The world is reacting to the Paris Terrorist attacks, and once again asking why the tragedy has occurred and what drives people to kill in the way these attacks happen.
Most people are looking in the usual directions of race and religion, but these suggestions have yet to build a substantive understanding of the issue. The violent extremists make up a percent of a percent of these populations, and so these claims do nothing other to just serve to other so people can claim, “they do it because they are not us.” Once they are othered, this explanation does, however, give an opportunity to reduce our solutions to our most primitive and violent. These solutions have us target the innocent majority for the crimes of the percent of the percent. These solutions serve our anger and desire to react, but not the actual problem nor our need to understanding.
But if we ever want to prevent these tragedies, instead of merely react to them, we need to understand.
So what if instead of othering, instead of looking for the reasons outside of us, we looked within. Specifically, what if we, instead, look at the people like us that do similar things. What similarities would we find if we looked at the mass shooters who have come to plague our nation and compare them to the mass killers plaguing other nations?
I have previously proposed the “Blaze of Glory” theory in relation to the American mass shooter. Our killers, who, like the killer abroad, are going into situations with the intention to die and take as many other people as they can with them. To them, this final act of violence is helping them to go out on top, scoring as many points by racking up the kills so they can find the attention and renown in death that they could not have life.
Terrorist suicide attackers, as they are coming to be understood, may enacting a similar desire to go out on top. Studies are now showing that your typical suicide attacker may actually be clinically depressed. Unable to find work, feed their families, and generally meet the requirements society tells them they need to, these individuals undergo an intensive role strain. This role strain leaves them feeling intensely “less than,” and ashamed. Life becomes an unbearable reminder of how they cannot measure up, and how they and their families are suffering because of their “failure.”
And then someone comes along telling them that they can make it all better. The people have money to help their families, and they are told that if they do this their final act can take care of them forever. As for honor, here is the list of the fallen soldiers for this cause. Do this final act and you can be sure that people will remember your name with pride. Here is the gun, here is the bomb, take as many people with you as you can, and you will no longer be a failure but a hero for generations.
Unlike reactionary finger pointing, this substantive understanding gives us more of an effective direction to prevent these attacks. If we start to address the depression and the poverty, we take away their soldiers before they become soldiers. If we focus our efforts into rebuilding their lives, they won’t be vulnerable to the recruiters who roll in and and offer to exchange those lives for glory. If we focus on bringing them opportunity, we will be the ones who gain their loyalty. If we give them reasons to live, they won’t be so quick to die.
We have a choice in front of us how we move forward. The prevailing wisdom has been to wait and react. Wait until we hear rumors of a plan forming and then react with a drone strike. Wait until we get attacked and then react with a military strike. But what if we made this other choice, what if we instead of reacting, we decided to be proactive. What if we denied them their soldiers by being the first ones in to offer them a better life. What if we shrank their armies before they could even form. It would not be a glorious for us, but it would leave us safer.