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Recently I watched a grainy television report of a meeting between a terrorist group recruiter and three youths from the Middle East living in a neglected Paris suburb. As the youths listened, the recruiter made his case for them to join his cause. After, they discussed what they had heard. None of the three referred to the logic of the recruiter’s statements, or to the need to kill people to exact revenge, or of what particular goal they hoped to attain. The youth’s angry statements all boiled down to: “Why not join? They will never accept us here.”
This answer stunned me. I had to ask myself: Could the essential attraction of these groups, the emotional appeal, the hook for the young and naive, be as simple as the promised acceptance they would receive versus the non-acceptance they found in their daily lives? Before I could answer that question, it answered itself, and the moving pieces of a mind puzzle fit into a coherent picture. Here’s how it happened:
On vacation, sightseeing in a large city, I realized I needed directions. Two men were rushing by, and I said “Excuse me” to one of them. He dismissed me with a brush of his hand and a grunt of disgust. I don’t normally get that kind of response, so it confused me. In the next moment, the second man really looked at me, and then quickly apologized. He explained they were bothered all the time by homeless people begging. While I appreciated the apology and the directions they gave me, I found myself wondering what it must be like to actually be homeless and receive this kind of rejection every day of your life. Then I thought of the terrorist recruitment video.
How does this all relate? For me, the unpleasant encounter only lasted a moment. However, I thought, what if my “homeless” experience, for the youths in the video, became a daily, moment by moment reality?
Baha’is believe in the miracle and wonder of human diversity—and along with that, our biological and spiritual interconnectedness. Just as the cells in our body are diverse, they must work together for our survival. This is also true for the survival of humanity. It’s now common to hear the screeching cries of fear-mongering rhetoric from those who use diversity to draw invisible walls of otherness and rejection around people who appear different. Sometimes these invisible walls actually manifest themselves into concrete and barbed wire.
Some gains do come from this wall with no exit. Certainly not to those encircled or kept out, and not to the bulk of humanity who suffer the effects—but those who gain are politicians seeking power, who curry favor with the fearful by stirring up their darkest inclinations. Terrorist organizations gain, too, by using these walls to recruit the hopeless and the marginalized, with contrived acceptance, into their deadly game.
How do we find ourselves so far down this path? Abdu’l-Baha explained:
Today the world of humanity is walking in darkness because it is out of touch with the world of God. That is why we do not see the signs of God in the hearts of men. The power of the Holy Spirit has no influence. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 305.
What do we need to know and do to change course?
Every human creature is the servant of God. All have been created and reared by the power and favor of God; all have been blessed with the bounties of the same Sun of divine truth; all have quaffed from the fountain of the infinite mercy of God; and all in His estimation and love are equal as servants. He is beneficent and kind to all. – Ibid., p. 63.
What behavior is needed?
You must manifest complete love and affection toward all mankind. Do not exalt yourselves above others, but consider all as your equals, recognizing them as the servants of one God. Know that God is compassionate toward all; therefore, love all from the depths of your hearts, prefer all religionists before yourselves, be filled with love for every race, and be kind toward the people of all nationalities. Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise without distinction. Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another. . . Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. – Ibid., p. 453.
Of course, not every member of a terrorist organization joins because of chronic alienation, non-acceptance and the hopelessness that comes with it. However, if the youths in the video give us any indication, many do. When we close the door of acceptance to the foreign, the different and the vulnerable, we open it to the manipulators who pursue violent solutions for real or imagined problems.
With love, each one of us can open a door and release those captives of non-acceptance. Show them the way out, and we can imagine a different ending to the video. The youths might say to the recruiter, “Not interested, I‘m valued and I belong.” This may be the most simple and effective solution, and all we need do is call on a power that no earthly force can defeat:
But there is need of a superior power to overcome human prejudices, a power which nothing in the world of mankind can withstand and which will overshadow the effect of all other forces at work in human conditions. That irresistible power is the love of God. It is my hope and prayer that it may destroy the prejudice of this one point of distinction between you and unite you all permanently under its hallowed protection. – Ibid., p. 68.