It seems terrible that terrorists frequently target innocent people. Why do the terrorists deliberately attack innocent persons like the victims of the recent attacks in Paris, France?
Multiple Reasons for Targeting the Innocent
I think there are multiple reasons that terrorists target the innocent, and I discuss some of them below.
- Innocent persons are often easier to attack than heavily fortified military bases or similar targets.
- Attacking innocent persons often generates far more big news headlines worldwide than the killing of soldiers, thus attracting more attention to the terrorist group and its "cause."
- Attacking public places where large numbers of innocent men, women, and children are gathered and security is limited enables a lot of casualties, thus getting even more publicity for the terrorists than would otherwise occur.
- One goal of terrorists presumably is to terrorize persons into meeting their demands. Killing numerous innocent persons is likely considered a way to instill fear into the masses. Terrorists may think that these terrorized masses will pressure their government(s) to surrender to the terrorists' demands.
- Terrorists to some extent are following examples set by the "good" guys who apparently sometimes targeted innocent civilians to terrorize people into surrendering. For example, during World War II, the Allies heavily bombed Dresden, Germany killing thousands of innocent civilians. Later during World War II, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities to terrorize the Japanese into surrendering. Terrorists may be seeking to do something similar on a different scale.
- Persons under extreme stress in difficult circumstances often act irrationally. Perhaps some terrorists are even "inspired" by such horrible and irrational incidents as the My Lai massacre committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.
A Better Question to Ask?—What Can Be Done to Prevent Terrorists from Targeting Innocent People?
Perhaps a better question to ask than "Why do terrorists frequently target innocent people?" is "What can be done to prevent terrorists from targeting innocent people?" Finding the answer to this question about prevention may be even more difficult. But I think a key is to seek to find the underlying causes that lead persons to become terrorists and to commit acts of terrorism in the first place.
If we can seek to treat all people fairly, seek for all persons to receive a moral upbringing and quality education, and seek for minor grievances to be resolved before that they can escalate into major ones, that would go a long way toward reducing the number of terrorists that are created in my humble opinion. Numerous international aid programs exist (CARE, Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctores Without Borders, etc.) that seek to help, but much more can be done.
Too often countries with powerful militaries (such as the United States) use their positions of power to seek to intimidate and control other countries. Remember the numerous times the United States has sought to overthrow the governments in other countries? Do you remember that the United States has often sought to control international trade in products such as crude oil? Countries, groups, and individuals that lack a powerful military must use other methods to achieve their objectives and unfortunately many resort to forms of terrorism that seem to deliberately target innocent people.
As we seek to hold terrorists accountable, perhaps we also need to focus on holding the United States military and the United States government accountable for their abuses. I do not believe any acts of the United States government or its military forces justify the actions of terrorist groups to kill innocent persons, but I do believe that holding the United States government and its military (and the governments and militaries of our allies) accountable for abuses will go a long way toward eliminating excuses that the terrorist groups use for their atrocities.
But there isn't an easy human solution to the problem of terrorism. I think the best solution can only come from the perfect righteous authority, God. Maybe seeking to follow Jesus's command to love even our enemies would be a positive step, though. More humanitarian aid and education might do more good than bombings targeted at terrorists that too often inadvertently hit innocent persons and/or damage their food, water, and electric supplies. These actions may do more to urge additional persons to become terrorists than they do to kill and capture existing terrorists.
I don't claim to have all the answers, though. I pray for God's perfect will to be done—whatever that may be.
NOTE: This article is virtually identical to one the author published on November 13, 2015 on another website.