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The Root of Violent Extremism

We are too flippant about writing off violent extremists as "crazy", "psychopathic", etc.

Just because *we* have a hard time conceiving of doing violence to others, does not mean that those who do are insane.

Hitler was not insane. Hitler was evil. There is a distinction.

To be insane, to be "crazy", means you cannot understand the difference between right and wrong.

People like Hitler, like ISIS, these people are *evil*. They have, in what they believe to be a rational process, *chosen* to embrace a death-worshipping morality.

Such thinking is going to lead us down wrong alleys in dealing with violent political extremism.

Unless we understand the various reasons why such people embrace philosophies of death, we cannot combat the root causes and defeat violent extremism.

Obama's "they need jobs" is a juvenile approach at this. But you simply cannot ignore and dismiss the reality of life in the countries that are the flash-points of extremism.

Look at America today. It is overall one of the most peaceful nations in the world. That was not always the case. In this country people burned witches, lynched blacks, slaughtered Indians, machine-gunned each other over alcohol turf.

Some of this is the fact that, as a culture, we have increasingly adopted a philosophy that values non-violence.

But another big part of the change is that we are extremely wealthy, successful, nobody in this country is in fear of starving the next day, or living in a daily fear of being slaughtered.

People who live in constant fear and privation - as *many* of the people in the Muslim world do - are easily manipulated.

This is a simple fact of human nature.

Today in some countries it's the violent tyrannical approach to Islam. 80 years ago it was starvation and humiliation in Germany. In any place or time you care to look in history where there was a mass movement around a self-destructive philosophy of death, there is a dysfunctional culture, there is a lack of freedom, there is privation, and there is constant fear.

This creates a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness.

Out of this soup often arises charismatic leaders who promise to end the suffering, and most importantly promise empowerment. And what, to a mind in a state of constant fear, is more empowering than knowing you now have the power to kill and to control others?

The particular ideology is not that important. They *all* end up being one where it's ok to kill others who are different, who disagree. If you look at all of the violent conflicts in the world today, there are many involving Islam but a great many that do NOT. If we abstract from all those, you arrive at the conclusions I have made.

Now there are other types and situations of people that join up with these Jihadis. Of the ones who go to fight in Syria from America, or the UK, or other Western countries, note that many of them are young. The Boston bombers were kids. In my mind, these share the same mental issues as the Columbine killers and other school shooters - and in this respect, share the same mental issue with the Jihadis, though with different underlying root causes. They act out violently in an attempt to feel empowered. Even though the "home-grown" terrorists come from good families and have money, everyone understands that the teen psyche and the pressures on it can go wrong and result in violent outbursts. For some, Jihadi Islam presents a uniquely attractive outlet for that emotion. But Islam had nothing to do with Columbine, or Aurora, or Oklahoma City, nor do any of the school shootings we have every year. If some of these kids adopt Jihad as their rationalization for violence, it doesn't mean Muslims are about to take over the US in a violent revolution.

George Bush's foreign policy approach to the Jihadi threat was several-fold. One is, let's fight them outside the US. We should not restrict people from traveling to Syria to fight. If someone here falls for this stuff and gets radicalized, not only should we not prevent them from going, we should buy them a freaking plane ticket. We *should* refuse to ever let them back in again, and we should do our very best to kill them far from American shores. Two, we have to do something to fight the sense of powerlessness that makes people easily manipulated into violence. Bush's thought was, hey, let's export Democracy. Give people in these countries a voice, a way to change things other than violence. Our political system in the US is actually a key element in why the US no longer has any significant political violence. We also know that countries that are open, capitalist, and democratic have never gone to war with each other.

Forcing a democratic government on other countries has not worked in the Muslim world, nor has drawing arbitrary borders and expecting them to act like nation-states when they are not.

So, we need some other approach. Obama's suggestion of a jobs program is beyond nonsensical. But the fact is that words on a page do not have any power to control a human mind. Human beings have to *choose* to adopt philosophies of death and violence.

In summary, it is important for us to understand the psychological basis of violent extremism - in particular, the fear, the void of positive philosophy, into which a charismatic leader can pour a violent ideology.

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