug complacency in national power and rightness of course.
Terrorism forces awareness and consideration of issues which might otherwise remain buried. Should perfect security be purchased at the price of lost civil liberties? Are constitutional protections still valid in an age of global travel and weapons of mass lethality? Can Islam be integrated into the West or is it alien and indigestible? Should there be a global empire with military bases girdling the globe, including the Middle East? These are questions only modern peoples even need to consider, but they all point back to that primordial principle of equilibrium being disrupted by agents designed for the purpose.
Terrorism is nothing new, then: there have always been self-righteous zealots seeking to re form the world according to their personal visions. Most such crackpots were humored or dismissed in their age and few did much damage. What differs in your age is that, first, agents of disequilibrium may act from half a world away; second, the lethality of their attacks is aggravated by modern technology; third, by wrapping themselves in the flag of Muslim vengeance, they elevate their personal pathology to jihad, holy war—and many in the West take the bait.
Being attacked by foreigners—especially bearded, turbaned foreigners living in caves—evokes a fury and thirst for revenge that homegrown terrorists can’t inspire. What is lost in all the rage and retaliatory warfare is a deeper, more subtle analysis of the circumstances triggering the terrorist attacks, and a discussion among citizens of the global empire as to the costs and morality of maintaining that empire. From such an analysis and discussion might emerge a new equilibrium—a new balance point of heightened perception and conscious awareness of the empire’s reach, motives, and conduct.
As it is, the crudity of the response, from political leaders and citizens alike, is an opportunity lost—and a dangerous sign. For when a system doesn’t perceive agents of disequilibrium clearly, and respond with appropriate adaptive measures, the system is weakened. Refusing to acknowledge or discuss the issues that people of a global empire ought to be openly debating—instead waging interminable warfare in the heart of the Islamic world, pushing otherwise reasonable people into the arms of the fanatics—can only portend even more severe shocks in the future.
Let us repeat for emphasis: there is no such thing as a war of religion, or a holy war. No religious text endorses the slaughter of innocents and children or the barbaric abuse of prisoners of war. War—or its “unofficial” version, terrorism—is always fought either out of personal madness, or base lust for security trinkets of land, power, wealth, and glory. The religious wrapping is an afterthought, an egoic self-rationalization.
You live in a time of significant turmoil. Ecological changes, most prominently global warming, portend severe stresses on the global ecology and human societies. Compounding these stresses are terrorist attacks on Western states, challenging their tradition of open borders and free societies. Recognize all these stresses as agents of disequilibrium—without which systems grow static and die—and further recognize that a system that perceives those agents clearly, and adapts appropriately, is stronger for the challenge: forging an enhanced, more resilient equilibrium. Such is true of the atom, the mollusk, the virus, and the elephant—and such is true of you and the society in which you live.
May you meet and adapt to your life’s challenges with conscious perception and an ever more refined equilibrium!
Author Bio :
Excerpted from Spirit Wisdom II: The Enlightened Warrior’s Guide to Personal and Cultural Transformation. Ramón Stevens has been channeling Alexander for over 20 years; their collaboration has produced five books. Website: www.alexandermaterial.com.
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