After hearing about another execution of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS, the visceral reaction comes easily. Even the most even-tempered and non-violent soul finds the gorge rising in their throat and the simple solutions easily form in the mind: “Find them, kill them, and make sure they know who did it and why.”
We have the forces; we have the means and the power to hunt down these wretched fanatics and grind them to powder. There is no place on the planet they can hide. We got bin Laden, so why can’t we marshal all the secret weapons and black ops teams like the ones we see on TV? Why isn’t a bullet between the eyes the way to do it?
Because it’s what they want. It is what they are counting on. To ISIS and al-Qaeda, life is expendable and replaceable. One more dead leader to them means they replace him with another; one more drone attack by us furthers their cause and draws new men to their cause. We have been taking out their leaders since before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and still they grow. We took out the most hunted man in the world and that hasn’t stopped them from replacing him.
We are seeing the consequences of being goaded into war. We are seeing the result of generations of exploitation and lorded-over exceptionalism and self-styled supremacy. The attacks against the West are not because we are not Muslim; they attack people of their own faith. They are using religion as a facade in the same way a bigot uses the bible to justify racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and they allow their visceral hatred of those that bullied them to control their actions as well. Their only hope is that we will respond in kind. And we have.
We have given them what they want: attention and aggression. The difference is that we have our limits and they do not because they believe they have nothing left to lose. They also know there are powerful voices in America and the West who counsel peace and standing down the war machinery. They hope those voices will be drowned out by the chants for war and blood and vengeance.
It is hard to resist the urge to destroy those who hate us. But one hundred years of war and tension and world-wide suffering have not brought the peace. War breeds more war, and those of us who struggle to keep our rage in check must prevail so that a calculated act of unspeakable cruelty is not met with the same. Because it only leads to more blood, more sorrow and another hundred years of human misery wrought by miserable humans.
No, I don’t know the answer. Peace has never been easy or a bargain; you have to pay for it. It means overcoming prejudice and tribalism, two of nature’s more powerful visceral instincts. If we cannot overcome them, the least we can do is control them and not let the epitaph of humanity be “It all started when they hit us back.”