General Question

wundayatta's avatar

How do I explain why Al Qaeda wants to kill Americans to my 9 yr-old son?

Asked by wundayatta (58321 points ) January 6th, 2010

This morning, my son asked about Al Qaeda and wanted to know what motivated terrorists to be willing to kill themselves in order to kill Americans. His interest was sparked when he somehow came across a video of the burning of the World Trade Towers on the internet.

His question made me wonder how other people explain this—maybe not to a child, but to themselves or others. Why do you believe Al Qaeda members are willing to die for their cause? What do you think their cause is? How can they make such an awful choice?

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92 Answers

mass_pike4's avatar

Tell him that that is what their culture does and it is not right. Tell him it is even hard for you to understand because they are bad people and that they live through completely different religious beliefs. Tell him that they have a false sense of reality and what they believe is not right. Explain this in simpler terms obviously, but this is a good way of putting it

Snarp's avatar

@mass_pike4 I think that’s a bad explanation. In it’s oversimplification it raises the risk of planting the seeds of racism. Yes it’s their culture, yes it’s their religion, but it is a very narrow slice of culture and religion. Your statement in the mind of a 9 year old is likely to lead to a belief that this is true of all Muslim culture and religion, but it’s not.

Harp's avatar

This is what happens when people become convinced that God wants certain people dead.

spiritual's avatar

It is very hard to define reasons for terroism, especially to children. I grew up in Northern Ireland, and terroism was on the news every day, as well as having a heavy army presence and bomb warnings.
As I child I was scared that the bad men would get me. It is confusing as a child as to why this is all happening.
My mum described them as bad men and said that they wouldn’t hurt me, as she wouldn’t let them. It’s very difficult to give a child an honest, yet reassuring response to this.

Grisaille's avatar

You know, I can explain it to myself very easily. To a child? Boy. That’s tough.

I read @Harp‘s answer and thought, “Hey, you can’t say that to a kid!” – then immediately realized that children are much more resilient than we often times assume. If I had to, I’d start with the easiest, most simple explanation as to why a group of individuals would want to do such a thing, then just answer as many questions as his heart desires. Let his imagination, natural curiosity and inquisitiveness grab hold, and see where that takes him. Hell, ain’t that what a parent is there for? To prepare a child for reality and culture growth, intelligence and empathy?

Great question. Really, really great question.

Snarp's avatar

I would say that religion can easily be used to motivate it’s followers to kill, it’s been done with many religions throughout history, Islam is the excuse that’s being used by these people today. Many of the terrorists who actually carry out suicide attacks are desperately poor and witness very real injustice every day. When a respected leader convinces them that they can ensure an afterlife in paradise for themselves and their families, and do something to right the wrongs of the world at the same time, and that it’s not wrong to kill innocents, it’s easy to manipulate them into killing.

As for the leaders, I expect there is some level of true belief in their twisted view of religion, and some level of insanity, but overall the leaders are interested in power and nothing more. There will always be some people willing to kill anyone for power, and if they do the above, they can get others to do the killings for them.

Maybe that’s a little complex, but I don’t think we do our children any good by patronizing them. A nine year old can get this, and if he’s yours you likely know when a few word changes would make it easy enough for him to get the point.

Snarp's avatar

Or you could just say: “No one knows exactly; some have seen terrible injustice, some are mad for power, some believe a twisted view of religion, and most are all three.”

ubersiren's avatar

What a tough thing to have to do… Maybe tell him that some people interpret (use a simpler word probably) religions to mean something very different than intended, often resulting in hateful violence. You could say that most of the people who practice their religion are peaceful people, but some misunderstand the message and are corrupt. Maybe you could compare them to the Westboro Baptist nut jobs? Show him that most Christians are peaceful people (like Aunt Sally or someone he knows) but some take the written word and twist it to fit their hatred. Also, maybe you could add that terrorists follow corrupt teachers or leaders (like Bin Laden) more closely than their prophet/god and will do whatever that leader says to do.

ubersiren's avatar

@Snarp I like your last answer, there.

Blondesjon's avatar

Tell him that we live in a world where everyone has free reign to choose whatever they wish to do, right or wrong. Unfortunately, there are those that choose to influence the choices of others to further their own agenda, right or wrong.

Life is tough kid, once you get outside of your own personal comfort zone.

janbb's avatar

I think I would say that people have very different views of issues in the world, and that in any conflict of views, there are always a certain small number who see violence as the solution. Religion and control of geography and resources are two of the sources of conflict and breed fanaticism in some people. I would say this has happened throughout history, and reassure him that the likelihood that any harm will come to his family through the actions of Al Qaeda is very slim.

Sebulba's avatar

I don’t believe there is Al-Qaeda. + i would explain to my child that there is no rational explanation for connecting 9/11 with an imaginery group called “Al-Qaeda”

Grisaille's avatar

Please, @Sebulba, tell that to a relative of someone who was killed in the 9.11 attacks.

If you aren’t in a coma, we’d love to hear how it all went down.

Snarp's avatar

@Sebulba Wow, and I was arguing with you as if you had a rational mind?

Snarp's avatar

@Grisaille I really wish you hadn’t asked that question.

janbb's avatar

Please don’t hijack another thread with your “stuff’ (euphemism).

Sebulba's avatar

@Grisaille i don’t need to exlain anything. you should explain to a child what is the proof that 9/11 was done by Al-Qaeda. Can you find any?

wundayatta's avatar

Yes please people. I am asking for people to say what they would say to a child, not to argue with each other about what they choose to say. I’m tempted to flag all comments that refer to any other comment. Just listen people. Listen so you can understand what other people are thinking. You can judge elsewhere. Start your own damn question. This one is for listening. Do you understand?

So please resist the urge to respond to anyone, except to appreciate the honesty of what they write, or to ask for clarification. Please.

Speaking of listening, @janbb, how would you explain their willingness to commit suicide for their cause?

ubersiren's avatar

@Sebulba : The asker didn’t ask what you would tell your child.

wundayatta's avatar

@Sebulba How would you explain the reasons people would be able to fly a plane into the World Trade Towers in order to kill people? Why would they be willing to die?

mass_pike4's avatar

@Snarp: That is very true. I did not think of it that way. I guess then you would have to specify that these people are a particular “group” and that this group kills and it is not the right thing to do

janbb's avatar

@daloon I guess I would say that some people’s religious or political convictions (I am thinking here of anarchists or other terrorists) makes them feel that accomplishing their goals is more important to them than being alive. And that some people’s religion makes them believe that they will be rewarded in an afterlife. I would probably say that that is not a belief I hold – in an afterlife – and that I think suicide bombing is a horrible tactic.

Sebulba's avatar

@daloon i would first ask my son how did he came to the conclusion that Al-Qaeda members died to kill Americans no matter what i believe in order to make him learn to judge his sources of information from an early age. Then if i’d accept this story as true i’d say to him that religion fanatism lead them to do it and also explain what beatiful things the Qu’ran promises to those who die killing non-believers. But the reality is that i would tell him the truth

wundayatta's avatar

@Sebulba How would you tell him the truth? How would you explain the truth to him? Please don’t be afraid of an argument. I’m going to flag anyone who tries to argue. I just want to know the range of views out there.

saraaaaaa's avatar

I would explain that it involves a lack of compassion and empathy for fellow human beings, and an ignorance to understand. maybe in more child friendly words Obviously in an extreme form.

kevbo's avatar

@daloon, this is the time to talk about the choice between fear and love. When people are fearful, think fearful thoughts and act out of fear, they do things out of anger and to cause hurt. When people are loving, think loving thoughts, and act out of love, there is peace, understanding and respect. This covers all bases, all PsOV, and is applicable to his personal life where bullies, etc, might exist.

Also, see here.

gemiwing's avatar

This reminds me of when I was seven and had fears of nuclear attacks. No one could really explain it to me then. They would try- but the real reason couldn’t be explained nor comprehended by me. Not to say your child won’t, just that I couldn’t understand why. Part of me still can’t.

Perhaps ask them specifically which part they are curious about. Is it the broader question or is this specific?

I mean you could give them a history lesson but is that really what they want to know or need to hear?

The age of seven is such a tender one. It’s when you learn that your little world is a lot bigger and scarier than you ever imagined. There is a whole world out there and not all of it is nice.

Sorry I don’t have an answer, just a musing. I’m going to follow this because I’d like an answer still.

Sebulba's avatar

@daloon from what i understand you believe that Al-Qaeda killed Americans so i say that if i’d believe this i would say to my son that “any kind of fanatism can lead people in massive killings. religious fanatism always lead to that kind of killings and massacres and i would name to him all the times history saw that”. religion like every kind of ideology lead to fanatism which can lead to anything that the leader of the believers want. Don’t forget to mention the middle earth where christians burned women calling them witches.Tell him about the 9 crusades (1095–1272) that killed so many people…so then i would tell him that Al-Qaeda members believe in a God also and have a book like our (yours) Holy Bible and there their god promises that “everyone who dies killing non-believers will go to heaven” so there is no question of love or hate to the Americans but a fact of the blindness that ideologies can bring to people

kevbo's avatar

@daloon, I don’t know how to fit this in or even if it’s worth trying or appropriate, but there’s also an element of balance that is out of whack depending upon your POV. Obviously, we see in great detail all the attacks that we suffer as Americans, but we do not see the other side. There’s a great documentary about some 9/11 widows (from affluent Jerseyish homes) who go to Afghanistan to meet women and do a cultural exchange. Before they go, they talk about losing their husband or their son or whatever and how horrible it has been for them in their big empty house. When they get to Afghanistan, of course, it is dirt floors and a step or two above squalor and no economy and women who have lost husbands, sons, and fathers, including one woman who is inconsolable because she lost all seven of her sons in one US bombing attack. So, maybe also talking about what we see and what we don’t see on television when something like this happens. I don’t know… the idea may need some cleaning up first.

Steve_A's avatar

The cold hard truth. Well I don’t know maybe he is too young.

Qingu's avatar

It’s a combination of reasons that don’t make sense and reasons that do make sense.

Al-Qaeda holds a theocratic ideology. They believe society should be structured by Muhammad’s example, and they want to re-establish the Islamic caliphate along the lines of Muhammad’s earliest companions and their society. This strain of Islam is called “Salafism” or “Wahhabism.” Unsurprisingly, such people believe that Western society is utterly corrupt and immoral. They don’t hate us for our “freedom,” but they do hate us because of our progressive views on gender and the separation of church and state, for example.

Now, I don’t think any of that makes sense, because I find their religious ideology crazy and barbaric.

However, that’s just one part of why they hate us. The other part does make sense—America and “The West” in general has a pretty terrible legacy in the Muslim world. Bin Laden cited the civilians we killed in the Iraq War, both in the war and with our sanctions. He also talked about how our soldiers occupy bases in Saudi Arabia, the Muslim holy land. We also unequivocably support Israel, a country that, while obviously hated for stupid reasons by Muslim fanatics, really does treat the Palestinians pretty terribly.

It is not hard at all to see how our actions in this region would make people there hate us and even cheer when people in our country get killed. Imagine if Russia during the Cold War secretly supported coups in the U.S., bombed our cities, led sanctions that starved thousands of kids, and sent their soldiers to occupy Washington D.C. while they fought their various wars on American soil. Americans would despise the Russians for these actions and I bet a fair number would cheer if terrorists succeeded in blowing up a couple of buildings in Moscow.

That doesn’t make it right. I don’t think any violence is right, certainly not against civilians, and I don’t think any violence should be cheered by anyone. But it’s important to understand that, while al-Qaeda may be crazy fanatics, their hatred for us isn’t out of nowhere. This is also why it’s so important to change our foreign policy—so less people have reasons to hate us.

wundayatta's avatar

@Qingu I think that’s a fine explanation of one theory of the ideological element to this. However, I think my son was also getting at something else: the personal. I.e., what, psychologically would make someone willing to kill themselves for the cause.

We understand soldiers in an army, but they don’t want to get killed. Suicide bombers know they will get killed, and yet they still do it. Why?

@Sebulba Ok, maybe I’m guilty of a little misdirection. Yes, my son did ask this question, and yes I do want ideas about what to say to him. However, I also think of this question as a way to get at people real ideas about this. I didn’t mean for people to try to put themselves in my head. I wanted them to do it from their head, maybe as they would tell their own children.

Also, I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, and, being an atheist, I don’t understand religious motivations of any kind. For me, all religions are equally mysterious—or I should say that religious cultures are equally mysterious. I’ve never been a member of any kind of religious organization at all. I am equally ignorant of any religious documents, Christian, Muslim, or whatever. Ok, I know slightly more about the Christian documents, but it really is only slightly more.

So, for me, an Islamic or “terrorist” or Christian or Buddhist or Pagan explanation is equally good, and I would tell my son about them all (or try to—my wife is a little less catholic about points of view than I am). That’s just the way we do it in my family. Additionally, we don’t dumb our language down. If he doesn’t understand a word, we explain it to him when he asks. In a way, this is a breakthrough for him, because he is not fond of reading and writing. So for him to be interested in something he learned about through the internet (even if it was a video), is thrilling for us.

@Steve_A What is the “cold hard truth?” He asked about it. He can understand many things (he is also always asking about cosmological and quantum issues—hell, the range of his curiosity is beyond my ability to answer). He’ll tell us to stop when he’s had enough.

Sebulba's avatar

@daloon my answer to my supposed son: “what you saw is an act of our own people who run things in our country and rule us. they did this cause they want us to be afraid of invisible enemies and to offer us protection removing our freedoms and earning money by doing never ending wars.they don’t care about us.everything has and is happening for the money till you and other little big men like you grow up and change this world forever”

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

The al-Qaeda phenomenon traces back to the Wahabbi sect of Sunni Islam. Founded in 18th century Arabia as a puritanical “return” to what they believed were the original principles and practices of Islam (somewhat analogous to certain Protestant Christian sects’ trying to recreate “primitive” Christianity). This group was isolated in Arabia until post WW1 when Saud, with British assistance, made himself King of Arabia. His family were members of the Wahabbi sect and these practices and beliefs became the law of the land. Much of the oil money was used to “evangelize” Wahabbi Sunnism throughout the Muslim world.

Fast- forward to Afghanistan in the 1980s. The US, wanting to thwart the Soviet Union’s invasion, plays the religion card and trains, equips and supports mujahidin fighters (from all over the Muslim world) in Pakistan to go into Afghanistan and raise merry hell with the Russians, a la Vietnam.

Osama bin Laden, a fanatical Wahabbi, associates himself with the mujahidin that later rename themselves Taliban (students). When the Soviets decide they have had enough, the taliban take over as the government of Afghanistan. In the meantime, the Saudi royal family decides that Osama is too radical and banishes him and his followers from returning home.

Now comes Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Saudis, in panic, invite the US to station large numbers of troops on their soil, Desert Shield and Desert Storm resulting.

Osama bin Laden, in exile in Afghanistan, rails against the presence of infidels on the holy soil of the cradle of Islam. His followers begin a campaign of terror which include the first (truck bomb) attempt on the WTC and later the successful aircraft attacks.

The al-Qaeda recruiting campaign is directed as disaffected young Muslim men, usually living in western societies. They are indoctrinated that suicide attacks against western targets will gain them martyr status and automatic entrance into Paradise (with the 72 en suite virgins).

This, in a rather large nutshell, is the background story of al-Qaeda. How much of this is appropriate for or comprehensible to a 9 year old, I really don’t know.
+GQ @daloon

Qingu's avatar

@daloon, does your son watch Star Wars? The mujahadeen see themselves as the rebels and us as the Empire. This is helped by the fact that their religious worldview is as morally ambiguous as the light vs. dark nonsense in Star Wars.

As for suicide bombers in particular, it’s a perfectly valid strategy in warfare. Lots of soldiers charge headlong into battle knowing they will die. In Roman times, Jewish rebel assassins called “sicaari” (“daggers”) would ambush Roman soldiers and stab them, knowing that the other soldiers would instantly kill them. Part of putting yourself in a “soldier” mentality is the idea that you can sacrifice your life for the greater cause—mujahadeen suicide bombers are no different, and probably do not think of it as “suicide” at all.

Snarp's avatar

@Qingu Nice analogy, but it doesn’t quite handle the innocent target aspect.

Steve_A's avatar

I would just give him both sides of the story why the Al-Qaeda want to kill Americans, and why we as in America, got there. 9/11 and other events.

For a lack of better words on my explaining, just try to give him the whole picture and how it is. I would not bother covering up or sugar coating it.If you do that he will most likely come to other conclusions by himself anyways but lying to him I do not think will help at all….Explain to him in different points of view, America and Al-Qaeda.

But than again I do not have kids,and most likely will not for years to come, so what do I know?

Qingu's avatar

@Snarp, two of AQ’s targets were military/government installations. And in their warped ideology, the twin towers were the epicenter of the evil Zionist global economic conspiracy that funds Muslim oppression. To AQ, the people working in those towers were complicit.

And there were presumably carpenters and civilian contractors on the death star in RotJ…

CMaz's avatar

You tell your child…

Because there are bad people in this world.
So always be on your guard and mommy and daddy love you.

Cruiser's avatar

Nine is way too young to even begin to comprehend the dynamics of religious hatred and wanton death and destruction. Kids that young need to know their world is safe and secure. Don’t ignore the question but you can safely brush it to the side and say I am so glad you asked that question but you are much too young to worry about things that our president and our government are there to make sure we are safe! And leave it at that!!

Snarp's avatar

@Cruiser Is that what you personally believe, or are you being sarcastic?

better?

wundayatta's avatar

@Snarp Now be nice. The less inflammatory way to ask that is “Is that what you believe, personally?”

philosopher's avatar

You have find a simple way to explain things that he can relate to.

Cotton101's avatar

wow, that is a tough one Daloon! Children are brutally honest. So, be brutally honest with your son. Would tell him, these are people that hate you, me, and any American! They are the bad guys and we are the good guys.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

GQ
I would start by saying that the reasons I give are only speculations – that no one may know for sure what motivates certain people (named terrorists by others but the definition is subjective and should include Americans as well…but that’s my opinion) to kill themselves and others – I would add that convictions plus guns almost always add up to tragedy. I would conclude with a discussion of history (as much as I am aware) of the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East and I would make sure my child understands that this isn’t about ‘us the good guys vs them the Muslims’ – they will hear that enough from other sources.

fireinthepriory's avatar

Because people are afraid of people who are different than they are. They are afraid of us because we are different than they are, and because Al Qaeda is a group of violent people with extreme beliefs, they want to hurt us. It’s the same basic reason that a lot of Americans are afraid of people who are middle eastern, black, etc. This way you can also bring things like homophobia or racism into the conversation, if these are things your son already knows about and understands, because they also stem from fear of people who are different.

If he has studied the KKK in school, you could perhaps draw parallels between Al Qaeda and the KKK so that he understands that Al Qaeda are a group of middle eastern people who are particularly violent and extreme in their beliefs, just like the KKK were a group of white people who were(/are) violent and extreme in their beliefs. Not all middle eastern people or muslims are Al Qaeda, just like not all white people or christians were(/are) KKK members.

wundayatta's avatar

Thank you all. I kinda used a lot of your answers, although I used @stranger_in_a_strange_land‘s the most. We had a long conversation (his sister, too, she’s 13), and they asked a lot of questions and we got really sidetracked sometimes. But it was fun…...

I just asked him, “Why do you think they flew into the twin towers?” He said, ”‘Cause. They hate us. Why else? Do you think they didn’t like the towers?”

He also wonders why the terrorists get all the cool names: Al Qaeda, Sinn Fein, Taliban. He asked for other names and I told him about the Uighur, but he dismissed that as not cool.

ninjacolin's avatar

Why attack the bosses in video games? Because you believe that’s what you’re suppose to do, right? Can you imagine what you would do if you believed you were suppose to get killed by the bosses in your video games? You would never beat the game that way, right? Exactly.

Some people in the world can get the wrong idea about how to spend their lives. When they get the idea wrong, they do wrong things and they end up either hurting others or simply losing out on big chances to do amazing things for themselves.

Terrorists do these things because they have a wrong idea in their heads about what life is about and they don’t know how to get rid of it. It’s a lot like being Stupid. Only they are fully deceived that they are being smart. As you can see, it’s important to find ways to verify whether what you’re doing is wrong or right….

MissAnthrope's avatar

My sister just turned 10. If she asked me this question, I would tell her that Al-Qaeda is a group of people who hate America because they don’t agree with what it stands for. She would probably then ask why, and I would go on to explain that the people in Al-Qaeda have some very extreme religious beliefs that make the way we live seem evil to them. I think it might be too difficult to explain this concept in detail, but I would say that it’s a different culture and people in different cultures sometimes believe things that are not the same as our beliefs. I would make sure to tell her that even though these terrorists are Muslims, only a small portion of Muslims are so extreme as to become terrorists or to join something like Al-Qaeda.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Tell him that there are people in almost every culture and religion on the planet who think their way is the only way, and who think that they are therefore required to attack those who do not believe as they do.

benjaminlevi's avatar

I dont think a nine year old could really understand what its like to have his country occupied…

JLeslie's avatar

I see you already had a conversation. So you don’t really need any more advice, but I was going to point out that I don’t remember when I first learned about the Nazi’s, but it was pretty young. I would guess almost all minority children learn about hate at a fairly young age. Sometimes I marvel at how some of my friends went way into adulthood never thinking that someone could hate, or want to kill them, just because they were born into a certain religion, race, or nationality.

I would tell them that throughout history there have been hateful people who are violent. There is no good reason. People who hate are insecure and feel bad about themselves. They seek power over others to feel better about themselves. The hate is as arbitrary as hating someone for having brown hair or blue eyes. They are just mean people who are afraid of people who seem different. Luckily, there are many more good people in the world than bad ones.

Cruiser's avatar

@Snarp….well it is what I personally know! I was in a plane on 9/11 with my wife and 2 sons….to experience a forced emergency landing and to be greeted by the National guard waving M-16’s in you and your kids faces screaming at you to run and get the hell out of the terminal is a bit traumatic….then to finally get our first glimpse on the TV of planes like the very ones we just were on flying into buildings killing thousands at the hand of Islamic terrorists….my kids started to ask a few questions.

So no I am not being sarcastic….I lived it, my kids lived it, I lived the many nights of crying sleepless nights and the only thing that got them/us through was reassurance that their world was safe and I and our government would protect them from the “bad guys”. No explanation needed.

wundayatta's avatar

I told them the history, and how I thought people came to be able to be willing to fly a plane into a building. I didn’t say they were crazy. I don’t think saying someone is crazy is at all helpful. You just blow them off, and then you can’t do anything effective to change what happens.

I find that people are pretty ignorant about what it means to be crazy, and where craziness comes from. Some comes from brainwashing, and some comes from misfiring neurons. But people always have their reasons for doing what they do. It’s not like it comes from nowhere. “Oh gee. Here’s a crazy idea. How’s about we hijack a plane and kill ourselves by flying it into a skyscraper! Wouldn’t that be cool?!?”

That’s not a satisfying or useful explanation fore me, and I don’t want my kids accepting answers as facile as that. My kids get it, I think. They asked what happened that day, and where they were. They asked what we did. They see what is happening now. They want to know their world, which does have people that many of us call “terrorists” in it. I’m of the opinion that calling them terrorists doesn’t really make sense. They are the enemy, because they see their job is to fight us to the death. They are very misguided, and I wish they could be brought to see things needing more peaceful change. I have no doubt that we will get nowhere by thinking of them as crazy terrorists.

JLeslie's avatar

@daloon I guess crazy terrorists dehumanizes them. A tactic used throughout history to make it easier to kill them.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@JLeslie

Exactly! That is the primary source of racism: it’s easier to have someone you can easily identify to look down upon than it is to try and raise yourself up.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Cruiser

My youngest daughter was with her friends in Windows On The World restaurant on top of Tower 2 ( I think it was 2 ), for lunch on 9/10

CaptainHarley's avatar

@daloon

“Crazy” is a totally subjective term. It’s more accurate to quote Bin Laden: “You Westerners are in love with life. We are in love with death.” They cannot be reasoned with. By Western standards, it is an act of extreme insanity to blow yourself up in the expectation you may take some of your enemy’s women and children with you.

Cruiser's avatar

@CaptainHarley life is a matter of inches….or less….

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, unless you are a pilot in World War II risking your life flying over German anti-aircraft flak to drop a bunch of incendiary bombs on Dresden.

We’re the “good guys,” yet we’ve killed hundreds of times as many civilians in warfare as al-Qaeda has, sometimes specifically targeting them, oftentimes by soldiers willingly going to their deaths to accomplish such missions.

@Cotton101, Calling them the “bad guys” and us the “good guys” is exactly what the terrorists tell their children. The holy ummah vs. the evil kufr.

Viewing complex, messy reality in shades of black and white is certainly childish, but that doesn’t mean we ought to teach it to our children.

Snarp's avatar

@Cruiser I can’t imagine what that must have been like. But I think the experience your kids had was a bit more traumatic than watching an event that happened before you were born on TV. So your kids needed something a little different than most, and I think that’s leading you to underestimate nine year olds in general. I see now how you arrived at your position though. (Thanks @daloon for asking me to rephrase earlier, now I don’t feel like as much of an ass as I would have).

Cruiser's avatar

@Snarp I am no psycho therapist nor expert on traumatic events but what I find interesting in retrospect is my older son never speaks of that day I know he remembers well, but it is my youngest who was only 14 months old at the time, talks about the twin towers a lot and that image has appeared in his school art work numerous times.

Civic_Cat's avatar

This humourous video by a Toby Keith impersonator might help:

“Daddy, why do the terrorists hate Christmas?”

“Daddy why do these people hate freedom and Santa Claus?”

:-D

JLeslie's avatar

I agree with @Qingu that using “good guys” and bad guys” is not the best idea. @CaptainHarley makes a good point about western vs.eastern views about death. Certainly it is not the first time we have seen “soldiers” crash their planes into a target killing themselves and destroying and killing whatever is around. In case you have forgotten Kamakazi fighters did this during WWII (another reason, by the way, that I cannot understand why people are so totally surprised by 911. So many news oulets asking who would have ever thought to crash a plane into buildings? Duh. Plane hijacking is nothing new, people willing to blow themselves up for a cause is nothing new. The only thing new, maybe, is how dramatic it was to do many planes at once). This cultural difference, willing to kill oneself, makes it almost impossible to threaten them, because they are willing to die, almost look forward to it.

Even in America we would herald someone a hero if they threw themselves on top of a bomb to save others. Or, if they lost their life trying to save someone else. Look at the firefighters of 911 who lost their lives. We speak of the men who have died for our country with great respect and gratitude. There is honor in death even in western culture. The only difference is they are planning their death. That is a big distinction to western culture, but maybe it is not that big?

I’m just throwing stuff out here. I don’t have a specific conclusion I have come to on the topic. Mostly, I have thought that these men are soldiers who are probably passively suicidal anyway. They see little hope for their future, they care about their God and religion, and if they can die and help the cause so be it. They probably have little else going on in their lives.

janbb's avatar

For anyone interested in a more nuanced portrayal of suicide bombers, I recommend a fictional Palestinian film called Paradise Now which came out a few years ago and is available from Netflix. It shows the lives and internal conflicts of two potential Palestinian suicide bombers. Of course, it is not the definitive word but it gives one pause.

@daloon I would not recommend this for your son but it might be worthwhile for you to watch.

mattbrowne's avatar

Suppose someone tells all the kids someone else is a monster, although that isn’t true. Every day these kids learn about monsters living far away. Eventually the kids become young men. Some realize that monsters aren’t real. But others keep their beliefs. And they want to fight the monsters. But the monsters are real people. Nice people. These young men are so convinced they are facing monsters. They think monsters must be killed.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@mattbrowne

Your faith in the perceptiveness of our young men and women is touching. : /

benjaminlevi's avatar

Or just point out how Al Queda thinks that they are the “good guys” and we think we are the “good guys”. Just like how both the Israelis and the Palestinians both think that, and both the Allies and the Axis thought that, and the American colonists and the British thought that…
Explain how what matt said applies to everyone, and that the black and white concept of “good guys” and “bad guys” is massively oversimplified.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, radical Jews also teach their kids that the Palestinians are monsters. And vice versa. Check out Saudi Arabian school books of first graders. Makes you wonder why we go shopping for oil in this country. Brainwashing of kids is one reason for terrorism, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes there’s adult onset of the radicalization disease. A good example are some of the German RAF terrorists in the seventies.

It’s not easy to explain terrorism to nine-year-old kids. But we can’t tell them a too complex story. Therefore I used the monster analogy. I know it’s not a perfect explanation.

As long as radical madrassas are not closed down new generations of potential terrorists will always threaten us.

janbb's avatar

I just read an amazing article from the Sunday NY Times about the terrorist mind. It is obviously too complex for your son to read, daloon, but may well give you some ideas about how to approach the subject. It offers a lot of insight into what makes a terrorist and is the best thing I’ve read on the subject.

Here it is

I hope it comes through all right.

mattbrowne's avatar

@janbb – Excellent. If we just spent 0.5% of the military budget required for fighting the terrorists on psychological and sociological studies determining the causes and finding strategies mid term a lot of lives will be saved. Every university in the world should have dozens of Master and Ph.D. students working on this very issue.

mammal's avatar

i would tell the whole world the truth, but most folks get bored, soporific or agitated as if by an invisible Gadfly. So, it may prove to be a most effective bedtime story.

laureth's avatar

Many of the people here are suggesting that Al Qaeda attacked because of religious differences, or because they hate us. These may be true, but from what was reported after the attacks, they were done by Al Qaeda more directly as revenge for American attacks in Palestine and Lebanon.

Would “they are willing to attack and hurt us because we attacked and hurt them” just push the question back one more step? Does he understand war, for starters, and that people fight? The region has a history of war. It goes back a long way – the 9/11 attacks were just one episode in that context.

I see that you’ve already answered the question, though, and it sounds like it went well. Good for you! :)

Storms's avatar

They’re evil and they adhere to a book of evil. Even a 9 year old can understand that. 9 year olds encounter evil.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Storms define “evil”

Storms's avatar

@ninjacolin Objectively harmful and immoral; that active force which draws us away from the intentions of our Creator. The absence of good. Bad.

laureth's avatar

“Objectively immoral” is a problematic idea. Islam is often said to be a religion of peace, with some bad apples making it bad for the rest of the good people. I’m not sure how any one religion objectively has the final word on any Creator’s intentions, either.

Storms's avatar

@laureth Religion is a simplistic and convenient concept that attempts to put all the answers in one place for easy reference and it always fails. Similarly, there are no “good” people and all “bad apples” can be redeemed. Still, a 9 year old knows evil when he sees it and that really settles this question.

laureth's avatar

I’m afraid that we’ll have to disagree then. I think there are huge numbers of basically good people in the world. (Nobody’s 100%, but people do the best they can in a hard world.) I’m just loathe to call a whole religion evil. I don’t believe in their book, but I’m sure that, just like the Bible, it has some good in it somewhere, and people that attempt to do good more often than bad.

Storms's avatar

@laureth Who called a whole religion evil? Not I. I did call the book evil. Even if not everything in it is about killing jews and enslaving infidels, those bits are enough for me. Even Mein Kampf has its good points—It’s still an evil book.

Now, if people were basically good, collectivism would work on a large scale without an authoritarian central government. People are basically evil, leaning towards lying, stealing, greed, envy and cheating without ever being taught about these things. Every child figures out lying all by himself (and probably thinks he was the first person to think of simply not telling the truth). This is the default state of man.

laureth's avatar

I suppose you’re right. Evil people following an evil book can still make a perfectly good religion out of it, eh?

Storms's avatar

@laureth Lol. Well, evil people trying to do good can take the good bits of an evil book and come up with a well-intentioned set of beliefs.

wundayatta's avatar

I do not talk down to my son (who is now 10). The world is full of complexity, and I only simplify it for him as much as he needs me to.

Example:
Last night he asked what homosexual meant. I asked him if he knew what homo meant and he didn’t, so I told him it meant the same. I asked him if he knew what sexual meant and he did. So he put it together.

Then he said, “but how do they have sex? It’s impossible!”

I asked him if he thought that there would any homosexuals if it were impossible. He didn’t get it, but then my wife came in and I’m not sure what she was going to say, but I think she was going to get graphic. He told her he was not interested in hearing that. I told her that’s why I took the approach I took. He was probably not ready to think about that.

Response moderated
Kraigmo's avatar

Al Quaida kills innocents because America kills innocents. They’ve said so over and over.

So what that means: Support NEITHER side and be a real human being.

We don’t have to take sides in dirty games.

WindSlash's avatar

think about this in any such way, why would any human being in any sense want to fly a plane into the twin towers. Watch you tube videos, and you might think the building could possibly be rigged. America knew its economy was going to be going down soon. it was just a matter of time really. plus american doesn thave a whole lot of oil as well, so if you think upon this theory, iraq and its oil as long as pakistan. any body clue into this at all

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