How to respond to terrorism


His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Message on the Commemoration of the 1st
Anniversary of September 11, 2001.


The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon were deeply shocking and very sad. I regard such terrible
destructive actions as acts of hatred, for violence is the result of
destructive emotions. Events of this kind make clear that if we allow our
human intelligence to be guided and controlled by negative emotions like
hatred, the consequences are disastrous.

How to respond to such an attack is a very difficult question to answer. Of
course, those who are dealing with the problem may know better, but I feel
that careful consideration is necessary and that it is appropriate to
respond to an act of violence by employing the principles of non-violence.
This is of great importance. The attacks on the United States were
shocking, but retaliation that involves the use of further violence may not
be the best solution in the long run.

We must continue to develop a wider perspective, to think rationally and
work to avert future disasters in a non-violent way. These issues concern
the whole of humanity, not just one country. We should explore the use of
non-violence as a long-term measure to control terrorism of every kind. We
need a well-thought-out, coordinated long-term strategy. I believe there
will always be conflicts and clash of ideas as long as human beings exist.
This is natural. Therefore, we need an active method or approach to
overcome such contradictions.

In today’s reality the only way of resolving differences is through
dialogue and compromise, through human understanding and humility. We need
to appreciate that genuine peace comes about through mutual understanding,
respect and trust. Problems within human society should be solved in a
humanitarian way, for which non-violence provides the proper approach.

Terrorism cannot be overcome by the use of force because it does not
address the complex underlying problems. In fact the use of force may not
only fail to solve the problems, it may exacerbate them and frequently
leaves destruction and suffering in its wake. Likewise, acts of terrorism,
especially involving violence, only make matters worse. We must condemn
terrorism not only because it involves violence but also because innocent
people fall victims to senseless acts of terrorism such as what the world
witnessed on September 11th.

Human conflicts do not arise out of the blue. They occur as a result of
causes and conditions, many of which are within the protagonists’ control.
This is where leadership is important. It is the responsibility of leaders
to decide when to act and when to practice restraint. In the case of a
conflict it is important to take necessary preventative measures before the
situation gets out of hand. Once the causes and conditions that lead to
violent clashes have fully ripened and erupted, it is very difficult to
control them and restore peace. Violence undoubtedly breeds more violence.
If we instinctively retaliate when violence is done to us, what can we
expect other than that our opponent to also feel justified retaliating.
This is how violence escalates. Preventative measures and restraint must be
observed at an earlier stage. Clearly leaders need to be alert, far-sighted
and decisive.

In today’s world expectations of war have changed. It is no longer
realistic to expect that our enemy will be completely destroyed, or that
victory will be total for us. Or, for that matter, can an enemy be
considered absolute. We have seen many times that today’s enemies are often
tomorrow’s allies, a clear indication that things are relative and very
inter-related and inter-dependent. Our survival, our success, our progress,
are very much related to others’ well being. Therefore, we as well as our
enemies are still very much interdependent. Whether we regard them as
economic, ideological, or political enemies makes no difference to this.
Their destruction has a destructive effect upon us. Thus, the very concept
of war, which is not only a painful experience, but also contains the seeds
of self-destruction, is no longer relevant.

Similarly, as the global economy evolves, ever nation becomes to a greater
or lesser extent dependent on every other nation. The modern economy, like
the environment, knows no boundaries. Even those countries openly hostile
to one another must cooperate in their use of the world’s resources. Often,
for example, they will be dependent on the same rivers or other natural
resources. And the more interdependent our economic relationships, the more
interdependent must our political relationships become.

What we need today is education among individuals and nations, from small
children up to political leaders to inculcate the idea that violence is
counterproductive, that it is not a realistic way to solve problems, and
that dialogue and understanding are the only realistic ways to resolve our

The anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 provides us with
a very good opportunity. There is a worldwide will to oppose terrorism. We
can use this consensus to implement long-term preventative measures. This
will ultimately be much more effective than taking dramatic and violent
steps based on anger and other destructive emotions. The temptation to
respond with violence is understandable but a more cautious approach will
be more fruitful.

The Dalai Lama Dharamsala, India