Demonizing the ‘Other’
26 February 2007

The agenda ultimately sets the tone for action. It provides the context within which decisions are made. The underlying intentions and motives are often well disguised. But they drive the agenda and set in motion clear targets and goals. The whole process then gets a life of its own. Other interested parties join the bandwagon. It is usually cast as an ‘us versus them’ agenda that is presented on a moral high ground to maximize support.

The ‘war on terrorism’ is a case in point. As soon as the agenda is set it is then globalized. Either you are with us or against us. For various motives several countries then join the bandwagon. Others are forced to sign up and the battle is on. It is a ‘war’ on terrorism and it is sold on such terms as ‘evil’ to dehumanize the ‘other’.

This benefits the war-mongers, the weapons industry and those who feed the notion of violence. Violence begets violence and soon the very terror that you imagined becomes an imposing reality. The war-mongers who have decided to use violence to deal with this threat create the very monsters that face them. Violence creates a momentum of its own. This breeds greater violence and very naturally the chain of hate extends breeding new terrorists to support the cause.

What if the context were different? What if the agenda was not ‘war on terror’ but ‘an end to terrorism’? This would immediately open up a more inclusive approach. The underlying issues that generate terrorism would also have surfaced on the agenda alongside the need to deal with terrorism as a modus operandi to achieve goals. ‘An end to terrorism’ is a concern for all. If the ‘other’ knows that his or her concerns are on the table, then we have an opportunity to dialogue, to negotiate and to bring change.

It is akin to learning all about ‘illness’ in order to understand ‘health’. That will not get us far. Health, if it is to be understood, has to be studied in the context of health and the preventive measures that should be in place to ensure that the health and well-being of people are safeguarded. When is mankind going to learn that there is a better way than violence?

Such a perspective can only thrive when we have a more compassionate view of the human being. The ‘other’ is at best – and at worst – a being like me. Whatever may be the distinctions based on geographical locations, language, ethnicity, colour, class or religion the ‘other’ remains a human being. I create the monsters that I then need to deal with by my very response.

Once we demonize the ‘other’ then somehow we seem to find it easier to liquidate the other, mistreat the other and subjugate him or her to all sorts of torture and terror in the name of fighting terrorism. The same means are used by the perpetrators of terror. Both devalue life. Many of us unwittingly become victims of this demonizing process either because of our own ignorance or because we have bought into the ‘us versus them’ strategy. Poverty, social tensions, inequality and the siege mentality drive people into hopelessness. Terrorism is often born out of such hopelessness. This is why the notion of human security is critical if sustained peace has to become a reality.

It is this demonizing of the ‘other’ that has to stop. Without compassion this is not possible. This seems to be a quality and a factor that is missing in international affairs. Only the likes of the Dalai Lama or Archbishop Desmond Tutu emphasize this critical factor. Compassion is not a quality born automatically from a reasoned mind. It is a heartfelt quality that has to be infused into the agenda if we want to see a difference in international affairs.


You are right. Here in Colombia we are starting to get out of the " them and us. " idea, arranging meetings between the people with economic means and people who don´t have economic facilities. We have to thank the courage, humility and honesty, also the good faith the people without means have put into the experience. They have helped the other side understand and accept their reality, they have had the humbleness to recognise their misdeeds, and very strong friendships are growing between them. So it is not only in International Affairs we nead compassion, we need it at all levels. It should be taught at home, learned by seing the way parents treat each other and their children. Competition is a kind of terrorism, it goes against compassion. Thank you for all you do for the world.
Helena von Arnim, 03 March 2007

I agree that we should not demonize terrorists. However, nor should we perpetuate myths about them. The notion that people are driven to terrorism out of poverty is a fallacy. The head of the Peruvian Shining Path was a sociology professor; Osama bin Laden was a multi-millionaire and his right hand man, Dr al Zawahiri, is a graduate of Cairo University; likewise the leaders and supporters of the notorious Baader Meinhoff gang and the Red Brigade were drawn mainly from the priviledged ranks of university students. While they invariably claim to act on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, these leaders, and those that respond to their message, are more often than not the children of the educated middle class - not people born into grinding poverty. It is idealism combined with specific ideologies that demonize the United States and glorify violent struggle against US domination of the global financial system that underpins modern terrorism, not poverty.
Andrew Dawson, 09 March 2007