Since I worked with orphans and children from Afghanistan soon after 9/11, any time there is war or terrorist attacks, my first thoughts go to the children. Children constitute half of the 12 million Syrians who have fled their country, which is the size of the state of Washington in the US and has a population of 16 million (as compared to 22 million before its war). The total number of refugees world-wide who are children are estimated to be as high as 10 million. This does not include the children who are orphaned or living on the streets in unstable countries.
Physiologically, the younger the person, the more lasting effects trauma can have ranging from low mortality rates, chronic health problems, to stunted social development, and inability to emotionally connect. I continue to volunteer with organizations in the US, like CASA for foster children, where I see first-hand the lasting consequences when there is no stability or support to offer healing.Even in the wealthiest nation on earth, rates of youths’ exposure to community violence and sexual abuse are estimated to be as high as 80% and 43%, respectively.
Imagine soothing your child after a nightmare or a boo-boo or debating about whether your 10 year old can walk to the park alone or not. Then imagine your children witnessing a parent being killed, seeing body parts strewn in innocent places like markets, witnessing or being a victim of rape. You don’t want to go there, I understand. My four year old clings to me at loud noises so I don’t want to imagine the consequences of her hearing bombings and seeing the carnage. But that is exactly the lives of many of these vulnerable orphans and refugee children.
Imagine experiencing 9/11 every week or every month with no psychiatric or medical help, no stability around you, and still pulling on as a family because that is what human beings do. That is the definition of a refugee.
If you want to know what creates terrorists, look at these children because they grow up one day. We are all linked and their futures are our future and our children’s future.
The world is not offering their countries — from Sudan to Syria to Yemen and Afganistan — hope, support, or places to go where they may thrive so organizations like Boko Haram and ISIS, promising refuge and purpose and their brand of education, fill in the gap. And those organizations are led often by people who have grown up with trauma in debstabilized regions where unstable people rule. They are traumatized themselves or are addicts, psychopaths, or pedophiles — and they will lead these children. Those were the classic Taliban leaders as per the viewpoints of the general population I worked with in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as my own non-medical opinion from the kind of experiences families and children came in with.
The good news is that if – IF – there is intervention and healing, the younger the child, the better the chances of healing. So, what is the worst way of dealing with ISIS or terrorism? More bombings. A “war” on terrorism will be as successful and end with as much violence as the “war” on drugs was.
When could we have prevented the attacks on Paris or Beirut? A few years ago when there was still a shot from having the situation in Syria completely destabilize the region. Or go back two more years when the US intervention in Iraq created ISIS and intel from more than 50 leading intelligence sources was ignored that, hey, there are these people we should be looking at and doing something about. We didn’t look at intel about al-Qaeda when it began and we repeated history.
No one wanted troops on the ground then and no one wants to do it now. By having some misplaced notion of avoiding “full-out war” and saving lives, we risk hundreds of more lives in our own countries, possibly thousands, and creating hundreds of thousands of more refugees and innocent victims because bombings will kill more innocent lives than terrorists. This will only fuel the growth of ISIS an a global humanitarian disaster.
We could have prevented the refugee crisis and the attacks had Allies put troops on the ground, the intelligence communities aggressively ante’d up their intel, and selectively had campaigns to decimate the leadership of organizations like ISIS before they proliferated.
The answers are not easy and they are not found in bombs. Unstable nations even when they regain somewhat “normal” ground have soaring corruption and long-standing sectarian or tribal feuds (see present day Afghanistan where the Taliban are again in control). But, from “outsiders” what had been needed post 9/11 and what is needed now is support for those leaders in governments and NGO’s actively combatting terrorism with the goal of sustaining normalcy where possible, supporting or training police, and rebuilding, this includes roads, schools, and hospitals.
This rebuilding and development should include budgets, which allowed psychiatric treatment as much as medical treatment for those who were suffering to allow space for healthy development.
It sounds idealistic because it doesn’t offer the blood-thirsty satisfaction of vengeance. It doesn’t play into “the other” narrative of the “bad guys.” It involves some risk to our own soldiers. It involves strategy and long term vision. It involves understanding that preventing terrorism in our home soil includes humanitarian aid in the form of development, that it’s not weak or idealistic but the most practical.
There is no scenario in which half of the world is fleeing or experiencing violence and the rest of the world remains unaffected. There is no scenario in which further violence inflicted on civilians will lead to the decimation of terrorism.
The total cost of all this would be hundreds of millions of dollars less than what military action would cost as well as thousands of lives saved – not just from dying but from falling into the hands of terrorists.