NOT since the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 has the world been thrown into such a state of fear and worry as it has been in the aftermath of the horrific attacks that have occurred in the past three weeks.
The bombing of the Russian airliner in Egypt’s Sinai, the suicide bombings in Beirut, the attacks in Paris, and just this past weekend, a brazen attack on an upscale hotel in Bamako, the capital of the troubled African nation of Mali – linger in the mind long after they made the headlines.
Despite the brave words of our leaders who vow to fight terror and bring its perpetrators to justice, and despite the entreaties of right-thinking people everywhere not to succumb to hate, fear, and suspicion, all of us are only human. Fear is a natural reaction, a survival mechanism; without fear, we would be more careless of our safety, and the safety of those around us.
In the normal world, though, we know that not every place and everyone around us should cause us to be afraid. We feel safe in our own homes and communities, and we pursue our work and other daily affairs with the reasonable certainty that we can do so in peace. The boundaries between places and situations that are ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ are clear, and we understand the peril of making a choice to cross them.
What terror takes from us is that certainty, by sowing the fear that no place may be safe, and anyone around us may, without warning, suddenly attack us. It is not wise to believe “it can’t happen here,” because it can. The terrorists know this, and this is why they behave the way they do – an attack may directly kill or injure only 40 or 50 or 100 people, but the real victims number in the millions.
Given that terror has this result, it is rather easy to conclude that its cause is really envy.
As the president of Mali said in the wake of the latest tragic attack in his country, the terrorists are those who have decided to “break with humanity.” They are, for whatever reason, not able to enjoy the rest of the world’s sense of community and efforts to understand and cooperate with one another, and so they try to destroy it.
We cannot let them win. The fight against terrorism is everyone’s fight, and our strongest weapon is not the military might the world’s governments can deploy against it – although we do not by any means disagree with its use – but awareness of what the terrorists are trying to achieve, and our collective refusal to give in to it. Be vigilant, but do not be cowed.
Do not stop working, and creating, and striving to build a better, more peaceful community.
When no one is terrified, then “terrorism” becomes an empty, meaningless concept. The words are easy, living them is a challenge. But it’s the challenge that we must overcome, if we want to live onward with hope rather than allow this sad chapter dictate the struggle that will characterize the rest of human history.