BYUH Honors students look at countering terrorism

[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Published originally in the BYU-Hawaii online “Newsroom,” April 4, 2007]

Dr. Brian HoughtonA counter-terrorism expert now on the BYU-Hawaii faculty suggested to Honors students in their April 4 colloquium that humanitarian aid — helping people — will ultimately be more effective than military intervention in fighting terrorism.

“Terrorism isn’t something new. Terrorism has been around for millennia…and it’s going to continue to be with us until the Lord returns,” said Dr. Brian Houghton, who teaches in the new public management minor program.

“I am a counter-terrorism researcher, an analyst by training and profession. I spent the last 15 years of my life, really the last 20, studying terrorism and what we can do to stop it,” he said, noting his previous office overlooked “the site of the bombing that took place in Oklahoma City where 168 people were killed in 1995. It was a constant reminder to me of the tragedy that can happen, and also what we can do about it. I study terrorism because I want to stop it. I want to mitigate it.”

Houghton said before we can do that, “we need to make sure we understand these things. Why? So we can be prepared. And why do we need to be prepared? We need to understand these things so we do not have fear.”

When he asked the Honors students why terrorism takes place, responses included they “don’t know,” anger, jealousy, duty, threat, survival, power, brainwashing and political agendas.

“The answer is ‘yes’ on all of these,” Houghton said, but adding he was surprised “no one used the ‘R’ word — religion. The big thing for me is there has to be a political agenda. Terrorists have an agenda.” For example, he said the Gadianton Robbers — the “terrorists” of the Book of Mormon — were seeking power.

“One of the greatest commonalities of those who join terrorist organizations is that they come from dysfunctional homes,” Houghton continued, pointing out this reminds him of gangs in the U.S.: “The vast majority come from single-parent homes. These kids are longing for acceptance and for someone to tell them what to do. Ultimately, they’re longing for a father figure, and the gangs tell them what to do.”

Similarly, terrorist organizations often recruit those “searching for something,” then radicalize and condition them to kill. Houghton explained, because of the Light of Christ in all mankind, it’s inherently difficult to teach anyone to kill — including those in the military and law enforcement. He said it takes a lot of conditioning, or even “brainwashing” including “dehumanization [that] shows the enemy looking non-human.”

“Terrorists have to dehumanize [people]…so they can do something. To justify the killing, they have to turn us into demons.”

“One of the things that is so important to counter this is to humanize,” Houghton continued. “The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us realize that not only are we human, but we are sons and daughters of God.”

“Is terrorism effective?” he asked the Honors students. “It absolutely creates fear [and] it’s effective at capturing our attention. Without terrorism, the Palestinians wouldn’t be where they are today, having a semi-autonomous area.”

“What do we need to understand? By understanding why they hate us, we can begin to dispel what is fact and what is fiction,” he replied.

“Are there things we can do to help those people realize we’re human just as they are? Are we going to accomplish that by having hundreds of thousands of troops around the world?”

Houghton said the “military creates further animosity. We need a strong military to preserve our freedom, but the military of and in themselves does not create peace. Peace is done by heart-to-heart efforts and lifting up.”

“History has shown us over and over again if you bring in military and fight, people will be upset. We’ve seen this around the world, for centuries. We need to look at other ways to do it.”

Referring to President David O. McKay’s vision that BYU-Hawaii graduates would influence peace internationally, Houghton told the Honors students, “If you prepare yourself spiritually and physically, you can go out and talk to people about what you need to do to be human.”

He added the Church has been particularly proactive and effective in its global humanitarian efforts. “Those are the things that humanize mankind. If we can do more like that…the world will be a better place.”

“We need to be sending a different message: We love you. The best way of doing this is through the gospel, and helping people.”

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