Whenever we hear of a sensational act of terrorism somewhere in the world, especially when it involves the random killing and maiming of innocent people, we ask, “Why?” And when a particular terrorist group comes forward and claims credit for some atrocity, we ask the same question, this time more deeply—”Why? Why do they hate so much? What can be done to stop them?”
The experts say to explain, what to speak of to remedy, terrorism is difficult, because it is such a complex and varied phenomenon. In his book Terrorism, Robert A. Lifton discusses such explanations as the moral breakdown of society, psychological aberrations of the individuals involved, the terrorists’ desire to change the existing system, motives of frustration and revenge, a syndrome of hate, and the terrorists’ conscious effort to appear unpredictable and irrational—a “strategy of the absurd.” Mr. Lifton concludes that the sheer variety of these opinions indicates “what a complex problem modern terrorism is.” Brian Jenkins, director of the Rand Corporation program on political violence, has said of terrorism, “It’s a lot more complex than simply saying. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.'”
In the face of such a painful complexity, I won’t attempt to advocate that terrorism can be easily solved by everyone’s chanting Hare Krsna and becoming Krsna conscious. It’s not so easy. What to speak of teaching peace and equanimity to terrorists, presenting such principles of God consciousness to the millions of normal persons is difficult. Yet the Krsna conscious devotee has the duty of presenting with conviction the message of God consciousness as the remedy to ills such as terrorism, even though he knows that most people will find these teachings difficult to apply. The devotee remains undaunted, however, confident in his understanding that the Krsna conscious solution is possible and practical.
A Krsna conscious analysis of terrorism shows sectarianism to be the common denominator of the widely varied terrorist groups. Ignorant sectarianism, churned into hate by people already accustomed to violence, produces terrorism. In the Mideast the Palestinians justify their violent acts of terrorism by the sectarian claim that they are fighting for their homeland. In Northern Ireland the fighting is mainly based on nationalistic and economic differences. And the Basques in Spain, the Puerto Rican national groups like FALN, and many other groups throughout the world all stand on their various sectarian concepts of racism and nationalism in their struggle for power.
Some terrorist groups are based on ideologies rather than differences in race or nationality, but in either case the violent results are the same. The pitting of one speculative ideology against another cannot create an atmosphere in which the world’s population can peacefully and cooperatively live together. Nor will malicious, vengeful acts convince one group of the rightness of another. Tensions due to differences in ideology, race, and national allegiance will continue to confuse us, and they cannot be resolved simply by political diplomacy. What is required is a change in consciousness, a change that will lift the vengeful parties above their petty concerns of sectarianism.
The Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures give relevant advice for alleviating the distorted sectarian mentality. The Sri Isopanisad states that all land and resources are ultimately the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and while we may lawfully use these resources, we must conform to a God-given quota. World leaders should recognize this and act accordingly. Otherwise, if nations disregard the proprietorship of God and thus exploit the laws of nature in a sectarian way, then the “fanatic” have-nots will only imitate the bad example. Futhermore, the Srimad-Bhagavatam informs us that when a person is enlightened with absolute knowledge, he will see that sectarian issues are not worth hating and killing for.
To a Krsna conscious person, the basic principles of God consciousness are not sentimental, theoretical, or dogmatic but are facts of nature and life. And a Krsna conscious person is capable of applying those principles to the most complex situations of daily living. Political experts and analysts are often called in to combat terrorism, but why not call in the best self-realized spiritual teachers, who know the science of God and can spot the deficiencies in the present Age of Quarrel? Persons who are free of sectarianism, who see the spirit soul in all beings despite the bodily covering, are the most qualified when a nation’s leaders are considering how to avert terrorism.
Once on a morning walk in Rome, my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was being asked how Krsna consciousness could solve the various problems of modern society. When asked about terrorism, Srila Prabhupada replied that people should not expect to do away with terrorism as long as the vast majority of human beings were behaving as animals. It is natural that one ferocious beast fight with another, he said. So we shouldn’t be surprised when persons already accustomed to inhuman acts become terrorists. In other words, as long as the members of society are being taught that certain kinds of exploitative sectarianism are good and that certain kinds of violence for sense gratification are approved (such as animal slaughter and abortion), then we should not be surprised to see a few agitated members of such a society committing acts of terrorism. Violence will always breed violence.
While there is an obvious, immediate need to barricade embassies and presidential buildings against the terrorists’ dynamite-loaded trucks, and while there is a need for police and military surveillance to prevent terrorism from erupting in public places, more lasting solutions must be taken up. Krsna conscious persons have knowledge of the nonsectarian, nonviolent spiritual essence at the heart of every human being, and they see that the most important step in combating terrorism is to propagate this knowledge.—SDG