An open letter to a budding terrorist

Dear Budding Terrorist,

Greetings. You don’t know me, although perhaps you might be inclined to think that you do, but I thought that I might do something different and break the ice. I understand how unsettling it is for an infidel or mindless sheep or collateral damage or whatever to make the first move, but relationships in violence don’t seem any more or less complicated than relationships in love. And seeing as how we’re basically going to be getting off on the wrong foot no matter how we carry ourselves, I hope you will permit my indulgence.

First I want to offer my most heartfelt congratulations. I mean that sincerely. You’ve found something to believe in; you’ve found something far larger than yourself, and to which you have submitted your whole being in order to be defined by it so totally that it almost obliterates everything you were up until that point. That is not an easy thing to do, I imagine; to wholly dedicate yourself to this or that creed, however abstract on its face, however diluted or manipulated by cleverer but still lesser minds. This is more than I can say for most people I know and love, and I am very close to respecting you far more than I do them. Speaking for myself, living in a fog of unbelief has proven satisfactory and securing in only the most superficial sense, like going into a vast wilderness with nothing but a sharpened tree branch.

That you found something, a proverbial light penetrating an otherwise total darkness, in other words, is great. I am happy for you. You want something better than what you have, and moreover you want it spread as far and wide as possible so that, I presume, it gives others the feeling that it gave you. It’s on this point that I’d like to offer some advice.

In setting about with persuading people of the superiority of your beliefs, it helps to have a sense of proportionality when doing so. I know that this seems rich coming from a citizen of the United States, a country that never knew a disproportion it didn’t like, but be assured that I speak to you as someone thoroughly fatigued by any and all disproportion, not only those inflicted against my fellow countrymen but those inflicted in our names against others wholly undeserving. To put it bluntly, I speak as someone who is tired of seeing people get killed. I’ve not seen very many compared to others, I admit, but I’ve seen enough at a reasonable enough distance to know that whatever good anyone thinks will come out of it just won’t.

Perhaps you’d think it out of line of me to presume that you’d kill anybody. Perhaps you’re convinced that people you seek to persuade will very clearly see the very same light you saw and fall in line with no bloodshed or other force necessary. I think you and I both know that that is the highest order of bullshit. Whatever the content of your belief, your fervor will be stoked so early and often that it may well eclipse the former. It will very likely be stoked by people who casually disregard your worldview. It will certainly be stoked by people who willfully disregard it, indeed, who disregard it with vulgarity and vehemence, with insensitivity and antipathy. Perhaps they do not seek to harm you personally, but you may feel wounded all the same. How dare they persist in flouting The Truth? How dare they belittle and ridicule that to which you’ve so dedicated your time and energy? These people are beyond persuasion, you’ll conclude, they are beyond redemption, and so making an example of them will surely make more sense to you. Against vile words and images you’ll take action and your point will be made.

Even if you haven’t made up your mind on that point, I offer only this suggestion: don’t. Don’t make an example out of anyone for expressing this or that crude criticism. Don’t threaten and don’t kill, if not for the sake of your victims then at least for the sake of yourself and whose name under which you do it. It will not only fail, it will elicit negative results. Your cause, for one, will be regarded outwardly as unjust, even malignant if it isn’t already, but more crucially your actions will be responded to, and likely overtaken, by the very sentiment you hoped to stifle. Your vulgar, locally renowned target will go national, even international; its subversive infamy will be imbued with an almost knightly heroism. Innumerable people of all stripes, of all backgrounds and views, will go out, into the cold if necessary, to express solidarity with it and defend its right to be as vile as it wishes.

It’s perverse, really, that it would take you killing someone to remind everyone else of freedom’s presence. Freedom, don’t get me wrong, is every bit as abstract as the ideas to which you’ve clung, hell it might even be more so, yet therein lies its power. You come to us with a mind to impose rigidity and obedience, perhaps more than was intended at that, or worse if we refuse; freedom imposes generosity and presupposes at least some dignity in pretty much everybody. To some it is granted far more easily than others; it was to me and I’d hazard a guess that it was almost equally as much to you. I feel sorry for people who don’t quite grasp that feeling, but in the end there’s only so much time to give to people like you and me when there are others under more trying circumstances and with some responsibility for them attached to us.

You and I are not really all that impressive, valuable or memorable in the grand scheme of things. Maybe we should just be friends.



(Image source)

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