The Terrorism Trilemma

Each new terrorist attack presents us with three basic choices as individuals, and each choice has significant consequences … for ourselves and others.
1. Denial: We may respond with denial: That’s far away. That’s not my problem. I don’t have time for this.
Some of us are, indeed, operating at the maximum of stress and suffering already, and for us, denial is the only viable option. But for others of us, pushing away an unpleasant reality is like ignoring symptoms of a disease; it will only get worse the longer we ignore it.
2. Transmission: If we let the pain in, many of us will immediately find a way to pass it on, to transmit it to others.
We may choose revenge … calling for “an eye for an eye.” When we choose this popular path, we forget, as Gandhi said, that following the “eye for an eye” strategy will eventually leave everyone blind. And we also forget that the revenge strategy can easily turn us into the mirror image of those who have hurt us: they desire violence, and we imitate their desire.
If we feel we can’t transmit our pain back on those who inflicted it, we may choose blame and scapegoating as another way of transmitting our pain: it’s the President’s fault, it’s the fault of religion, it’s because of refugees and immigrants, etc. We feel pain and we don’t know what to do with it – so we turn it into aggression toward some third party. In so doing, we climb on the pain train and keep the vicious cycle going.
If we reject both denial and transmission, is there a third option? I believe there is:
3. Transformation: This is the way taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. When someone slaps you, he said, don’t slap them back and don’t run away or cringe in fear. Instead, stand tall. Refuse to back down. And refuse to mirror their violent behavior. (This is what “turning the other cheek” means. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means responding with creative nonviolent courage.)
What would creative nonviolent courage look like in the face of groups like Isis, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, etc? I’ll offer a few thoughts on that subject in the next day or two.