After the horrific terrorist attacks on Boston and the pursuit and capture of the perpetrators, we assume that the reasons behind the attacks were of a religious nature.

Religion offers hope, comfort and direction to the masses, filling an impossible space of understanding: why am I here, what am I supposed to do, how was the world created, what happens when I die? Whether you are religious or not, you would imagine that religion – whichever one – would bring only good into the world. If I see a religious figure, I don’t feel anything other than respect for that person and for their faith even if I don’t believe in it – and most of them have a central theme that says and promotes only good things. If they are casting light into people’s lives, this can only be good for everyone, can’t it?

Looking back over history, nothing divides people more than religion. Accordingly, it has brought death and destruction from those seeking to spread their religion amongst others and typically to assert itself over the religion currently in residence – be it mainstream or pagan. Violence is normally the instrument. This is not a modern phenomenon. Religious enclaves in deepest Africa and other remote places were the result of conquest and subsequent implementation, in the main. People in those regions can see that as a blessing or as an invasion – depends on which family they are born into and therefore which perspective they are given as children. After all, it’s only history that dictates whether a group are freedom fighters or terrorists – it depends which side wins.

I saw the footage of the terrorists walking amongst the public at the Boston marathon. They mixed with children watching their parents race, people cheering on others to overcome the physical challenge of a 26 mile race and they looked upon innocent people doing nothing but engaging in wholesome fun. Those innocent people were not pushing any religious or political agenda, threatening anyone or doing anything to harm anyone. The images in the terrorist’s eyes didn’t change the outcome this time but how many times previously has an attack been averted? How many times have would-be terrorists come to their senses at the last minute?

It makes me wonder how a person can knowingly explode a device in a crowd of people, people that the person has never even met but hates enough to kill. In this case, if the spectators were not killed, the bombs were designed to cause maximum injuries by being packed with shrapnel. That’s not blowing up a building to make a statement, after a warning to allow for an evacuation, that’s something altogether different. You understand this type of activity in a war, with a soldier targeting enemy soldiers – horrific as it sounds – but these were families, not combatants. You would think a sane person would be unable to follow through with such an action in a crowd at a sporting event in a city. You would think they would simply stop and think, “no, I can’t do this.”

These people are driven by real faith and true unwavering belief. They believe that God himself has told them to perform these acts and that they are doing the right thing.

Even if you are not religious, imagine that a God appeared directly before you and you were convinced that it really was the creator of the universe, that you believed without question that whatever He said was right and that He was showing you a path to what He wanted you to do. That sounds far fetched so consider reading a holy text or any other methodology to promote the same reaction.

Imagine that the message to you was that all people that did not believe in Him were evil and that He wanted you to destroy them. You had to do this in order to make it into heaven else you went to hell forever. You completely believe this. You cannot question the creator’s words for obvious reasons. Taken in this context, I can start to understand how people can commit such appalling acts. Of course, they’re not “people” as you and I would understand them – they are driven by blind faith (which is not subject to reason), fear that extends outside of human boundaries and by others who are manipulating them. They have ceased to be human when they believe they have been instructed by a god and so they do not act as one.

Aggrieved people congregate in groups of other aggrieved people and become vulnerable to the influences of others. They may be angry at the world for a number of reasons. It could be anger at world events, unemployment, boredom, family pressures, anything. Those who influence others will exploit those young people in the name of religion where they can give them a sense of meaning and belonging. They can link their more mundane suffering with “brothers” in other parts of the world who are suffering from real pain and human misery. The only link is their religion. In reality, there are many aggrieved people angry at the world for all sorts of similar reasons with no commonality to any religion.

The manipulators will tell them that the group’s own ideals of society are more holy and worthy and that they should strive to make their society change to those ideals – and the only way to do that is violence. Interestingly, those same people will not shy away from taking advantage of the West’s capitalist opportunities nor will go and live in their more ideal society, which is often less technologically advanced and suffers from poverty and political oppression. There’s simple hypocrisy at work, here. They don’t like society in the West and want to change it but they do not want to live where the ideal society exists either – else the simple option would be to go there. Their ideology is therefore not a major part of their motivation. What is it then?

I wonder if I had lived in a country where a foreign power had – for whatever reason – destroyed large parts of the national infrastructure and many innocent people had been killed, whether I would take up arms and commit acts of terrorism myself. Consider that you had seen your family blown up or horrifically injured and how that would make you feel and how your outlook may change – particularly if you were just a hard working and decent family, trying to make a living. I don’t think you can know unless it happens to you. You would certainly be more vulnerable and more easy to manipulate.

For many years now, the news often reports a bomb attack in a marketplace or a Mosque in a country in the Middle East – describing many deaths: people shopping or praying – doing simple things that every human has the right to do in peace. We are now numb to it in the West. It will often follow much more mundane news items. The ongoing situation in Syria is barely mentioned although its Government attacks its own people with missiles and heavy armoury. There seems to be no empathy about it in our media, with any sympathy diluted because it happens so often. There’s also a feeling of being unable to help and being disconnected. In Iraq, no matter how we dress it up, the West has displaced one despotic leader who caused misery in his own country, with a divided country that will continue to attack itself. Has the toppling of Saddam Hussein really helped in the end? In Syria, the West cannot intervene as it would be seen as war mongering and after natural resources but, yet, is criticised for not intervening because of human rights abuses. I wonder what the citizens on the ground would prefer?

I believe some Taliban members may have been recruited because they wanted to exact revenge against foreign invaders who have killed members of their family. You can see why that could happen. However, the terrorists that we see operating in the West seem to be acting from ideology and coercion and not from revenge. When you see young men who have lived away from their spiritual homelands for a long time (as the Boston terrorists had) or had never lived there at all, bonded only by a common religion, it makes you think there’s a fundamental point that we’re all missing.

It’s something that is probably impossible to solve. Something that probably will and always live in the human psyche. It’s why football fans fight each other, kids at school form gangs, it’s how monkeys form groups with hierarchies that oppose other monkey groups, it’s why Welsh people dislike English people (although they are not separated by anything other than a name) and why one religion will never truly tolerate another, no matter what they say to the contrary. Humans and other animals form groups and want to feel part of a group in opposition to other groups. The groups will compete to be the best – pushing boundaries as they go. When part of a group, an individual will follow a role and perform his or her duty as the group’s governance and direction becomes critical. It’s how any army must work, it’s how an office works, it’s how a football team works, it’s how junior school “gangs” organise their games. This grouping and competitive nature is why we don’t live in caves and have together built and rebuilt civilisations and walked on the moon. Unfortunately, errant groups can convince young people to kill other people, including almost always, themselves.