ISIS and cancer: We’ll never get anywhere if we only focus on the symptoms

As was to be expected, the usual suspects are already trying to use the deaths in Paris for their own political agenda. But even the ones that are not openly xenophobic seem to mainly think of calling the attackers “barbarians”, hunting them down, bombing ISIS positions etc.

Which is just idiotic, if one thinks about this for a second.

Consider ISIS a cancer, if you will – an image that should jive with the supporters of the police/surveillance/military state, with those that fear that “Christian culture” is superior, with those that want to keep all the black, brown, poor away from the countries where they are the elites.

What causes a cancer? The immediate reason is a mutation in a cell’s DNA that hasn’t been repaired and leads to uncontrolled multiplication of the cell. But we’re not faulting the cell for that. We also accept that mutation is a necessary condition for evolution by natural selection – traits develop by mutation and are selected for or against, based on the environmental conditions. There are certain cells that are more likely to mutate and cells that divide more often – they are more likely to develop cancer but we don’t decide that we should react to this with eradicating those cells from the human body. And there are species that are much less likely to develop cancer – the Naked mole-rat comes to mind – without us considering them necessarily more advanced than us.

When cancer finally develops, we attack it ruthlessly: we use surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy. We cut, we poison, and we irradiate. But we also agree that prevention is better than having to deal with cancer once it develops – hence we try to avoid environments that are conducive to the development of cancer. We tell people that they shouldn’t smoke because it increases their risk of lung (and many other) cancer(s), we limit the amount of radiation that we subject humans to, we discuss whether we should reduce eating processed meat and whether we should stop using RoundUp.

So what we blame, what we try to control, are the proximate causes of cancer, those that increase the risk of mutation. Yet when it comes to ISIS, this thinking is repeatedly rejected. We focus on the cancer, or on the mutated cell, but we ignore the environment that’s conducive to the development. Presence of risk factors does not lead automatically to the development of the disease, neither in cancer, nor in the case of the millions that are Muslim and non-Muslim, live in dictatorships and/or in poverty and/or are marginalized and oppressed, and still don’t turn to terrorism. And absence of risk factors doesn’t mean that nothing will happen, as Anders Breivik demonstrated so horribly. But creating an environment of that increases the risk and then expressing one’s anger about the mutating cell is stupid at best and willfully ignorant at worst!

Edit: And by the way: whenever someone knows about the carcinogenic effects of certain substances and doesn’t reign in their presence but actively create environments where people are over-exposed to them – soy farming in Argentina, for instance, cleaning up Fukushima without appropriate protective clothing, continuing to hawk cigarettes and deny their harmful effects etc – it’s because they make a nice profit. You know, like when it comes to poverty, exploitation, oppression…

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