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October 21, 2012

Question:  “How should we respond to aggression and terrorism?”

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 fulfill 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.   
-  Jack McLean

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