When asked to define pornography Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it”. The same principle applies to terrorism, you may not know how to define it but you can and should know it when you see it. It is not always something as dramatic as planes flying into buildings; often the threat of violence is just as effective as the violence itself.
I have a very broad view of terrorism. I don’t limit terrorist acts to Islamic Jihadists. Governments, religious groups or political organizations, almost every group has used terrorism in one form or another, sometimes unknowingly. It is up to us identify and resist the use of terror by any one at any time.
Recently the health care debate has driven the war on terror off the front page but that does not mean terrorism has gone away. Quite the opposite, it is increasing and becoming much more sophisticated. But this blog is not meant to frighten anyone, the more we worry about terrorism the more likely we are to be affected by it, I want to make you aware of what terrorism is so you can arm yourself against it – not with guns but with intelligence and courage. Remember, the first casualty of a terrorist campaign is common sense; the second trust, the third – freedom.
Terrorism destroys common sense.
Emotion colors our decision making more than we care to admit. For instance I am afraid of flying. Logically I know the odds of being killed in a car accident are much higher than that of a plane crash but emotionally I’m a nervous wreck getting on a plane. Because I’m writing about terrorism I would like to say my fear of flying is because of 911 but it’s not, I’ve been afraid of flying for as long as I can remember. The point is emotions, especially fear, can prevent us from making the correct decision.
If there is an emergency in my family and I need to get to the other side of the country in a day I can not let my fears talk me into thinking I can drive several thousand miles in a 24 hours. That is obvious but the fear generated by terrorist actions are much more subtle and many of them are political. Whenever I think of fear and politics the Patriot Act immediately comes to mind. At the time of it’s passage citizens overwhelmingly accepted it as necessary to the continued safety of the country. Eight years later it doesn’t seem like such a great idea.
Therein lies the problem – allowing others to make decisions for you. Whether is is your government, the police or any civic group we can not blindly give control of a situation to someone else, no matter how tempting the offer. How much different would this world be today had we sat down after 911, weighed our options and made judgments only after learning all the facts? In other words, used our common sense.
A loss of trust
Fear and trust are polar opposites. It is impossible to fear someone you trust or to trust that which you fear. Of course your next question would be, “is it possible to trust a terrorist?”. No, it is not. But is is possible to not fear them. Let’s go back to my irrational fear of flying. There are several ways for me to conquer the fear from learning about how airplanes fly to psychological counseling. Now most of us do not need counseling over terrorism but most of us do need to learn how to trust again.
The first step would be in learning who terrorists really are. A friend of mine once said, “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims”. He changed his mind when I pointed out Timothy McVeigh was a Catholic, as are the majority of the IRA (the Irish Republican Army not the Internal Revenue Service although many think it is a terrorist organization as well). Indeed, many terrorist groups are not based on religion but on an ideology or nationality such as the Red Army Faction or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Terrorists come in many forms and disguises but they all want one thing; for you to be afraid. The point is you cannot identify a terrorist by how they look but by how they act. Whether it is radical Islamic fundamentalists or your own government anytime someone tries to make you afraid it is a terrorist attack and is an attempt to use fear to control your actions.
Freedom nurtures Terrorism
James Madison said. “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency”
Indeed, it is freedom that will help us cope with terrorism. Not the cowboy politics of George Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq or strong armed Democracies but individual citizens willing to depend on the liberties and freedom inherent in each of us. We can choose to not be afraid. No one can take away our freedom; we can only give it away.