(Originally posted on Just One Cynic's Opinion Sept. 2009)
Terrorism as a political tool for trying to further a group's or nation's agenda exists as a concept, certainly. An individual who perpetrates terrorism would, again conceptually, be a terrorist.
The problem is that when average citizens think about 'terrorists' as the media portrays them, they naturally imagine the 'terrorists' as rational, empathetic beings like themselves who are so passionate about a cause (or so cornered), that they overcome their natural human empathy for taking the lives of innocents and are driven by desperation to resort to committing mass murder to try to force political change.
Mass murder. That's what 'terrorists' do. They might sometimes blow up some infrastructure, but to garner the attention they require, to convince their 'opponents' of their sincerity in their threats that they'll do it again, they usually have to accept the wholesale loss of life that come's with destroying a massive hydroelectric damn, building, or whatever.
There's the rub, dear reader. To be a 'terrorist' you have to be have an antisocial personality disorder (APD) which ensures you are incapable of feeling remorse or empathy, diagnosed as either being a psychopath (tough to rattle, a narcissist, able to mimic normal behaviour, very organized and with a clear goal in mind, like most serial killers and dictators), or a sociopath (easily agitated and don't interact well with other humans, paranoid without a clearly articulated goal, like the Una-Bomber or Timothy McVeigh). Psychopaths tend to be more rare and more driven to lead, sociopaths are still very uncommon and are more likely to follow.
Normal, average people aren't capable of plotting to become a dictator, or to take the lives of hundreds or thousands of others for someone else's vague notion of a need for retribution ("We must kill many people in the West because they live in countries with governments who support the regimes who are preventing sharia from being the rule of law in Arab countries..." Aha! To the Batmobile, Rabin!). Yes, once a ball is rolling and there are others to follow down the same twisted path it comes a tad more easy for the more sheep-like sociopaths to follow the psychopathic leader, but when you are told your task is going to be to kill a LOT of innocent people, you don't get your average individual jumping at the chance. You get the severely depressed, or severely unstable APD's (or, arguably, the severely indoctrinated, which may be a valid point, especially if they are in their teens and feeling lost/aimless).
So-called 'terrorists' are actually total and complete nut-jobs. They really don't care if the cause is one religion or another, or politics on one extreme or the other, or just voices in their heads, that 'legitimize' (in their twisted minds) their actions -- they'd switch to a new cause tomorrow if it gave them a reason to murder more people. The exact same thing applies to men of any country on the planet who think it might be a good idea to murder their own daughter for not adhering to their fanatical rules, or throw acid on the faces of girls for not following other rules, or murder a doctor for doing something their indoctrination suggests is 'not right'. These individuals are not on the normal human spectrum of empathy, they're off the scale.
My Long-Winded Take on the Issue:
When I was in high school there was a 15 year old classmate who desperately wanted to go to Israel to become a sniper and shoot "Arabs". In most every way, he was a typical teen, brimming with hormones, sorely lacking in his ability to link actions and consequences, self-control, good judgment, etc. He had that odd, 'dark' look in his eyes and most of us were just a bit scared of him. Today he'd be one of the kids getting 'sleeve' tattoos (maybe even on his neck) and posting photos of himself online, naked above the waist and holding an M15. He'd be flying to G20 meetings and join the group using 'Black Bloc' tactics, championing anarchy because his hormones and twisted personality drive him to do so.
Interesting that no one is calling for a 'fight' against psychopathy, even though all the serial murders, the really horrible, ugly life-taking in our human arena, is committed by them. No one is calling for a 'war' against sociopaths, even though virtually ALL one-off murders are committed by individuals suffering from this disorder -- an inability to allow our collective societal revulsion to stand in the way of an individual acting upon his darkest, least empathetic impulses.
Yes, my 15 year old classmate was Jewish, but that has no bearing on my point -- his family were not even practising Jews, nor did they have any strong stance on Israel or politics in general. His rabid views were his alone, but his passions were not ideological (he wasn't much of a 'reader'/researcher), they were hormonal, spewing to the surface on a tide of teen angst and aggression-inducing testosterone, without the level of empathy/reason that the majority of human beings naturally possess. Most of us might have fleeting 'dark' thoughts, but our natural social instincts curb and dampen such fantasies. This lad had no such controlling, moderating instincts -- and it really didn't matter what his background was. He'd been raised in a calm, stable, middle-class environment, exposed to political upheaval no more radical, on a day to day basis, than whether the labour party made the headlines this week.
His story was virtually identical to those of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, Richard Reid "the shoe bomber", Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, Nidal Malik Hasan, the doctor shooting up the army base in Fort Hood, or the well-off Nigerian, Abdul Mudallad, who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day. Non-radicalized individuals who became passionate mass murder hopefuls. All very like Osama bin Laden, really.
There is a portion of our human population, no matter where our species lives or how they're brought up, that is like these guys (and there is no such thing as 'you either are, or you're not' -- there are infinite combinations of tendencies at myriad levels of intensity that come into play, meaning that we are surrounded by a smattering of people who are a little more or less like this -- see my post on this here). These are people, like the guy next door, who are lacking in empathy, but still get intensely 'charged up' about certain things.
We all know people with varying levels of these tendencies, the super-smart (or sometimes not) individuals who are a bit odd: not getting jokes, intensely into dinosaurs, sports scores, astronomy or politics, sometimes diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, most often times too low on the scale to be so (we like to apply hard and fast labels, but it's important to understand anyone can have a 10% or 23% tendency towards one personality type without fitting it 100%, but also have a 49% or 82% tendency towards another quite different type). The experts understand a large portion of these folks as 'high functioning autistic's', but the labels aren't important, what is important is that they simply cannot be taught or persuaded to feel things they cannot. Subtleties and nuances are often lost on them, there are no greys, just blacks and whites, extremely passionate feelings or total disinterest.
My hypothesis is that, from reading what they say when interviewed about 'their cause', the addiction center in their brains is lighting up very brightly. 'Their cause' is, like alcohol, Oxycontin, a suntanning bed, or belief that one day you are going to meet 'Mr. Right' for others, a deeply addictive driver in their lives, something that takes over reason/rationale/logic and makes our irrational 'denial mechanisms' work overtime to justify why giving in to the addiction is the right thing for us to do.
When people like this are exposed to a 'cause', something that they can 'hang their hats on' and become "flag wavers" for, they embrace these causes in a way that is quite above and beyond the norm, or what is healthy. "Obsessed" is not a bad way to describe the intensity of their involvement, but it ranges from simple convictions to 'acting out'. If they latch onto someone else in a way that spurs their sexuality, these are the people commonly labelled 'stalkers' (although John Lennon's killer was a stalker disturbed with 'projection' that was fame-related).
When you combine these tendencies with a strong need to be in control, to be seen as the leader, be acknowledged, along with some pathology (not as rare as most of us would like to believe), you get a Saddam Hussein or Idi Amin, or a Jim Jones or David Koresh. These folks' worst predilections might be entirely suppressed within a tight-knit community and never surface (as the Japanese benefited from as a society for centuries), or might not show up until serendipity, luck, or hard work and perseverance (in the case of Saddam and Adolf) provides them with the opportunity to fully act-out.
If they become embroiled in politics, they might come to believe that only violence will achieve their anti-social, extreme and odd objectives. Extreme passions erupt inside their minds when these individuals embrace the far-right Christians' right-to-life views, or extreme Islamics' interpretations of some largely ambiguous passages of the Koran, or Quebec's separation movement (the FLQ in 1970), or they become convinced that they're being unfairly treated or misunderstood (Columbine, Oklahoma City, the Una-Bomber, etc.).
Yes, at the extreme, these folks are psychopaths, but there are also simply mildly different individuals who are merely anti-social or a little odd, the 'soldiers' in a psychopathic leader's 'army', the followers who do things that most of us wouldn't because they're lacking the 'empathy chip' and are desperate to feel 'normal' and accepted, like Charles Manson's followers.
My point here is that these people really don't care what the 'cause' is. My classmate years ago happened to be born into a Jewish family and so his violent urges were channeled towards what seemed to him to be an 'appropriate' political stance for a Jew, but had he been orphaned and raised in a Palestinian household, he'd have been equally passionate about their 'cause'.
Osama Bin Laden is a nut job. Pure and simple. His fantasies, since an early age (read about his teenage years in many news articles) centered around control, being persecuted, feeling anti-social. He happened to be born into an Arabic area of the world, but had he instead been raised in the southern US, he could very likely have become an anti-abortion extremist. For Osama, it's not about Islam, or US influence on his area of the world -- it's about leveraging some vague notion to legitimize a dark desire to blow people up en masse and be worshipped (both of which are linked to power/control).
"Terrorism", as a political concept, exists -- but it cannot be put into use except by people who lack the normal empathy reaction (necessary for our survival as a species) in their brains. Only North Korea's "Dear Leader" is kooky enough (and has sufficient control) to even threaten to use terrorism as a political tool to further a nation's agenda.
When we use the label "terrorist" for people like Bin Laden, or the Red Brigade, or the FLQ, we are doing all of us a disservice. These are NOT politically or ideologically motivated people! (Politically and ideologically motivated people write articles and canvas neighbourhoods for their local politician.) In reality, these 'Domestic/International Terrorists' are nut jobs who take pleasure in murdering people -- they don't feel an empathetic reaction to the suffering of others and search for meaning in their own lives by embracing these 'causes'.
When you remove the legitimacy that being labelled a "Terrorist" confers upon these pathologically abnormal people, then we can all recognize them for what they are. (We tend to think: "Ah, they believe so strongly in their religious/political views that they're willing to kill for them -- we can all empathize with their passionately held convictions!" Hm... Sure, many people have irrationally strong attachments to notions our parents or the community we just happened to be born into indoctrinated us with, but any of us could have been orphaned and adopted into another group with 180 degree-different ideologies.) Most importantly, we can diffuse the underlying 'politically correct' manner in which we feel obliged to balance our reactions to them and identify them as what they are -- disturbed individuals who can never be rehabilitated.
This same insight needs to be applied in trying to understand the Taliban. These guys are NOT fighting for Islam, just as the Irish Republican Army or today's Parti Quebecois (sure to stir up some commentary!) were/are not 'fighting for freedom' -- their leaders are fighting for one single, simple thing: power, control and the financial gain that comes with it. Stalin was not fighting for socialism, nor was Mao, or the Khmer Rouge. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was NOT leading a fight for Islamic Fundamentalism or freedom from repression. All these guys just wanted to be The Boss.
The Taliban are just a bunch of guys who want to be the Grand Poobahs. They want to drive Mercedes and lord it over the rest of the people in their neighbourhoods and they've cast their lot with the group they think has the greatest chance of becoming the 'winners' after they wear down the patience and resolve of all the countries' voters who have committed troops to stability efforts. Like 'war lords' in Sudan or Afghanistan, they'll switch allegiances tomorrow if the wind changes direction -- it's all about staying in power, not ideology. At best their 'soldiers' are fighting for the $50 per month they get paid, but at worst, the most passionate fighters are nut jobs who get perverse pleasure from taking lives (or teens who's hormones and underdeveloped brains render them incapable of linking impulse, action and consequence).
The next time you read about some guerrilla group 'fighting against repression', take a close look at the leader and I can guarantee you'll find an egotistical control freak and a group of deputies who want to be in charge, regardless of how many people have to suffer or die to get them to the top. NO ONE (really, no one), goes into politics, with all the trials and tribulations it involves, unless they hunger, desperately and probably uncontrollably, for control and recognition (even Obama has given a nod to his underlying motivations). It is NEVER purely or simplistically about 'the cause', it is always about the leaders' need for power and the riches/fame that comes with it -- they'll simply leverage whatever ideological banner is convenient to them to conquer their way to the top.
"Terrorism" exists as a concept -- "terrorists" are simply crazy people who co-opt an ideology to legitimize their pathological tendencies. Let's call them what they are, consistently and openly, and thus expose their true nature as false prophets to the world. No majority of reasonable, average people can support a 'movement' once it has been exposed as a sham, a front for a power grab. Read Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek every week, or watch his show, GPS on CNN, he 'gets this' at a fundamental level.
What does any of this have to do with 'The Future of Marketing'? The Taliban, Al Queda, the "Tea Party", the NRA, these are all brands vying for market share, trying to garner more loyal fans and earn sufficient profit and sales volume to take over (or kill) all the other brands in their market (like the military junta in Burma, or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya). Once their brand is dominant, they can control the market, raise prices and shut out any new competition.
Life is marketing. 10% is what happens that we can't control, 90% is how we react to the 10% we can't control. The point here is what value we allow so-called 'terrorists' to add to their 'brands' by choosing to give them the benefit of legitimacy, versus consistently and loudly calling them what they are, very sick, pathetic socio/psychopaths.