“The fever. The rage. The feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel.” — Alfred Pennyworth
Pennyworth, known more famously as Batman’s butler, may have unintentionally uttered a valuable insight into why some Muslims in certain parts of the world feel vindicated to mete out their own brand of justice; a group of misguided Batmen, proverbially speaking. But what causes this rage, this fever? I do not wish to exonerate the perpetrators of these heinous acts, nor do I want to suggest they should not be — or are not — accountable for their actions — but if we are to get at the root of the problem as well as harboring any hopes of stopping it, we must examine why such (predominantly) young men feel entitled to inflict harm on the world. Part of that process will be acknowledging that some of their grievances are legitimate. The other half will be demonstrating to them that (a) some are not legitimate and (b) even those that can be substantiated, vengence, at the cost to public safety, is neither permissible nor practical.
Recent airstrikes by the U.S. government in Syria, for example, continue to show a level of indifference to human life that should outrage anyone. What enrages many of the youth (Muslim or otherwise) is the indifference they feel their respective societies have towards them. These perceived slights may be economic or perhaps cultural. Others feel they simply have no arena or audience in which they can air their grievances to an attentive ear (which for good, or mostly bad, is precisely what ISIS offers, for example). One thing that any gang or cult gives their members is (a) a sense of belonging and (b) an attentive audience or attentive ear which is sympathetic to their griefs, anxieties, or concerns. Many of these Muslim perpetrators of public violence often feel rejected by society. What is needed in addressing this brand of terrorism is to help them see that (a) not all grievances are legitimate and most importantly, even those that are legitimate, is that personal vendettas, at the expense of the public’s right to safety — Muslim as well as non-Muslim — is non-negotiable as a Muslim. Given that the common profile for many of these perpetrators is one of criminality, clearly the onus that’s on Muslim religious leadership is to articulate this as part of the core of Islamic devotional studies. This is why I feel that so long as Muslim religious leadership is domesticated, neutralized, or passed over, the problem will never be addressed. And in light of this, American foreign and domestic policy will continue to retreat from any plausible strategy to mere tactics: attempting, in vain, to bomb an idea — a grievance — out of existence.