Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Response to Terrorism

Terrorism seems to be the current watchword. It is a word laden with dark and sinister meaning. It has been used often by those in power who seek to use it to invoke dread and fear in those who are expected to listen and to respond. It is used to provoke frightening images of car bombs and arbitrary and pernicious violence. The fear that terrorism spawns has been successfully used to rationalize unprovoked aggression. There is often reference made to winning the war against terrorism: a war that, by its nature, can span generations.

The amorphous and ever-changing image of the terrorist has become synonymous with our most dreaded and fearsome enemy. Today, the terrorist is presumed to be of Arab descent or Persian in the case of Iran. Tomorrow, who can say what the apparition of the terrorist will inspire, possibly Asian in character.

Terrorism, of course, exists in the world. Terrorism is a methodology: violent behavior designed to achieve political ends by creating a climate of fear and chaos and ultimately designed to lead to social instability and collapse. To presume that this tactic is used exclusively by those who are defined as our enemies is to run roughshod over history. Terrorism has historically been used by nations in their pursuit of empire and hegemony. Nations that have used terrorist tactics are the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, Japan, the United States, Israel, Indonesia, South Africa etc. Wherever the powerful few plan to coerce and subjugate the many, terrorist tactics will be employed, by necessity.

Politicians who raise the specter of the evil and an inhuman enemy do so by design, for they are expecting their audience to respond unquestioningly out of fear and ignorance. Fear and ignorance cloud judgment. Under the guise of patriotism, national leaders hope to pursue their grandiose plans for empire with impunity.

To presume that our enemies are inherently evil and are not possessed with the same frailties, emotions and ill-conceived notions as ourselves, is to relegate the future to the same cycle of violence that is so much a part of human history. To presume that we, as a people, are inherently good and have no responsibility for the havoc that we have created in the world in the wake of our own history, is to live a lie. Without truth, peace is not possible. Without owning up to our own blunders and grievous transgressions, we will remain a divided population.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist, in his book entitled, Calming the Fearful Mind – A Zen Response to Terrorism, states, “Across the globe, people suffer from very much the same things: social injustice, discrimination, fear and fanaticism. Fundamentalism is very much alive in countries around the world. Many people believe that they alone are on the side of God, and they behave as if they are the only children of God and the lives of others are not as precious. They want God to bless their own country above all, and to not bless others who they feel represent evil. But to think that everything the other group does is evil and everything we do is good, prevents us from understanding the values of others, and from recognizing their suffering and fear. Instead of making us stronger, our unwillingness to listen keeps us vulnerable and afraid.”

In conclusion, I believe it is imperative that we not only understand what motivates our enemies to do violence against us, but come to grips with the reasons for our propensity to violence in order to achieve our own ends.

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