Honest Writing Is Daring: Why Write About Violence

The cliche is true. Study something you love to-death and in-depth. Over the years, many people have asked me, “Why do you study violent behavior?” or “Why conflict?” On a lecture tour in Muscat, Oman, I had to tell my audience that studying violence and violent behavior chose me. (By the way, Oman is a beautiful, peaceful Muslim country. You can read more about Oman in my next post.)

What you seek is seeking you.” – Sufi poet, Rumi

As a child, running around the tall grasses in my backyard in Texas, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I did know that I loved human interaction and most of all, connection. In Diane Ackerman’s book, A Natural History of Love, it is learning how to love that is essential for survival. Which has made me wonder, over time, why and when people fall “in” love with violent behavior. It’s a question I’ve been trying to answer my entire adult life.  

Even after leaving the government, I continue to examine violent trends and conflicts in the Muslim world. Seventeen years later, people continue to ask me the classic question of ‘why they love violent jihad.’

There are no easy answers for violent behavior. We know it’s complex and complicated.

Last fall, at a conference in Los Angeles, I was asked to present my findings on violent women. I provided examples of women joining terror groups and explored the ‘why.’ Not based on personal stories or anecdotes, but patterns.

Because patterns don’t lie. And contextual clues are also important indicators for human behavior.

 The event organizers gathered academics, researchers, scientists and practitioners to look at the human brain; or rather, to study the link between neuroscience and radicalization. The trouble with these studies is that there is no measurable way, at least not now, to gain access to the brain of a terrorist to determine if “one brain” is more susceptible to violence than another brain. (By the way, trying to use gangs and other in-groups to determine if they are more vulnerable to violence can’t be used for religious-based extremists. These are two completely different groups.)

So why do I “love” the topic of terrorism? Many reasons. I learned about war stories at home. I studied Middle East conflicts in college. I met a Latin American revolutionary in my twenties. I watched people protest on my television screen. I read lots of stories of secular women joining radical groups–this was before Muslim women began joining terror groups like AQ and ISIS. And I, a Muslim woman, needed clarity for myself and to the people I talk to–to say that yes, Islam is and always has been a peaceful, inclusive religion. 

I am reminded of Paul Karasik, a cartoonist and teacher, who made this simple and candid point about studying what you love at the end of his 45 min lecture: 

Study something you love to death–I mean ‘in depth’! …tonight give me 45 minutes. Spend 45 minutes tonight studying something you love. Watch the first five minutes of your favorite movie 7 times. You will notice new things.

If I had to choose that one movie, it might be Lawrence of Arabia, which has nothing to do with violence. But everything to do with revolution, fighting for what’s right, a people’s justice, and creating a new world order. 

Check out Paul’s books: City of Glass, The Complete Works of Fletcher Hanks, and his new book, How To Read Nancy



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