I doubt whether I’m doing any better (or even as well) as many Americans in dealing with the fear engendered once again on our soil by people blinded and numbed by their hatred of our nation, its violent forays into other lands, and our relatively liberal way of life.. We call them terrorists, objectify them, and some public figures vow to kill them all so they can’t frighten us anymore.
in search of leaders who can restore the relative sense of security that pretty much blanketed North America prior to September 11, 2001, we’ve trusted people like George W. Bush, who played on our fears to get our permission to carry out wars that, in the end, did little or nothing to diminish our fear, but went a long way toward creating new generations of people in other lands (many of them followers of Islam) who now proudly proclaim themselves the enemies of Western Civilization, and, with the encouragement of hateful religious leaders, vow to kill as many of us as they can in the name of their faith.
I had just started grad school at Syracuse when September 11th happened. It was an especially frightening moment for all of us in the university community because we lost more than 30 students and faculty when terrorists blew up Pan Am 103 over Lockerby, Scotland in 1988. I remember confessing that fear when my wife (who was still in Indiana at the time) and I spoke on the phone that evening. We obviously had no answers to the question: How do we restore our sense of security and erase the terrible fear? Mr. Bush and his neo-con colleagues immediately began calling for war with Iraq and Afghanistan and the more abstract concept of terrorism. Even though my wife and I have no training in military science or diplomacy, we agreed that first awful evening that we could never kill enough people to stamp out terrorism and put an end to the fear.
So we were left looking for a way to live with the ever-present possibility of more violence and death–even on our own soil–perpetrated by people who have come to hate us enough to wish us dead. In those disturbed and fearful moments came thoughts of how people elsewhere on the globe have reacted to terrorism over centuries. I thought of Ireland and England, through centuries of unrest but especially at the height of the IRA’s efforts to throw off British domination.
I studied in England during one of those years, a time when bombings were fairly common in London, Belfast and other cities. I recall that the English were troubled by the violence, but they did not surrender their way of life nor most of their daily routines to fear. I wasn’t really surprised by that. I remember learning, in history class, that the English actually told jokes in the bomb shelters while Hitler rained destruction on them with the Blitzkreig during WWII.
Bombings were common in much of Europe in those days…Germany, Italy, France. And I remember reading that people were afraid. But they didn’t give in to the fear there, either. They tracked down as many terrorists as they could, but I don’t remember anyone vowing to drop bombs on targeted areas until the ground glowed in the dark (as Ted Cruz wants to do in Iraq and Syria to stamp out ISIS). They got on with their lives and refused to let the actions of hateful people destroy the values and faith and lifestyle that knit their communities together.
The French have demonstrated their refusal to be cowed and defeated by violence in their midst once again, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks of November, 2015. Yes, their political leaders stepped up military action against the perpetrators (in Syria), but the people showed their strength by returning to the sidewalks and cafes of Paris the very next night, refusing to cede one inch of concrete to hateful, desperate individuals in their midst who enjoy the fruits of Western civilization and still wish us all dead.
In the end, for me, it comes down to a choice between a mostly open society (with the inherent risk that twisted people–Muslim, Christian and otherwise–might decide to act out their sickness in violent ways) or a quarantine approach (where the doors into the country and into our homes are locked to foreigners, certain religious and ethnic groups are stigmatized, and “real Americans” start packing heat so they can drill the bastards if they show up with bombs and AK-47s). Like our friends across the pond, I choose freedom with a lot of love thrown in. I refuse to sacrifice all of what it means to be human just to feel a little less scared about what might happen.