COLUMN: How should we respond to aggression and terrorism? A roundup of answers

Published: October 18, 2012

A Sikh man mourns along with several thousand people at a candlelight service on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, at Miller Park in Oak Creek, Wisc.,, for the six members of the Sikh temple in Oak Creek who were killed in a shooting rampage. Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT


Sadly for the Sikh community, this question hits all too close to home, with the incident of “domestic terrorism” in Oak Creek, Wisc., this past summer, where a gunman with ties to neo-Nazi groups shot and killed six worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara. Our response to aggression and terrorism must be one of universal condemnation, regardless of who the victims are.

The first step in response to aggression and terrorism is to come to the aid of the victims. The victims of terrorism need the full support of not just their friends and neighbours, but also of the state.

Steps must immediately be taken in order to ensure that similar incidents cannot recur.

Once the victims are attended to, it is important to understand why the incident took place and what the motivations of the terrorists were. This is not in any way to condone the violence that has taken place, but to understand why individuals have taken to using such methods.

It may be possible to marginalize terrorists by engaging with individuals who may share the underlying grievances but reject the use of violence, in order to find solutions. Where the motivation is simply hate, it is important to introduce education and understanding in order to overcome intolerance.

Finally, in the words of the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, “where all other methods have been exhausted, it is righteous to raise the sword.” It may be inevitable in some circumstances to respond to terrorism with the state’s power. But when resorting to this option, it is essential that the force be proportional and limited.

The state cannot resort to the use of indiscriminate power or violate fundamental human rights when countering terrorism. Where the state begins to violate the rights of its own citizens in the fight against terror, it is, in fact, a victory for the terrorists.

Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa.

Christians are called to respond to insult and injury not in kind but with mercy, kindness, and forgiveness.

In the Old Testament, we see the prophets trying to curb violent feuds by limiting the response to violence to matching the response to the injury: “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21.24). This was not a recipe for retaliation. It was intended to limit the counter-attack.

But Jesus took that restriction one big step further when he taught his disciples: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.44-45).

This is a difficult teaching to put into practice. As human beings, we often want to strike back at those who offend or injure us, but Christ calls us to a higher standard. To respond in a Christ-like manner takes a conscious effort to let go of the desire for revenge and to implore the help of God’s grace to respond with restraint and even compassion.

Christians may defend themselves or others if attacked, but the ultimate goal is to move beyond violence and aggression to mercy and a genuine concern for others. Responding to violence with more mindless violence perpetuates a cycle of anger and recrimination.

Jesus teaches us the way to break that self-sustaining cycle: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6.27). With resolute willpower, prayer, and the help of God’s grace, it is possible to move from violence to compassion. But we must be willing to risk the attempt.

KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre for Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

One might expect I would be militant, putting the blame squarely on religious extremists for terrorizing those who reside on this pale blue dot. In the court of Western public opinion, it would seem to be the case.

The invention of the gods did provide a moral excuse to kill those who opposed your absolutes. And history does repeat itself. Hitler and George W. deluded themselves into waging war because they believed they were carrying out a Divine plan. This God of Abraham must be anguishing in terror today, as some of the most devout servants of his religion of peace are persecuting followers of his religion of love and forgiveness, all in his good name.

If we can look at aggression and terrorism dispassionately, there a several reasons why humans indulge. Religion — certainly, but add racial, cultural, political and economic differences into the mix and we have a recipe ripe for conflict.

So what to do? A short-term solution would be to punish those who attack, an eye-for-an-eye philosophy. But violence begets violence, as is evidenced in the Middle East conflict, which has been ongoing since Jesus was a baby.

Despite the Vatican’s hyperbolic fixation to the contrary, a “tsunami of secularism” is critical as a long-term solution to improving our global condition. As Stephen Pinker points out in his book, The Better Angels of our Nature, the Enlightenment ushered in secular, democratic societies, where equality for all, regardless of race, religion, or gender was enshrined. This paved the way for what historians have known for decades — a less violent world.

It’s a shame there are those who perpetuate the mythical fear of secularism. They are legitimate aggressors, whose words terrorize the progress of our modern society towards lasting peace.

Rev. RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

The crucial factor would be the possibility of dialogue. Otherwise, responses to aggression or terrorism, whose purpose is to produce chaos, would lie in police or military interventions. Engagement is precluded, and so, to protect ourselves, our responses would have to include appropriate, balanced and legal police or military action.

Religious leaders do not manage the complexities of international politics, nor negotiate with participants in civil strife. We are not jurists, nor are we enforcers, so our value is outside of the legal and protection aspects of such situations.

Our value, is contributing to the moral dimension of such responses. We have something to offer that provides subtlety and depth, especially in the processes of human interaction. No matter which faith tradition we represent, we all represent moral values that qualify small and large-scale human relations. Principles of forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and understanding are those that occupy us and where we have some expertise to contribute. Our commitments to honesty and fairness give us validity in calling for transparency and the rule of law.

One modern example is the several attempts at “national reconciliation,” beginning with Nelson Mandela. These have moved beyond simple judicial or law enforcement response towards deeper issues of compassion, and decisions that reaches into the future, beyond simple right and wrong.

The purpose of such reconciliations is not settling criminal or property disputes, but restoring healthy human interaction, establishing workable ethical standards for national and international relations. As such, the process involves considerable mutual understanding and respect, combined with an appreciation for enduring peaceful and fair social relations.

There will always be those who prefer simplistic and primitive “eye-for-an-eye” solutions, and tension with political or commercial interests. Faith leaders can provide a higher standard to which we may aspire.

Rev. KEVIN FLYNN is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.

Defining terrorism is notoriously tricky. One’s political stance will often be determinative.

These days, Nelson Mandela is lauded as a statesman, one who led the African National Congress to overthrow the unjust and racist apartheid regime of South Africa. From the perspective of the ruling party, however, Mandela was a terrorist as he had refused to rule out violence in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Terrorists use violence for political ends and refuse to distinguish between civilian and military targets, or between the innocent and the guilty. Terrorism aims at creating shock, confusion, and chaos out of all proportion to actual physical damage. There is nothing new about it, though it has been used increasingly over the last few hundred years.

Terrorism is the symptom of a deeper malaise. Terrorists see themselves as freedom fighters, combatants against massive state-sponsored oppression, injustice, or violence. They always have some kind of political agenda. The fact that terrorists in many places have widespread popular support (witness the IRA in Northern Ireland, the ANC in South Africa, etc.) suggests that some people resort to violence when they find themselves without other means to redress pressing social problems. Sadly, when political movements resort to violence, they may also attract genuine sociopaths for whom violence is an end in itself.

Terrorism must be opposed by good, rigorous police and security work.

We need also to attend to the deeper causes of terrorism. The presence of Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, seen as occupying forces by people there, has evidently given birth to new generations of terrorists. Politically, it is folly to overlook our own contribution to the alienation of reasonable people.

As a matter of religious conviction, Christians are to learn to oppose violence of all kinds and to pursue peaceable means of resolving conflict.

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA, head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, hosts Sunday Night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

Your interchanging of the terms “aggression” and “terrorism” push me to assuming that you mean aggression to be a mode of behaviour between individuals, and terrorism as aggression on a mass scale. It is with this formulation that I respond to your question.

We have seen the ugly face of aggression erupt in our schools. We may refer to it as bullying, but it boils down to aggressive behaviour. We reject bullying because of the damage it causes, because of the lives it ruins. But it is wrong even if it does no harm. No one has the right to invade the protected space of another person’s reality.

We have rightly embraced a zero tolerance approach to bullying, to aggressive and invasive behaviour. On the mass, international scale, we have gone wimpy. Instead of branding terrorism for what it is, we have just about taken that term out of popular parlance.

Terrorists have become insurgents, as if this minimizes the atrocities they have committed. All this is being justified with the argument that one side’s traitor is another side’s freedom fighter. Pardon me for not getting it. How does blowing up innocents for whatever reason become anything less than a despicable act of terror?

We realize that today’s bully can become tomorrow’s terrorist, but have somehow failed to accept that today’s terrorist was yesterday’s bully. The upshot of this is that our failure to condemn terrorism for what it is weakens the moral strength of our fight against today’s terrorists-in-waiting.

If for no other reason than for the sake of moral consistency and clarity, we must realize that it is a straight line from aggression to terrorism. Our policies to both aggression and terrorism need to reflect that. Zero tolerance across the board — in thought, in word, in deed.

RADHIKA SEKAR holds a PhD in religious studies and taught Hinduism courses at Carleton and University of Ottawa. An aspiring Vedantin, she is a devotee of the Sri Ramakrishna Mission.

Mahatma Gandhi popularized the oft-quoted stanza from the Mahabharatha; “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” (non-violence is the highest principle). And indeed, it has been shown, time and again, that the only way to secure an enduring peace is through non-violent means.

Loosely translated as “non-violence,” ahimsa is not merely non-injury. Based on the Hindu belief that all forms of life are divine, ahimsa is abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever, to any living creature, either by thought, word, or deed. Thus it is a positive, cosmic love — a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love.

Can we apply the strategies of non-violence to today’s terrorism? Absolutely, and it is imperative that we start straight away. Mahatma Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. The first step therefore begins with the individual. We must learn to view and recognize the interconnectedness of all beings, acknowledge the humanity of opponents, and honour the spiritual dimension of human experience. Nowhere is the power of thought greater than in this area. Change in thought will go a long way in implementing peace-oriented action.

Second, we need to actually “practise” our beliefs in our lives, in however small ways: attempt to understand the rage of the aggressors instead of succumbing to the blame game; not denounce whole cultures for the deeds of a few; being restrained in our responses to aggression — avoid provocation.

Finally, we must be patient. Non-violence is a slow path for its purpose is to transform both parties, aggressor and resister, in order to bring about a social change that moves toward a more just and compassionate coexistence.

JACK MCLEAN is a Bahá’í scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Bahá’í theology and poetry.

Who precisely is the “we?” Our particular faith tradition, the government, the human race, the United Nations, the individual? Actually, the question can refer either to the individual or the collective.

Ideally, the root causes of aggression and terrorism should be removed. But our “response” must distinguish between just punishment, which is the duty of the community both to prevent and to deter future crimes, and vengeance, which is not allowable.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter of his teachings, says, “vengeance appeases the anger of the heart by opposing one evil to another” (Some Answered Questions, p. 268). Vengeance only perpetuates a cycle of violence. Instead, higher forms of spirituality counsel returning good for evil.

If all crimes were forgiven, the security and stability of the community and order of the world would be radically upset. Tyrants would thrive and destroy the innocent. “The continuance of mankind depends upon justice and not upon forgiveness” (Some Answered Questions, p. 269).

Regarding nation-states, Bahá’u’lláh counselled in the 19th century that they should observe the principle of “collective security”: “Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice” (Gleanings, p. 254).

The United Nations is supposed to fulfil this function, but it requires urgent reform of the Security Council in order for collective security to work effectively. Bahá’u’lláh also counselled that any disputes be submitted for final arbitration to a supreme international tribunal. Of course, such recommendations will prove effective only if unbridled nationalism were subordinated to the international authority.

Terrorism has no quick fixes and the solution will have to be multi-generational. Terrorism and all forms of violence must be condemned and punished; love and tolerance must be taught and exemplified; interfaith dialogue and cooperation accelerated; education extended to women and children in the developing world; curriculums reformed to answer societal needs. Solutions can no longer be ignored.

Balpreet Singh is legal counsel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.


Jeff says:

As so far, the terrorism in this country and abroad has mostly come from religious minorities, those communities should shoulder more of the effort in minimizing extremists in their midst.

Sukh Hayre says:


I don’t consider the U.S. a minority, and they are resonsible for a lot more terrorism around the world than most people are willing to admit (because, the reality is, they don’t have the time to look into it, and so don’t really have the ability to question their own beliefs.

You may or may not find this YouTube video informative. I hope you will watch it.

Sukh Hayre says:

Oher than the Air India bombing (which was done by a handful of people, and you would be hard-pressed to find people who condone it), Canada has been relatively terror-free.

Sure, there are Asian gangs you may lump into this terrorist group, but they are small potatoes compared to organized crime like the Hells Angels and the Mafia that seems to be a significant player in the Eastern Canadian construction business.

These people are all criminals (who thrive through their ability to terrorize individuals, businesses, governments, and the general public).

We should not look to point fingers and make it appear as though they are linked to only minorities (and my assumption could be wrong here, but I am assuming you are referring to visible minorities – please correct me if this is an incorrect assumption).

Sukh Hayre says:

And,Guru Nanak-like.

Sukh Hayre says:

An exceptionally well-written article on a very complex issue. One that may take on even greater importance in upcoming uncertain economic times.

We all need to read these types of editorials and see what we can do. Regardless of faith, there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be more “Christ-like”.


The Canadian Flag flies over the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill on Feb. 15, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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