Nobody Is Born A Terrorist

If you’re reading this article, I’m impressed. It is quite taboo in Western culture to have any view other than complete and total contempt for those who commit heinous acts of terror. To entertain another possible view risks being the target of that scorn usually reserved for people whose actions we can comprehend the least. But if anyone is interested in living in a more peaceful world, then there is one question we should be asking that very few seem to be looking for answers to.

What experiences must a human being have, what level of pain and disconnection have they had to endure to be capable of going on a suicide mission to execute disabled people one by one in a concert hall?

Children are born wanting peace.

From Retaliation To Prevention

Is there something within you that does not want to entertain this question? Would offering empathy to those committing these acts in addition to the victims of them take something away from the victims? Let me say firstly that my goal by entertaining this question is not to promote some utopic vision of the world that denies the horrific experiences were felt by victims from both sides of these conflicts.

My goal is to find a solution to these atrocities. Whether they are committed in Paris or in Syria, it does not matter. All human life is worth the same. I am interested in prevention and in order to prevent a situation from happening, one must fully understand the truth of what compels that situation to occur.

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How can we protect the peacefulness of children?

There Are No Terrorist Infants

I think it is safe to assume that there are no infants associated with ISIS or Al Qaeda or any religion for that matter. No baby is born into this world hating another race of people. Hate is something that is learned through their experience on the planet.

Omar Ismail Mostefai is the name of one of the “terrorists” that committed the recent attacks in Paris. Sometime between the time that he was born and the time he died committing those violent acts of terror, something happened to him to make him no longer care if he lives or dies so long as the he could inflict as much pain as possible on to the world. Isn’t anyone curious as to what those experiences were, not so that we can justify what he did, but so we can understand why he did it?

I don’t mean the superficial “why” of “because Allah told him to kill all the infidels.” I mean the real deep “why”. What happened to Omar that made him want to kill another human being? What happened to make him decide to join ISIS? Did he have other opportunities for a peaceful life that he rejected? If we are interested in finding solutions, wouldn’t the answers to these questions be relevant?

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Nobody is born a terrorist.

The Truth About Terrorism

We have this habit of creating labels for human beings that commit acts of violence towards innocent life. We use these labels to distance ourselves from them. We want to believe that they couldn’t possibly be human beings just like us. And so we use these labels to refer to them: “barbarian,” “savages”, “terrorists.”

The truth is that Omar is a human being anatomically no different from you or me. There isn’t some separate race of being called “terrorists” that want to wipe out all the “non-terrorists.” And this also means recognizing that each of us might be capable of doing the same thing as Omar. The question is what would it take?

For me, I imagine that it would take a truly catastrophic experience for me to want to commit an act of terror. There must be no possibility for me to live a peaceful life. If my family was murdered by a random bomb from the sky, if my government was infiltrated with corrupt diplomats with ties to foreign corporate interests, if access from the land was removed to grow food for people living abroad, I could see myself potentially being susceptible to a fundamentalist message that promised to give me some power, some feeling of control over the outcome of my life. But the truth is I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what that feels like. But I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t do exactly as Omar chose to do.

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When children are exposed to horrific experiences, is it any wonder that a few of them want to inflict the same pain back onto the world as the world inflicted onto them?

Getting Real About Solutions

Look, we can continue to engage in the same responses that we have for centuries. We can go on more crusades, drop more bombs, create more chaos, more broken families, more desire for revenge. If we do, I think we should not be surprised when those feeling the brunt of such actions want to lash out and make other people feel what they feel. Isn’t this what we do when we get hurt and the one that hurt us does not care or show remorse for how they hurt us? Don’t you have a desire to make them feel what you feel?

We all know how to respond to terror attacks with fear and anger. How might we respond with love? I think we begin by asking some of these tough questions that get at the real root of the desire to commit harm towards another. Doing so won’t be easy. We will have to confront the systemic atrocities that occur as a result of global capitalist society. We will have to confront our own pain that comes from our forced contribution to this system. And we will need to work together to find more sustainable ways of living on this planet. All of this begins by asking the right questions and making the attempt to understand each other, even when what they did feels unforgivable. At the end of the day, it’s your choice to respond to all situations with either fear or love. I hope you choose love.


At the end of it all, life comes down to a personal choice between whether to love or to fear.

When children are exposed to horrific experiences, is it any wonder that a few of them want to inflict the same pain back onto the world as the world inflicted onto them?
Chris Agnos

This article, Nobody Is Born A Terrorist is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris Agnos and (Just copy and paste this text with links at the bottom of your page.)


  • Cath Catt

    Thank you. Your positive and thoughtful posts give me hope, and I am sure you are right in this.

  • Human

    I hope people read this article and start thinking about the root of problems, not the result. Understanding how such a violence can happen and try to prevent it. Try to see first our own role in any disaster which is done by any human, not “labelling” others to escape from fact or feel good to call others guilty.

    Well written

  • Victor

    This is a good article. But the answer to the question asked might not be likable for the author. We all know the deep why, and is not the one answer many people like.

    It is not just education. It just not just being poor. It is not just being isolated. It is not just the Western world bombing countries they dislike. It is, fundamentally, because of ideological and religious indoctrination from a very strict version of Islam. Period.

    Progressives may not like this. The left may not like this. The world may not like this. But this is the truth. This is the ¨why¨.

    Do you wanna stop these acts of terrorism in Syria and Paris and elsewhere? Well, by fixing education, by making everybody rich and connected, you will not achieve it. Not while there is an extremist ideology that wants to kill everybody who does not share their view.

    You wanna stop this? Then cut the staircase before young ones start to climb it. Cut out the bad apples. Those who share and broaden the ideology. Be quick, precise and tough with it. Make sure any radicalized person is taken away from society to never come back. Never, ever.

    But this, of course, would require that millions of people abandon their political agenda and start thinking about deep understanding and solutions.

    So, even when I agree with this article ideas, I am afraid that the response the author was looking was not the one I just mentioned. If I am wrong, the better. If not, this is the real problem. The people who is afraid to say that those who follow Islam that support stoning of homosexuals, that support women’s punishment after adultery, or the jihad craziness…which are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, should be excluded from society AT ALL COSTS.

    Until then, we will never fix this problem. And we will continue seeing innocent Muslims, Christians, non-believers and just innocent people die for nothing.

    Peace out.

    • Chris Agnos

      “It is not just education. It just not just being poor. It is not just being isolated. It is not just the Western world bombing countries they dislike. It is, fundamentally, because of ideological and religious indoctrination from a very strict version of Islam. Period.”

      Ok, I will give you that. But what makes people susceptible to these extreme teachings? When you have no other means to a good life, when everything you have is constantly taken from you including your family members due to Western imperialist wars, and these guys preaching this extreme messages are the only guys in town, then is it any wonder why they might choose to follow this message? Given a reasonable alternative for a better life, don’t you think most people would look past these extreme views?

      Much like the US military preys on the poorest Americans using ideals of “freedom” and “democracy” to fight imperial wars to the benefit of the elites, the religious fundamentalists use this extreme form of Islam to indoctrinate the poorest and least fortunate in their countries to serve their bidding.

      So, as long as the underlying conditions exist that create poverty and desperation, you will always have funded militias looking for recruits. The only solution to terrorism is to change the system that creates scarcity. It is impossible to declare war on an ideology when the ideology stems from environmental conditions.


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