On 9 May, CHE organized a Salon under the title:
What motivates people to commit an attack? Terrorism and Anti-Terrorism
Peter Knoope, former director of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism and senior visiting fellow at Clingendael (also recently a guest at DWDD with Geert Mak and Adriaan van Dis), spoke about the reasons why people commit terrorist acts.
He felt nagging dissatisfaction with the scientific approach. Any young person who wishes to join a (politically) violent organization is ultimately seen by scientists as a frustrated individual with a lack of prospects for the future. Knoope felt that a deeper understanding is possible and has proceeded to integrate his experiences, observations and knowledge into a more historical contextual view. A vision that makes 'us', white westerners, look in the mirror and challenge us to find our own answer to the global conflict that has dawned on us since 9/11.
And here we immediately get to the first point of his message: we may wake up to the reality that we are all involved in the conflict. Knoope opens his presentation with the thought exercise: “Imagine” he emphasizes forcefully, “that a terrorist is just a human being like you and me”. Apparently he often stands in front of an audience of people who don't just let that come in. And that is telling: do we want to see those who carry out attacks as the incomprehensible bad guys who have to go away, or dead? Or can we relate to the fact that they have a message to us? And how can we think about them in such a way that we understand that message? Knoope makes a sincere effort to act as an interpreter for us in this.
Apparently we are not there yet when we understand that there are people who experience their lives as hopeless, who feel economically, culturally and historically excluded and who live with the perception that the immoral, non-Islamic West, is the enemy. Because if that were the case, we should be able to make them change their mind. No, says Knoop. There is also something about us. And we are not just used to that.
We consider it honorable to feel innocent. So when we hear stories about our unprocessed colonial past, we don't like it. Then we feel guilty. And then we want to do something about it. We want to 'help' our victims. We don't really know how far that unprocessed past reaches. We don't have a good idea of the havoc that has been caused there. We have suspicions, but hardly anyone tells us the stories about the disruption of local traditional community forms and the breakdown of decision-making structures to resolve mutual conflicts. We're not looking for that either. Out of our sense of honour, we will 'help' as soon as possible. We have therefore invented 'development aid' and we have exported 'democracy', but it all turns out to be of no help at all.
That we could also react differently to a bad conscience becomes clear when Knoope explains that there are many regions and peoples who consider it honorable to show you shame instead of guilty. If Turkish President Erdogan feels humiliated, his opponent should be ashamed in his eyes. It makes little sense for him to think about the guilt or innocence of the comedian who offended him. An eye opener! It really needed to be explained to us.
And there is something else going on with our 'development aid' tendency because there is something wrong with the perception of 'time'. Knoope: we in the west see, feel and experience time as something that lies ahead of us and towards which you are moving. We are future- and progress-oriented and therefore development-oriented. We don't realize it ourselves, but we are chock full of ideas, norms and opinions that see progress as good. And we use that idea as a criterion for who is 'before' and who is 'behind' to our taste – sometimes up to 2000 years.
Behind us, that is. After all, the most persistent idea in us is that eventually the whole world will inevitably be as we are. In this we are – without realizing it – just as colonialist as our ancestors.
The vast majority of non-Western people have traditionally lived the other way around, relying on the past. You have time behind you. Whoever gets older in the west, has less and less time left. As people get older in Africa, they have more and more time. This does not only mean the increase in wisdom and experience, but above all the increase in presence, connection and history. People who live like this also pay a lot of attention to tradition, collectivity, religion and so on. This person lives in this way in certainty about who he is. Embedded in the culture, with the support of the ancestors and with clarity about one's own place in an ordered whole. This way of life has been systematically insulted, humiliated, broken down and rendered dysfunctional. And if people can no longer raise their grievances through their own local political channels, then in time the choice for political violence is the only way for many to stand up for life.
If you listen carefully to Knoope, the image arises that we are disoriented addicts. We – the white person in the west – have to constantly 'go with the times', which means: changing, expanding and renewing all the time. Our western modernity is a state of permanent uprooting and of total uncertainty with an unconscious urge to expand.
In that sense, Knoope has chosen a difficult challenge. Because how do you explain to people with an unconscious sense of superiority and an urge to feel innocent that 'progress' is not a meaningful export item? That there are people who would like to get rid of our presumptuous attitude for very good reasons? And that there are pressing reasons for us to learn to be ashamed? In other words, that there are people and peoples who emphatically exceed us in numbers, and who can bring us a lot of civilization?
What a job!
Inge, visitor of the salon