First there was Nice; then there was the incident in the Alps, where a young man stabbed a mother and her daughters because they were, to his mind, scantily clad; then there was the axe attack on the German train; then came Munich; and now we have Ansbach.
To put all these attacks into the same category might be thought a mistake; after all, some were clearly attacks inspired by ISIS, and others were acts of lone sick minds, while others might well have been both. The ideology of ISIS is unquestionably guilty of producing mass murder, but in concentrating on ISIS, which we clearly should do, we should not neglect another factor that is at work here, namely anger, a sin which clearly affects many Muslims, but can affect the rest of us too.
Anger of itself is not a sin; as a passion it is morally neutral. It can lead a person to do good. If one feels angry about the plight of the poor, and is inspired to do something about it, such as working in the slums of Nairobi, then that would be an example of anger leading to a virtuous act. However, this sort of righteous anger is a rare phenomenon. Far more common is the anger that leads to sin. A person in Britain, feeling angry about the plight of the poor, is far more likely to do nothing positive about it, and plenty that is sinful, such as attributing blame and feeling sentiments of hatred to those whom one assumes are responsible for the plight of the poor. This is why Britain is full of saloon bar bores who think they know everything about the solution to poverty, while volunteers who are willing to work with the poor to help them are few and far between.
While anger can lead to the sins of contempt and rash judgment, to name but two, it rarely leads to violence. Most of us feel angry, sound off, and then cool off. But some don’t. Some go further: contempt and rash judgment are succeeded by acts of violence, always directed at innocent people, precisely because of where this anger finds its source.
If we want to check violence, then let us do so at source: let us check anger; and if we want to check anger, let us do that at source, let us check the rash judgment and the contempt.
It is beyond doubt that Islamist terrorists (and others) hold their victims in contempt, and that this contempt springs from a warped judgment. Young men who might be potential terrorists need to be educated. They need to be told that women are not “infidel whores” and that the way they dress is their business, no one else’s. They need to be told that the problems of the Arab and Muslim world are caused by factors internal to that world, not by the West. They need to be told that Western countries happen to be the best places to live in the world, not just now, but at any point in history. They need to be told that our technologically advanced society is not inherently hostile to religion. They need to be told that Christianity is not their enemy. They need to be told that their personal failures are their own fault, and that any solution to them lies in their own hands. They need to be told that terrorism is futile.
Of course, if this message is to get through to them, some voices in the West that constantly blame the West for all the woes of the world need to fall silent. The people who tell angry young men that it is not their fault, but the fault of everyone except themselves, and that they are victims of an unjust world order, really do need to stop pumping. I am not very hopeful of that.
If this attempt at re-education is to have a chance of success, it needs to be targeted. This means profiling. Muslim young men are particularly vulnerable to being exploited by terrorists, therefore a proper preventative strategy has to be aimed at them. Again, I am not very hopeful of this, given the way profiling has been resisted in the past. But which is worse: being profiled, or finding out that your son has become a suicide bomber?
One thing can certainly be done at once: we can emphasise the dangers of not checking our anger, and the dangers of objectifying other people. This is a lesson that everyone needs to learn.
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