Is Terrorism Fatally Misunderstood?

An ancient cut runs deep through people’s souls: the divide between faith and custom, honor and pride, justice and revenge. This is the root of terrorism.

In Malay-Polynesian cultures, religion lives side by side with ancient customs that people inherited from pre-religious eras. Three codexes define Malay-Polynesian societies: the Sharia (Islamic religious law), the Adat (clan rules) and the Maratabat. The latter denotes a person’s or family’s rank and their reputation within the community.

While the Qu’ran and Adat are at peace, Maratabat is a different affair. Maratabat stems from the Arabic martabat, meaning rank. But it embraces many more meanings, like shame, honor, dignity, self-esteem, reputation, social rank, family honor, and pride. In case a person’s or family’s Maratabat is offended, they may seek revenge. As a result, communities may get sucked into vicious circles of feuds that can last for generations.

Pride and revenge instincts are deeply rooted in people’s subconsciousness and compulsory overwrite Muslim codes of love and forgiveness and the Adat, which wants to preserve peace within the community.

“The faithful are a united brotherhood, living like members of a great family, they are like brothers and sisters.” – Qu’ran 49.10.

In the Philippines, a total of 1,266 feud cases between 1930 and 2005 are documented. 5,500 people were killed and thousands displaced. The four provinces with the highest numbers of feud incidences are: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, and Sulu. These predominantly Islamic provinces account for 71% of documented cases. 64% feud cases remain unresolved.

Despite Islamic laws and a democratic government, feuds persist. And this isn’t just a Malay-Polynesian issue. In Arabia, the Bedouin system of justice (dating back to pre-Islamic times), continues to violate the Sharia and Adat.

‘’The retribution of a bad action returns its equivalent. But if a man pardons and puts things right, Allah will reward him.’  – Qu’ran 42:40

What does all that have to do with terrorism? Terrorism is rooted in this feud culture. True, terrorism is a political instrument and thrives on idealism, but it is fueled by the revenge instinct. Conclusion: terrorism isn’t motivated by Islam. Our common sense is barking up the wrong tree.

“With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.” – Malala Yousafzai.

We need to make more sense of terrorism. If we want to win the war on terror, we gotta know our enemy better. The thing is that not people are our enemy, but the psychological structures that enable terrorism. Currently, we mistake friends (Islam) for enemies (revenge instinct). By the way, our ignorance is the reason why we fear terrorism so much. Do you understand a suicide bomber? I can’t. I haven’t felt that angry that I wanted to blow up myself together with other people.

Are you a Christian and have been shaking your head while reading this? Don’t! Feuds persist in Christian countries too. France, Ireland, Italy, and Greece are on the top of the list. Check out the stats on wikipedia.

Also, what was the war on terror but a feud? It victimized thousands of people who had nothing to do with 911. It’s just a matter of time till that comes around.

What is the death penalty, but an outlet for vengeance?

“A man who desires revenge should dig two graves.” – Chinese proverb. A country that desires revenge will dig its financial grave.

What is the way out? The way out is hard, really hard. Surprisingly, we need to make the first change inside us, not out there. The way out is paved by Jesus’ three most ignored advices:

Love your enemy!

Don’t resist an evil person!

Leave vengeance to God!

I know, something inside you is screaming a deafening “But!” now. Well, Jesus’ advices are plain and unmistakable. We are left with the realization that there is a schism between our morality and way of life. We pick and choose which advices of Jesus to follow. Is it impossible to be a perfect Christian? Make the test!

Picture attribution: copyright fotokostic @

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