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The simple act of asking ‘why’.
It’s a question absolutely imperative to the solving of any problem. Big or small, microscopic or monumental; virtually any problem can be solved if we simply continue, collectively, and with intelligence, to ask ‘why’ as many times as is necessary.
It seems a slightly childish notion at first. Thoughts of an irritating younger sibling, or your own petulantly inquisitive offspring, continuously prodding and poking at your side, simply wanting to know why; why does this happen, and why do you do that? It’s an innate desire of humans to want to understand the world they live in as much as possible.
However, this childlike mindset of inquisitiveness fades as we get older. Combinations of many different factors contribute to its decline. Children are often taught that it is rude to ask too many questions, that they are prying too much, or simply being irritating. As people get a little older still, they can become satisfied and complacent with the knowledge and opinions they already harbour, and believe there is no personal gain in seeking further enlightenment.
But when you really boil things down, the progression of human societal development owes a huge debt of gratitude to a select few of our species who were unashamedly unafraid to never grow out of asking ‘why’ – no matter how stupid or crazy they appeared to mainstream society.
Emotional decision making
In times of mass public grief – and especially after terrorist atrocities such as the horrific attack that occurred only a few days ago in Manchester – those such as myself, whose parents nurtured (and genetics eagerly implore) to be unafraid in unrelentingly asking ‘why’, are often cast as disrespectful or callous to the victims of such events for asking questions.
Now, it’s entirely right that the victims and their families should be at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts in such times – and I can categorically state that my motives for asking ‘why’ are rooted entirely in the belief that a solution that both prevents and eradicates this perpetual suffering and slaughter is entirely possible.
But the solution to this suffering is not found in the quelling of reasoned and diverse debate, or in the labeling of others – no matter how or controversial someones’ questions may be.
Evidence-free assertions and mindless sweeping generalisations are things that we should all wholeheartedly ridicule, but questions from enquiring minds should be respected. Because if people begin to feel afraid of simply asking ‘why’… this is when societies struggle to find answers for complex problems such as terrorism.
In times of strong emotion, people often act without thought and without logic or reason – the ‘flight or fight’ reaction. The public shock and grief that accompany the aftermath of terrorist incidents is an illustration of this.
Feeling empathy for the suffering of those who we can easily relate to is innate and natural. But our individual reactions to such strong emotions vary wildly from person to person.
Traditionally the far right’s reaction to such events is to immediately go on the offensive – your typical political ‘reactionary’. It’s a theme you see time and time again on social media with far-right figures such as Paul Golding, Tommy Robinson or Katie Hopkins. After any potential terrorist incident breaks, their Twitter feeds immediately spring into an extremely predictable ‘speculation mode’, usually consisting of blaming ‘all Muslims’, sweeping generalisations about Islam, or some lurid concoction of the two, and often culminating in monumentally abhorrent ‘solutions’ to the problem – such as ‘banning Islam’, ‘closing the boarders’ (sic), or the total nuclear obliteration of the entire Middle East.
This reaction is the result of the ‘fight mode’ – the simplest and most basic human response to feelings of fear or anger. The ‘solutions’ offered by these reactionaries are not solutions at all – they are simplistic ‘all or nothing’ reactions, borne from anger and fear. They are simply manifestations of revenge disguised as political thought.
At the other side of the spectrum we have people who react to such events with the ‘flight mode’ – those who pretend that the problem of terrorism will go away if we simply stay united and simply get on with things. Staying united is essential, but by itself and without taking action to ascertain the causes of, and sustaining factors behind, terrorism, it won’t simply disappear overnight without some form of action.
The simple and unavoidable truth is that to solve the problem of terrorism, we have to be willing to try and answer everyone’s questions – from both sides of the political spectrum. We must respond logically and rationally, without lashing out or labeling people as racist, as stupid, or as anti-Britain or anti-Western for simply wanting to understand more.
Therefore, in order to find a viable solution to terrorism, the most important question we can possibly ask is to try and understand ‘why’. Why is it that terrorists can be led into believing that killing innocent people is justified?
Are you a ‘terrorist sympathiser’
The uncomfortable question for many is why Western governments are not doing more, not just to prevent terrorism, but to eradicate the causes of terrorism and the many factors that sustain it.
We see all too often that people who attempt to find the root cause of terrorism are labelled as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ for supposedly attempting to justify the actions of terrorists by asking what leads seemingly ordinary people to carry out the most heinous and cowardly acts of evil against innocent people.
This simplistic labeling of inquisitors is the first step in quelling debate and of perpetuating the vicious cycle we see today. If we are made to feel unpatriotic or ‘anti-Western’ for simply questioning ‘why’ another person behaves so abhorrently towards others, it immediately nullifies the thought pattern that would inevitably lead a population to abandon the ‘black versus white’, ‘good versus evil’, ‘us versus them’ narrative that the powerful require to maintain a passive, loyal population who are apathetic to radical change.
Ridicule and name-calling are the first lines of defence in stopping a group of people from asking the simple question of ‘why’.
Although it’s easy to get drawn into this game of petty name-calling through sheer frustration and disgust, it is almost always a complete waste of time. Whilst using logic, reason and understanding in your line of questioning won’t always lead people to rethink their stance, it also won’t lead to a shutting down of the debate.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
Let’s be logical for a moment. Some say that people become radicalised purely because of their religion. Some say these are simply the actions of ‘evil’ people.
Yet no religious text teaches people to mindlessly kill innocents, and nobody is born evil. Hatred is an entirely learned concept – taught to individuals by others.
Individuals become radicalised because they have hate instilled into them by others – be it hate against the West in general, or hate against a group of people whom they perceive as different from themselves – a religious sect, a minority group, or those who simply possess a different skin colour.
Most would happily trundle through life without hurting a fly if it wasn’t for the directed persuasion of others. Those with naive and malleable personalities and a poor standard of education are particularly susceptible to manipulation by a convincing storyteller – especially when the ‘pupil’ already battles with unresolved personal grievances or feelings of isolation within their own community.
Where there is someone willing to commit terrible deeds, there must also be a process through which that person has become convinced that murdering innocent people is justified. It’s how we intervene within this process of radicalisation that is the key to stopping terrorism.
The root causes of how and why individuals slip into a mindset that opens them to radicalisation are hugely complex and diverse. And attempting to solve the problem of terrorism without seeming to justify the actions of people who commit such barbaric atrocities is a monumental balancing act to achieve.
However, the innocent people who have died at the hands of radicalised individuals are owed a solution to terrorism. But if people continue to be made afraid of asking WHY these attacks KEEP happening, we will never be allowed to find solutions to the problem.
As the famous truism goes: “An eye for an eye makes everybody blind”, and it’s as true today as it’s ever been.