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Evil Deeds, not Evil People

Kenyan terror. Pakistan funeral bombings. Iraq, Syria and all the old favourites seem to be witnessing increased intensities of religious fundamental madness. Massacres all over the place. The people who are being slain and injured are presumably perceived as 'evil' in the eyes of the murderers - and therefore no doubt 'deserved to die' (or so their god tells them, one might imagine. Nice god). The world condemns these madmen (and women in Kenya we hear) as evil. Everyone hates everyone else and we all want to kill each other, whether inspired by voices, beardies, media and politicians, or just personal outrage.

Marvelous. Blood begets blood. Kill a person and you anger their friends and family. They now hate you too. Sons, brothers and cousins sign up to avenge their death. Commit an atrocity, and watch the ranks of neo-nazis swell. Watch retaliations by Norwegian mass murderers, Muscovite thugs, Kashmiri tribesmen and Syrian 'rebels'. Feel your own blood boil as you watch TV images of children brutally smashed by guns, gas and bombs. If you had a rifle and a clean shot, would you hesitate to put one in the head of a terrorist murdering little kids? Probably not.

What bothers me is that we are defining the people who commit these atrocities as evil. We are then saying they deserve evil to be done to them. Lock them up forever, if not 'just take them out'. All of us, democratic states and terrorists alike, brand the person as the problem, not the acts they do. We want to stop the symptoms instead of tackling the causes. It's human nature.

When I was trying, hopelessly, to encourage my young kids to behave in a manner vaguely resembling considerate humans, I was told: "Never say 'you're a naughty boy'. Always say 'you've done a naughty thing'". Or 'that's a silly thing to do', rather than 'you're a silly boy'. The thinking behind this was simple. Tell a kid they're naughty or silly, and they know naughty and silly kids do naughty and silly things. How else were they expected to behave? True to form and fulfilling expectations. But by inferring or actually telling them they're good and clever, there's a chance that they will recognise that their actions were out of character with good and clever people, and therefore unacceptable - and not just unacceptable to observers, like parents and teachers, but to themselves as well. Clever boys don't do silly things. Good kids don't do bad things.

When we brand a person as evil, then we believe that whole person does not belong in our society or even, perhaps, does not deserve to live. But if we brand their actions as evil, and presume the person is a relatively normal human being who is capable of understanding the way we feel about what they did or want to do (child abuse, bombing, theft, etc), then there remains a chance they might change. But if we declare them to be 'abusers' and 'terrorists' etc, how do we, and they, expect them to behave, now and in the future?

There are two ways to stop a terrorist from committing acts of atrocity. Physically prevent them by killing or incarcerating them - but in so doing, encourage, like the Hydra who grew more heads each time one was cut off, their hatred to multiply within their communities as a result. Or should we consider them to be human-beings who can be taught rational behaviour from a position of respect rather than aggression?

I'm not saying forgive evil deeds. On the contrary, punishments need to be proportionate, and the people who are in the process of committing evil deeds, or are about to, need to be stopped - fast and effectively. But what I am saying is that we must not make the mistake of branding these people and their supporters as innately evil. If we do, we negate the potential for any process of persuasion towards another path of behaviour and understanding. How can you negotiate or try to reason with a deranged mind? You wouldn't try. But if you accepted that all minds, within reason, have the potential of forming rationale argument and you accept that there's another perspective of understanding that you also might need to appreciate, then from a position of common respect there's a chance evil deeds can be avoided.

Evil deeds exist. Evil people don't.


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