PT: The roots lie in philosophy.  The inability of many individuals to make sense of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 can be traced to the lack of understanding of the importance of the role that philosophy plays in people’s lives.  A Jesuit once said that if he could influence the education of a child before the age of five, he could exert a strong influence on that man for the rest of his life.  Similarly, the Trade Centre attack began not with the events of the morning of Sept 11, but with the early childhood philosophical education of the nineteen known perpetrators.  

Q: Could you elaborate?

PT: Everything that I could say about this is contained in the following quote: “It is necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his group…that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the group as a whole…that above all, the unity of a group’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of spirit and will of an individual.  This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is the means by which we understand the value of an individual only with reference to his capacity to make sacrifices for the community.”  This statement was made by the leader of a major Western nation and his countrymen found it uncontroversial.  In fact, many highly educated people around the world fully endorse these ideas today.  This quote in fact represents a verbalization of the philosophical basis for National Socialism.  Incidentally, it also provides the vital philosophical basis for all suicide bombers, regardless of their particular political or religious affiliation. 

Q: Are you saying that all terrorism is a question of philosophy and not other factors such as poverty?

PT: If you are talking about hard-core, suicidal terrorism, then yes.  The present leader of the recently martyred group of terrorists is a multi-millionaire who has firmly embraced the above philosophy.  It is hard to accept, but these terrorists were not abnormal, “evil” men. These were men with normal parents, wives and children.  They enjoyed everything the West had to offer: freedom of movement, money, music, alcohol and opportunities.  The key to understanding how they could reject all of this and cheerfully sacrifice themselves is that they had embraced, many years before, a philosophy of self-sacrifice.  They are criminally responsible for the choices they made, but bearing at least equal criminal responsibility are the politically and philosophically motivated childhood teachers and mentors of these men.

Q: Then are you saying that ending terrorism is only a question of education?

PT: Not completely, but teaching all children that their individual lives have unique and irreplaceable value and that no group or organization, whether claiming divine sanction or not, has the right to demand that the individual must sacrifice his life for the alleged benefit of others, would be a significant step forward.  Perhaps it is time to extend our intolerance for hate speech to an intolerance of doctrines that demand individual sacrifice by discounting the intrinsic worth of every individual.

Q: That is fine for the future, but what should we do now to stop terrorist attacks?

PT: First we must decide that the philosophical basis for Western civilization on which our entire way of life is based on, is worth fighting for.  If not, then we might as well surrender now.  If so, then the next step is to look at what did not work in the past.  During the Reagan Administration, a number of high profile terrorist attacks against the United States, such as the suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, were met with no significant American retaliation.  Rather than placating the terrorists, non-response only emboldened the attackers to even greater acts of self-sacrifice such as the later attacks against US interests in Africa.  Painful experience has shown that the solution is to aggressively attack terrorists and their supporters with all the resources and tools that the modern state has at its disposal including military, political, diplomatic, intelligence, financial, electronic and philosophical.  Benjamin Franklin once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Similarly, the price of defeating terrorists is the maintenance of 24/7 national and international policies that accept no shortcuts or compromises. 

Q: Images of large-scale death and destruction have profoundly affected our society.  Many people are now gripped by a profound sense of helplessness.  What positive steps can people actually take to protect themselves from terrorism?

PT:  What they should NOT be doing is buying gas masks, building bomb shelters and/or stocking up on antibiotics.  They should educate themselves about the risks and realize that the odds of being a victim are vanishingly small.  People should have a family disaster preparedness plan and businesses should have a comprehensive plan that will allow them to survive if the head office is destroyed, the computers sabotaged or if key officers are kidnapped.  Useful items that every household should have include wind-up radios and flashlights, a propane stove, enough canned food to last a few days and a PV solar panel to recharge batteries.  Most importantly, we should equip our children with the intellectual tools they will need to appreciate their heritage as free individuals in a free society and to counter those who would love to indoctrinate them into various decadent philosophies that demand that they sacrifice themselves (and others) on altars honouring bankrupt ideologies. 

Dr. Paul Tinari is the director of the Pacific Institute for Advanced Study, a multinational organization that provides high-level technical and policy consulting services to senior policy makers.  He can be reached at: