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When politicians or commentators metaphorically put themselves in the shoes of terrorists in an attempt to understand their motivation for committing such heinous acts, their arguments are frequently ridiculed as ‘sympathising with terrorism’. This unintelligible whitewashing of an argument is both nonsensical and short-sighted. It negates any kind of causal factor in the act of terrorism. It is simply trying to paint a picture portraying terrorists as having absolutely no motive for their actions.
Whilst the brutal and callous acts of terrorism can never be justified, we must always look to the causes of terrorism for a solution to the problem. The solution to the terrorist acts perpetrated during the conflict in Ireland eventually ended as a result of political negotiations, not through violence. The peace process in Ireland was not labeled as ‘sympathising with terrorism’, although many politicians who were arguing for a dialogue during the troubles have subsequently been labeled by many right-wing media outlets as terrorist sympathisers.
In relation to the current situation with Syria, can you imagine what would have happened if the UK had simply attacked the IRA with air strikes, inevitably killing scores of innocent civilians in the process? Would you imagine that these unintended victims’ surviving family members would feel aggrieved at having lost loved ones? Of course they would. And they would have had the same innate human reaction that most would have. Anger, and a desire for revenge.
In physics, it is accepted that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same is true with human emotion; anger will breed violence, and consequential violence will breed yet more anger on the opposing side. Understanding where terrorism stems from is not sympathising with terrorism. It is the basis in which evolving societies can step out from this never ending cycle of hate breeding hate.
Any politician, commentator or journalist that refuses to accept that there are always underlying motives behind the actions of terrorists are either plainly ignorant, pushing an agenda, or as is my utmost belief, unable to intelligently discuss the topic. And here belies the all-pervading statement of whitewash; ‘terrorist sympathiser’.
It is this churlish and uneducated response that frequently absolves the speaker from entering into a sensible discussion, and all too often leaves the accused ‘terrorist sympathiser’ looking for retorts in an attempt to shrug off the label.
Linguistic labels are powerful tools, and when such labels are used they inevitably leave the accused lacking any subsequent credibility thereafter.
You may have encountered similar behaviour when discussing issues either online or with friends and family. For example, if you even so much as begin a discussion about conspiracy theories, no matter how much evidence there is, or how ridiculous the ‘official story’ is, there will almost always be one person who chirps in using the phrase ‘tin-foil hat’. Usually their statement consists explicitly of this 3 word phrase alone and will not constitute any rational or reasoned argument whatsoever.
Examples of whitewashing statements can be found throughout the political spectrum. UKIP supporters are often labeled as racist, Tory supporters are frequently labeled as toffs or heartless, and Labour supporters consistently labeled as jobless benefit-scroungers.
And whilst these particular labels, like wider stereotypes, are often rooted in a small degree of reality, they offer nothing more than a personal censorship of an opinion we don’t want to hear. The phrase for this self-imposed ignorance is ‘cognitive dissonance’, and it affects our behaviour more than we care to imagine.
Like terrorism, you cannot change one’s ideology by simply by attacking it. The key to challenging ill-informed beliefs is to understand how those beliefs came to be. There are always reasons behind why a particular individual supports one cause, and rejects another.
Our government and our wider establishment are unable to accept that our foreign policies in the Middle East have led to the rise in so called Islamist extremism. Yet, when discussing the war in Iraq, it is now widely accepted that as a result of the West’s invasion and subsequent overthrow of the Iraqi government, the failure to adequately plan for the resulting power vacuum paved the way for a breeding ground of extremism. An extremism fuelled primarily by a desire to avenge the injustices carried out by Western forces.
It is this attempted portrayal of a situation as either black or white that leads people to label others as terrorist sympathisers. Unable to accept any responsibility for their own failed foreign policies and lack of foresight, they wish to portray terrorism against the West as completely unmotivated and lacking in any rational basis.
Whilst it is plainly clear that ISIS itself cannot be negotiated with directly, we must stop feeding the fire of hatred and division that fuels the desire for disaffected youth to join their ranks. We must accept that we are at least partly responsible through years and years of meddling in the Middle East. Bombing Syria will not make our country more secure. It will only lead to more radicalisation, more hatred of our country, and an even bigger problem than the one we’re currently dealing with.