I have compassion for terrorists.

I have compassion for terrorists.

This is the point when many of you will stop reading and troll me in the comments. That’s ok.

Before you give up, know that this is not a plea for pardon or pity. This is not an attempt to rationalize or justify violence.

I just want to give you some time to consider the idea—of having compassion for terrorists—since that’s where all the following is headed.

It’s ok if you don’t agree now. It’s ok if you don’t agree later. It’s ok if you don’t agree ever. But I do have compassion for terrorists. And as you’re willing to continue reading, you’ll know why.

Certainly the timing of this has been motivated by recent terrorism in multiple places. But I’ve been thinking about this for years, often due to the constant shootings in the US.

The recent terror attacks have brought up many important issues: the suffering of victims, the plight of survivors, the plight of refugees, the importance of holding perpetrators accountable, the need to cooperate in terms of global policies about terrorism.

I haven’t found much commentary about terrorists, in terms of them as human beings. They still are, however warped they may be.

But first, I need to clarify some language language. People often use “sympathy” and “compassion” interchangably. I value a small but meaningful distinction between the them:

sympathy = harmony, agreement, or shared feelings; approval, support, or favor
(The fourth definition in this listing incorporates “compassion,”
but on the whole, the emphasis is on agreement of feelings.)

compassion = concern for suffering AND a desire to alleviate and prevent that suffering
(This listing uses “sympathy” in the definition, but my emphasis is on the additional dimension of compassion—that of wanting to end suffering.)

Now, to mention the obvious:

~ Of course, I have compassion and sympathy for the victims of terrorism. Generally speaking, compassion for the victims of terrorism is not in dispute, which is why my first sentence was not “I have compassion for the victims of terrorism.”

~ My compassion is NOT sympathy or condonement for a cause, a belief system, or certain actions. My compassion does NOT mean that I identify with or approve of terrorism.

I have compassion for terrorists. Not sympathy.

I have compassion for terrorists because I have compassion for the suffering of all beings. I have compassion for terrorists because all forms of violence come from suffering. I want the suffering to end.

Violence, in whatever form, does not come from genuine love. We know that—but only sort of. In other words, we know that violence comes from fear, insecurity, lack of connection, scarcity. But often we ignore some of the implications—such as the fact that perpetrators of violence are suffering.

Let’s consider a terrorism example—like a gunman walking into a school and intentionally killing a lot of innocent people, most of them children.

Could you do that? If someone gave you a weapon and pushed you through the doorway of a classroom, could you spray bullets on a group of children?

I doubt it. But think of how much suffering it would take for you to do that. Consider that. How much suffering would it take to kill innocent children? Stop reading and really think about it.

Many people are suffering that much. I have compassion for those school shooters. I want the suffering to end.

Let’s consider another act of domestic terrorism—like a gunman walking into a church’s prayer meeting and shooting people.

Could you do that? If someone gave you a weapon and pushed you through the doorway, could you spray bullets on a group of people who’ve just prayed with you?

I hope you’re not suffering enough to want to do that. But, again, think about how much suffering it would take to want to do that. Really, really think about it.

Some people are so lost in hate and suffering that they commit incomprehensible violence.

I have compassion. I want the suffering to end.

As we know, many violent people don’t consider themselves to be suffering—such as psychopaths or narcissists. But I maintain that mental illness is a form of suffering. Even if people don’t believe that their lives are overwhelmed by suffering, I still want the circumstances compelling people to commit violence to end.

I don’t have an answer. I do know more violence is not the answer. More violence is often considered a “logical” or warranted response to a violent act. But by that rationale, a lot of terrorism could be warranted—and generally is, by the groups or governments which commit it.

The Dalai Lama articulates it better:

“Terrorism cannot be overcome by the use of force because it does not address the complex underlying problems. In fact the use of force may not only fail to solve the problems, it may exacerbate them and frequently leaves destruction and suffering in its wake. Human conflicts should be resolved with compassion. The key is non-violence.

I am sure everybody agrees that we need to overcome violence, but if we are to eliminate it completely, we must first analyse whether or not it has any value. From a strictly practical perspective, we find that on occasions violence indeed appears useful. We can solve a problem quickly with force. However, such success is often at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. As a result, even though one problem has been solved, the seed of another has been sown.
On the other hand, if your cause is supported by sound reasoning, there is no point in using violence. It is those who have no motive other than selfish desire and who cannot achieve their goal through logical reasoning who rely on force. Even when family and friends disagree, those with valid reasons can state them one after another and argue their case point by point, whereas those with little rational support soon fall prey to anger. Thus anger is not a sign of strength but of weakness.”
(emphasis added)

Part of my exploration and contemplation in the face of all this violence has been to find the humanity. Not just my own, but that of everyone.

The focus on compassion helps me keep things in perspective. Admittedly, holding compassion for terrorists continues to be difficult and uncomfortable. Fortunately, I have plenty of external support:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27-28
I interpret this as “don’t be selectively compassionate.”

~ The family and friends of people murdered in Charleston earlier this year. At the hearing of the shooter, people gave statements of their faith and love. Surely their compassion has nothing to do with sympathy for his motives.
Personally, I can’t imagine that degree of kindness towards the person who gunned down people I love. I am in awe—I am in awe—of the grace displayed by the people who spoke at that hearing. It’s a good reminder that I have a lot of room for improvement.

~ The open letter of Antoine Leiris. (translation here)

~ Calls for wisdom, like this one.

I have compassion. I want the suffering to end.

SK © 2015

Posted in community, compassion, identity | 4 Comments