Terrorists: inhuman or human?

Yesterday I went to a World Youth Leadership Summit, basically a mock U.N. assembly, where the students discussed the human rights of terrorists. The world was amply represented with delegates from North America (2), Europe (4), the Middle East (3), Africa (5), India and Australia. For each of the countries, there were two delegates, a Chinese and foreign delegate. Most were from the Middle East or Africa. It was interesting to see an African passionately defending America, but I was glad he was doing it, probably more passionately than some Americans would.

I was hoping to hear a calm, rational debate on the human rights that terrorists should have. Unfortunately it seemed to be more of a finger-pointing match with one country accusing another of hypocrisy concerning human rights or excessive punishment of terrorists. America seemed to be the scapegoat for several countries. In particular, the Chechen delegate challenged America for supplying the Mujahideen with weapons which were later used against our army when we invaded Afghanistan. Further, some supposed official document implied that the CIA had created Osama bin Laden. He was just a tool we manipulated.

I couldn’t deny our collusion with the Mujahideen. But asserting bin Laden had ties to the CIA was an outrageous proposition. The American delegate did his best to be balanced, admitting our failings in Iraq but supporting our aggressive protection of our citizens. As a whole, the summit gave me a renewed perspective on my own country and the perspectives of those from the Middle East and Africa too. Yes, I am a proud nationalist, but I can see how American meddling with other countries’ affairs can be seen as nosy at best and hostile at worst.

Sure, it’s nice being a superpower. But with that comes responsibility too. We shouldn’t be an overbearing bully to less powerful countries or an isolated fortress that maintains its own affairs and disregards the outside world. But finding an acceptable balance between aggression and passivity is tough (one reason why I’m glad I’m not in politics). When there are world crises, either we care too much, or we don’t care at all. It often feels like a lose-lose scenario.

But we must fight terrorism. And since 9/11, we have done that quite vigorously, and God has blessed us from suffering any horrific violent acts since then, aside from the Boston bombing. But this world is still not safe and never will be. Where there are humans, there is inevitably conflict. And where there is conflict, there can be violence. And evil people will gladly use whomever they can to reach their violent aims whether it’s a minority group who feels slighted or earnest Muslims who would die for his faith.

So back to the summit and their unresolved dispute. What human rights should terrorists have, if any? Maybe it depends on how you define “human.” I think many would say their actions are inhuman and dehumanizing, which would make them not human. Therefore they deserve no human rights, do they not? But we can’t forget that America was founded to preserve human rights, and our legal system believes in due process for all American citizens. So if we believe in these intrinsic values, shouldn’t terrorists at least be tried? Of course, if the terrorists had just killed your wife or brother, you might radically change your more diplomatic approach to them.

Perhaps the question should be phrased differently. Why are there so many terrorists? Quite simply, I believe it’s based on what you’re taught and how you’re raised. If you’re taught that another race is inferior to yours by those you respect, then you will probably despise that race. If you’re taught that Allah will bless you for sacrificing yourself for the faith, then maybe you will consider suicide bombing a noble act. If you’re taught that violence is the only answer to others’ hatred and bigotry, then you retaliate violently.

Sure, some people may be counter-cultural and be their own man or woman. But largely, you are a product of your culture and the community around you. So how can terrorism be solved then? There is no simple answer. But I do believe we must fight against evil, and we must never give up. We must also realize that while these terrorists did commit atrocious acts, they are human. Retaliating with violence will only exacerbate the problem, but there must be justice too.

Sadly this world isn’t getting any better. We’re not going to enter some utopia anytime soon. But the best we Christians can do is love others as Jesus did, even those who despise us, and perhaps we can give hope to those who are cynical and joyless, searching for meaning in their lives and longing for peace in a broken world.



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