In a recent report at CBC Andre Mayer offers “ISIS: 5 essential things to know about the jihadi group’s ideology.” (

In light of the frequent refrain that terrorism is religiously driven, “Essential thing” #4 is particularly interesting.

Mayer writes,

4. Recruits aren’t necessarily devout.

For example, Hasna Aitboulahcen, the female ISIS collaborator who died in a police raid in Paris last week, had only sketchy knowledge of Islam’s holy book, according to reports.

“She was unstable,” Aitboulahcen’s brother told RTL radio. “In no way did she want to study her religion. I never saw her open a Qur’an.”

According to the Mayer report, Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University with an expertise in the Middle East says that

when you look at the people who have carried out ISIS-sanctioned attacks in foreign lands, what unites many of them is not piety but their marginalization due to ethnicity, religion or income.

“These are people who want to stick it to the man,” says Brynen, and whether it’s through a recruiter or online propaganda, an angry individual can fall under the group’s sway. “It’s not a difficult transition from marginalized, poor, low-life criminal to ISIS volunteer.”

If Brynen is correct and the things that enable ISIS to recruit people to carry out heinous acts of terror on foreign territory are more to do with marginalization than faith, then the important question, is not “How can we crush the terrorists?” The important question is, “How can the world community address the reality of that marginalization which leads to people becoming radicalized and available to carry out insane acts of violence?”

To experience oneself as marginalized is to feel powerless, devalued, and victimized. To feel marginalized is to feel excluded and alone. Marginalization is a failure of community.

So, while terrorism may not be fundamentally a religious issue, it is a deeply spiritual issue. Terrorism touches on what it means to be human and what human communities need to do in order to foster truly life-giving human connection between people across the divides of geography, ethnicity, faith, and socioeconomic status. Addressing these deeper issues may be more difficult than inflicting “shock and awe bombing” on people whose leaders play on their understandable feelings of disenfranchisement to motivate acts of violence. But responding to actions driven by marginalization with drone missiles is a questionable solution to the experiences that make people likely candidates for recruitment as suicide bombers. Violence begets violence and an increase in the sense of marginalization that lay at the heart of the violence in the first place.

Instead we need to ask more deeply spiritual questions:

What can we do to connect more deeply with people from whom we may appear to differ?

How can we come to know people more authentically despite the many divides that seem to separate us?

What is the path beyond tribalism?

Instead of emphasizing things that create separation how can we concentrate on realities that unite?

How can we find commonalities and work together from the place of our common humanity?

These are difficult questions. It may be easier and seem more decisive to send in the troops than to sit and ponder such questions. But the long term effects of the brutal response has been tried and found wanting. It may be time to explore a slower, gentler, more cautious and humble approach to the terror currently afflicting the world.