The idea that underlines the banality of evil relies on the notion that people are put in situations – by their respective governments or larger authorities, even mere families – where the perpetuation of evil acts stop being evil and become merely a way to ensure their survival. By survival, I mean everything from “If I don’t keep my mouth shut, he’ll kill me, so I’m just going to look the other way”, or “If I don’t join in, I’ll die myself.” In all these cases, people stop being people and becoming merely means to someone else’s end.
As important as it is for us to get the murderers/thieves/insert-fringe-group-here, it is just as important to understand the underlying situation that creates a logic – however twisted – for these crimes or, at worst, creates a situation where the perpetuation of evil becomes more ordinary. When one of the 10 million child beggars (from Nigerian Curiosity’s blog) decide to rob a fruit-seller of some oranges, when a group of people from the poorer side of town take to robbing richer families, when yet another man from yet another university campus decides to join a group that strikes fear into the hearts of many, let us understand the sadly unremarkable circumstances – be it pressure to fit in, or poverty, or a search for an answer to “What am I going to eat today?.” Having said all this, I cannot but think that we tend to look for justifications when the less fortunate among us commit these kind of crimes, and splutter with disbelief when those among us with more money and more fortunate do the same things. We must first accept the humanity of us all, and the susceptibility of us all – regardless of exogenous factors like wealth and background – to the very worst and best of what humans are capable of.
Let’s not be fooled: Ideas that strip actors of their humanity are every bit as dangerous as the more run-of-the-mill situations that lead to crimes of survival. And therein lies the paradox — When an idea strips the actors who carry out its goals and those who suffer its effects of their humanity, it leads to the same actions as those who commit crimes for survival, and therefore the same conclusion.
People are party to ideology/religion in order to be part of something larger than their own bodies. A lot has been said about Abdulmutallab, and I won’t pretend to know exactly what his particular aims were. But I do not share the media’s inclination to morph terrorists into monsters that carry Qur’ans. They’re human. That is all. And the way to defeat them, in Nigeria or abroad, is to do what they do not – render them human, and defeat them as human.