After the terrorist attacks in Paris, it seems like most people want revenge more than anything else. In the media, people talk about not letting the terrorists win, that they will continue to fight, if anything with more resolve than before.
I believe them. What I don’t believe is that doing so will reduce the frequency and magnitude of terrorist attacks.
“God told me to do it”
I think my views are influenced by how I view religion. I think that right now, a significant number of Muslims are willing to use their religion to justify committing murders–probably more than people of any other religion. But I don’t think that this implies that Islam is an inherently more violent religion than the others. It might be, but other religions have done some pretty nasty things. For instance, Christians perpetrated the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, and various genocides.
Rather, I think religion is used to justify violence and to recruit people to commit violence, but isn’t the primary cause. Instead, I suspect that if you make people miserable enough and remove all hope, they are naturally prone to violence. At that point, you can introduce the religion to give a moral high ground and a trigger-point for their violence. But really, it’s just people doing what they were inclined to do anyway. If religion didn’t ignite that fuse, perhaps it would be ideology, or skin color, or ancestry….
Global warming war?
In fact, some have hypothesized that the conflict in Syria is partly a result of a long drought that led to food instability and the resulting migration of rural farmers into cities. If that’s the case, then both the Syrian civil war and the attacks on Paris may have been indirectly caused by global warming. (In general, this is an effect I imagine we will see more as global warming continues, since more people will need to fight to get food.)
Further evidence that Islam isn’t an inherently violent religion is the fact that there’s so few terrorist incidents in the USA committed by Muslims. Almost 1% of the US population is Muslim–close to 3 million people. As was saw in Paris, it only takes about ten to commit one of the biggest terrorist acts that the country has ever seen. If Islam were inherently violent, there should be way more attacks within the USA.
So why is ISIS so prominent in the Middle East, but not here? I think it comes back to the misery. If you give people the opportunity to build a good, happy life–as they do in the USA–they mostly won’t be inclined to blow up, behead, and shoot other people.
So, I think the solution to terrorism is to figure out ways to dump happiness on the Middle East rather than bombs. Improve education, raise the standard of living, and give people hope. If people have a great life today, I think they’ll be much less likely to want to sacrifice that wonderful life for some abstract ideal promised by a religion. I think happiness would starve radical Islamic groups for recruits, making ISIS a tiny fringe organization with no real power, similar to the KKK in America.
Of course, it is far easier to say this than to actually do it. But the Marshall Plan in Germany and the aid reconstructing Japan seemed effective–neither country has been a serious threat since World War II. Perhaps a similar strategy could be viable in the Middle East.
The bottom line
That said, I don’t think this will actually happen any time soon. People want terrorism to stop far less than they want revenge. It’s hard to justify giving aid to people that have been vilified for decades. It’s far easier just to kill them, and then be outraged when they decide to kill you in return.
(And really, if you look at it in a very perverse way, the warmongers are right. The chance of dying in a terrorist attack is small. So if you look at it as a psychopathic economist, if killing ISIS militants for revenge makes you happy, it’s a pretty good trade-off–your happiness will increase with only a small chance of a experiencing the downside of being a victim of a terrorist attack.)