The Dalai Lama has frequently expressed the vision that if the 20th century was a century of conflict and war, the 21st century could be a century of dialogue and peace. What we see happening now, however, is quite the opposite. Television channels feed us with a daily dose of scenes of violent acts and outraged responses. The world is becoming more and more fear-filled and polarised, fueled by anger, hatred and acts of terror.
I am sure that a majority of us find it difficult to comprehend how anyone can spray bullets and blow herself up as a human bomb, killing completely innocent people, including little kids. One hears a lot about radicalization of young people. But, we all know that it takes more than a match-stick to light a fire. It also takes combustible material to catch fire. So, I was trying to figure out what is ‘combustible’ in those getting radicalized, to make them potential recruits for acts of terror.
Adam Deen is a former extremist in his 30s who had joined a radical Islamist group linked to many terror attacks in the UK, including the 7/7 London bombings, but who later left it disillusioned. In an interview Adam says 'Adverse economic and social conditions that disenfranchise young Muslims are contributing factors. They feel they don’t have a voice. It’s a journey from being angry to being a potential terrorist.'
This made me reflect on ‘listening’ and ‘anger’. I could see that without the fuel of anger, the flame of extremism cannot so easily be lit. I realized that if I harbour anger, the seeds of extremism are in me.
I may have rarely exploded in anger, but anger has surely been present to different degrees at different stages in my life. It has been reported about several terrorists that their families, and even in some cases their neighbours, experienced them outwardly as very quiet and shy persons. I can identify with that.
As a teenager I was angry against my father because it was difficult to go against his will. As a youth I was angry against growing corruption and the greed of those in power. On being exposed to the neglect of tribal people on whose land my company had its factory, I was angry against the governance system of the country. When a promotion for which I thought I was more fit went to a colleague, I was angry at my boss.
I get angry when I feel my opinion has been brushed aside. I now see that anger arises in me each time I experience something which feels unfair or unjust to me – or when I feel I have been wronged. The tone of my voice changes, especially towards those with whom I am angry. I feel justified in hurting them. Anger has been called the most destructive of human emotions, and I can see why.
Anger, one of the roots of extremism, is in all of us to some degree. Anger can grow into hatred, hatred into violence and organized violence can take the form of terrorism. When we address anger in our own lives we contribute to the answer to extremism. By being open to listen to those we find difficult and admitting to where we may have been wrong, we can arrest the growth of anger and make radicalization more difficult.