In this assembly, Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider why some people who believe they have a a cause to promote are tempted into terrorist activity
Reader 1: Last week three men were found guilty of conspiring to explode liquid bombs on planes travelling from Britain to North America. Using home-made explosive packed into soft drink bottles, it is believed their intention was to cause the deaths of thousands of people. They were each sentenced to life imprisonment (1).
Reader 2: The same week saw the commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States. On September 11th 2001, 19 terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people by flying three hijacked aircraft into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington DC. A fourth aircraft crashed into a Pennsylvania field, killing all passengers and crew who had bravely prevented it from reaching its target, which was probably the White House (2).
Leader: It could be said that there are two kinds of terrorists: on the one hand there are those who want to overthrow the system because of their political beliefs, such as the Baader Meinhof group in Germany, the Red Brigade in Italy, and the Weathermen in the US. Such groups believe that the capitalist system is corrupt and beyond repair. On the other hand there are those who are protesting at foreign influence within, or occupation of, what they regard as their homeland. Into this group fall the IRA in Northern Ireland, ETA in the Basque regions of Spain (who exploded bombs in Majorca and mainland Spain this summer), and Middle East organisations such as Al Quaeda.
What are the terrorists’ intentions? The first group want to disrupt daily life to such an extent that it’s impossible for the government to govern. They’re looking for the present system to disintegrate into chaos, so that a new one can emerge. They see themselves as revolutionaries.
We’re more familiar with the second group. They simply want to force governments to change their policy. The IRA wanted the British government to give Ireland back to the Irish, ETA wants an independent Basque nation on the borders of northern Spain, and southwest France and the Middle East terrorist groups want an end to western political and military influence in their part of the world.
Reader 1: All that’s fine as an objective analysis, but don’t they have a point? It’s not hard to appreciate that the Middle East has suffered centuries of oppression and exploitation by the west. You only need to look at the history of the area. You only need to visit the refugee camps in Palestine and Pakistan to feel rage at the injustice. You only need to see the economic importance of the oil rich deserts to the west. Perhaps they feel that violence could be the only response left.
Reader 2: And what about religious faith? Hasn’t the purity of Islam been undermined and insulted by western values where greed and immorality are accepted as normal?
Leader: Injustice is wrong wherever it happens and to whomever it happens. It’s important that we make ourselves aware of what’s going on throughout the world by watching the news, listening to news updates on the radio or getting them on our mobile phones. Internet technology has made the world a smaller place. We can learn more about what it’s like to live in a Palestinian refugee camp, or to be trafficked as a child slave because our parents sold us as the only way to relieve their poverty. We can follow the effect of the discovery of oil in a poor nation like Uganda and its exploitation by multi-national companies. We can gain evidence of the dumping of dangerous out-of-date drugs on the developing world, or the traffic of human organs for wealthy western patients. And it should make us rage at the injustice.
We can learn about religious and social values that have been the foundation of stable family and community life for centuries but are now disintegrating under the influence of western culture. And it should make us weep as we see the consequences.
Why should we weep? Why should we rage? Because if we were to feel so strongly that we are motivated into using the channels of protest and influence that are available to us in our democratic society, then maybe the government that serves us might be persuaded to alter policies that cause offence and to persuade other governments to do likewise.
Leader: Terrorism is an important issue and we all share the responsibility to be vigilant about what we see and hear. As civilians we are easy targets for an indiscriminate attack. In this assembly I’ve tried to suggest that we also share the responsibility for addressing the underlying issues. At least one of the three recently convicted terrorists was inspired to be a bomber at the age of 15, while attending a school just like this. Maybe if someone had taken his concerns seriously and helped channel his rage at the injustice he learned about, he wouldn’t have been radicalised by other influences and ended up in prison.
Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.
Dear GodHelp me to recognise injustice wherever it may take place Help me to reject it when it happens to a friendHelp me to reject it when it happens to a strangerGive me ears that listen without making superficial judgementsGive me a mind that carefully thinks through my responseGive me words that support, that build bridges, that suggest possibilitiesGive me the patience and endurance never to give up fighting injustice in a peaceful way
All web pages accessed 16th September 2009
This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009
About the author: Brian Radcliffe