When I was studying Biology, I learned that when we encounter a threatening situation, our adrenal glands secrete a fast-acting hormone called adrenaline. Our heart rate goes up, blood gets shunted into our muscles and blood sugar levels surge. Such conditions prepare the body for fight or flight. Note the two options even when the body is under duress. Sometimes, the brain assesses the situation and realising that there is no cause for alarm, many other options become available.
The adrenaline rush may be seen as a response to fear or shock. While people who are in fear are often mocked at by those who think they’re very brave, fear is a primordial instinct that has ensured the survival of our species through the aeons.
What about anger? To me, anger is something even more primordial than fear. We’re not talking about fight or flight anymore. With anger, we’re always talking about hatred, revenge and destruction. Violence is a close companion of anger. We may encounter this scary combination on busy roads or football stadiums, sometimes even in our own homes. On a larger scale, this is one primordial instinct that if not kept in check, may well destroy our entire species.
I’m not playing biologist or psychologist here. I’m actually touching on another topic – the management of terrorism.
In December 2014, a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed that the CIA has been using horrific, inhumane torturing methods on terror suspects between 2011 (after 9/11) and the end of George Bush’s presidency. It is hardly surprising, but it managed to raised more than a few heckles. Proponents of human rights condemned these acts and wanted the perpetrators to be put on trial. The CIA and most Republicans argued that these methods were justified as critical information leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden came from the detainees who were tortured. What they didn’t tell us, is that the detainees were battle-worn and disillusioned Taliban and Al Qaeda recruits who eagerly surrendered and readily gave information. Instead of being treated respectably like POWs and “prosecution witnesses”, they were tortured and imprisoned for years.
Most disturbing of all, the folks at the White House knew Osama’s whereabouts all along but decided to invade Iraq even when the latter had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or weapons of mass destruction. It was a decade later when they finally decided to act on the intelligence and killed Osama bin Laden. Many cheered, but did terrorism die with Osama and Saddam at a cost of billions of dollars and thousands of American, British, Australian, Afghan and Iraqi lives? No. And as we can all see, it actually got worse.
Over here in Singapore, the same primordial instinct of anger, revenge and destruction still afflicts most of the self-righteous folks on social media. Torturing terror suspects? Someone quite predictably said: “You won’t pity those bastards if it’s your loved ones who have been killed.” Certainly, we shouldn’t pity the guilty, but in this web of geopolitics, who is the ultimately guilty party? Have our fear, prejudice and burning anger been manipulated to help politicians execute their cold, calculated plans?
In his book A Good War, Jack Fairweather made an enlightening observation. A group of Afghan soldiers who accidentally stumbled on a Taliban radio network started trading insults with the “enemy”, but as they got familiar, they started exchanging greetings and even sharing jokes and stories. It became apparent to the author that there was a lot more in common between the Afghan soldiers and the Taliban. In contrast, there was practically nothing in common between the “peacekeepers” and the Afghans. So what was it that drove a wedge between the two groups? Why is it that the two groups can’t be left alone to settle their differences?
No, all this torturing and acts of revenge have nothing to do with defending “freedom” and “Democracy” as George Bush claimed. It’s all about MY anger, MY fear, MY suspicions, MY insecurity, MY interests and I don’t give a hoot about what happens to you or them.
Some years ago, when I was discussing the drug problem with a Singaporean, he (a highly educated professional), said that we should just drop a nuclear bomb into the Golden Triangle. Who cares? I benefit, others suffer. Great deal, right? Wrong. Even if you don’t believe in karma, you can’t escape the law of cause and effect.
In the discussion forums in 2001, it’s amazing how ignorant most of the people who supported the invasion of Afghanistan were. They thought that Osama was born evil and he just preached hatred all his life. Not true. Osama bin Laden gave up a life of luxury as the son of a billionaire in Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviets who invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Under Operation Cyclone from 1979 to 1989, the United States provided financial aid and weapons to the Mujahideen. At first, he regarded America as his ally, but when he saw through their motives and hypocrisy, anger turned him into a hater of US imperialism. Since his Mujahideen days, Osama had been attracting a huge following of young and educated Saudis who never quite submitted the Saudi regime. In 1994, Osama bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi citizenship. Officially, he was charged with engaging in extreme jihadist activities. It was an excuse that angered Osama so much that he decided to make their nightmares come true. It could have been a story out of Three Kingdoms or any of the ancient Chinese war annals.
Sad to say, the rise of a militancy more formidable that Al Qaeda was not too difficult to predict when “necessary evils” in these inherently unstable territories were taken down. In Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang deliberately gave Cao Cao an escape route (in the form of Guan Yu) to allow him to partially recoup his losses from the battle at the Red Cliff so that Sun Quan would not pose a threat to Liu Bei’s budding Shu Kingdom.
These folks have obviously not read Three Kingdoms. Once again, it’s all about MY anger, MY fear, MY suspicions, MY insecurity, MY interests and I don’t give a hoot about what happens to you or them. A virtual nuclear bomb has been dropped on people most of “us” don’t care about and the fallout is going to be the real nightmare – if it’s not already one. People who think it’s OK to inflict inhumane damage and marginalise “them” because their loved ones might one day be harmed will never envisage the emergence of homegrown terrorists going on 5-star jihads in Syria to behead their own kind and display the footage on social media. Frankly, I can’t explain this one using the law of cause and effect either. Perhaps this really is karma.
As long as nothing is done to moderate these cruel, self-centered and ultimately self-defeating actions to punish and prevent terrorism, there will be no end to the cycle of hatred and revenge. In spite of all the bombings, Islamic State does not seem like it’s going to be blown to bits anytime soon. Anger is a primordial instinct. Self-preservation is a primordial instinct. Sometimes, we can’t control them, but self-centredness and the ruthless, systematic destruction of enemies are processes we can control. Hopefully, the angry masses will realise that they need to pressure their governments to take wise and appropriate measures to curb terrorism instead of using torture chambers, “nuclear bombs” and their equivalent.
© Chan Joon Yee