Will Love, Goodwill, and Tolerance Change Terrorists? Yes and No.

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila


“Yes,” if the terrorists decide to change. However, it’s not easy, depending upon the length of time and the intensity of their indoctrination into terrorism (and from what age).

I am reminded of the truth of an old saying generally attributed to the founder of the Jesuits (a group alleged to be an early source of mind control techniques): “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”  Therefore, if a terrorist has learned from an early age to achieve the goal of his or her superiors or culture by doing violence, change is very, very difficult.

Furthermore, if leaving the ideologies and/or terrorist groups is also hard because of the threat of retaliation, fear multiplies the challenge. Brainwashing/indoctrination that uses fear as a force factor is very potent, and fear is obviously a big component of mind control in any context.

Additionally, if the terrorist culture is also glorified for some reason such as religion, power, “coolness” and the like,  these  are additional strong influences.


There is also the issue of “hard-heartedness.” This is not addressed very much in the world at large, anymore, but for Christians there is much to be schooled in–and warned about–concerning this condition, particularly in the Wisdom Books. I would add that other belief systems include similar advice on “staying away from angry people unless you become like them,” and “choosing the path of peace”.

But in the deafening–and increasing–cacophony of violence and terror these days, the softer voice of wisdom is easily drowned out. Add to that a contemporary political milieu that seems to actually approve violence as a means of redressing wrongs (real, assumed, or presumed wrongs), even telling peace-keepers to “stand down”. The difficulty of choosing the road of meditation, reflection, and self-discipline, then, becomes more and more difficult. The tyranny of the urgent prevails where we have to continually put out fires and dodge rioters and bear the burden of increasing mass tragedies such as the recent attack in Manchester, England, and many others worldwide–for distraction is also a weapon, the more gruesome, the better.

Indeed, the roads to solutions for legitimate–as well as fabricated and “resurrected”–wrongs, these days, are littered with literal IEDs that blow up landscapes, buildings, and people. However, worse, perhaps, are the other kind of improvised explosive devices that shatter people’s minds and hearts and cause as much, if not more, damage. This is the kind of damage that turns hearts hard and minds into vulnerable receptacles for those who know how to use vulnerable people who crave anything to assuage the pain.

Enter the exploiters and the control-mongers.

And, to our peril if we ever forget, there are individuals who specifically choose to toss aside all empathy. Most of humanity does not like to believe this, however, because it is so opposed to how most of us are raised and/or so opposite of how we choose to live.

Nevertheless, religious texts of all traditions, as well as the literature from those who work with sociopaths and psychopaths, note that in some cases it is a person’s choice  as to how he or she responds to others.

Additionally, brain research suggests there are people incapable of empathy.

Research suggests that still others lack “mirror neurons,” i.e., the mental capacity that enables human beings to  be receptive to–and emulate–such attributes as empathy and compassion…

But for whatever the reason, it is clear that such people live, for there is surely something that explains the Genghis Kahns, the Hitlers and the Pol Pots  who bloody history and destroy all those in their paths who oppose them. Some destroy by might, others by manipulation, but all such do so with intent.

Now, the tender-hearted want to believe that something caused the evil choices (and in the case of indoctrination and mind control particularly from an early age, or other kinds of early abuse, this could be part of the cause), but at the same time there are innumerable individuals who not only overcome abuse and mind control but also consciously choose a better way to live and treat others.

With regard to those who choose evil, I am often reminded of  the old sixties’ tune, “The Snake,” by Al Wilson*:

The lyricist had some insight that, I think, we need to heed lest we fall under the spell of deception and destruction. He had the same kind of insight reflected also in the wisdom of many spiritual traditions as well as in law enforcement policies and procedures.

We can help troubled others, sometimes, and our troubled selves at will, but there are those who must be stopped short because they will not stop themselves. I am reminded of a Scripture from Proverbs that might apply to such as those: “Hell and destruction are never satisfied and so the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20 from the Interlinear translation).

Put another way, the end goal of evil is–more evil. Ever wonder why even if a wrong is righted, some people and/or political entities continue their dark quest–and their tactics get worse and worse and worse?

To the bigger-picture answer in my view, however: rather than focusing only on assuaging the pain (real, perceived, believed, or deceived) of some terrorist or his/her cause, it is far wiser to include careful discernment with the appropriate goodwill while working hard and continuously to contain the real and figurative IEDs  because it is highly likely the destruction-mongers (and their handlers) either can not–or will not–stop.


Post Script:

And for believers of the Christian tradition, here is this potent reminder:

“(We) wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” 

Armor up, brethren.

*Lyrics (sic) from You Tube Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd82HxYyHZg

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