Friday, August 18, 2006

The Dignified Response to Modern Terror by a Free and Democratic Society

The Dignified Response: Introduction

Terrorism is a tactic, designed to take a small application of force (a bomb, grenade, hijacking, etc.) and amplify its psychological effects on a populace through the creation of fear. Terrorism can only succeed through the amplification of their actions, otherwise it remains an isolated violent act that damages only those unfortunate enough to be a direct victim. For terrorism to truly succeed, the people must be led to believe that the terrorists are actually more dangerous and effective then they truly are. However, there are greater dangers out there then terrorism, and our everyday lives are filled with these dangers. There is a greater threat of dying in a car accident each morning on the way to work than to be killed by a terrorist act. Yet we do not throw our car keys away and cower helplessly in the fact of this threat. We accept this danger and we live our lives. No risk can ever be reduced to zero, for there is always the chance of both human error and human irrationality.

Do Not Give In to Fear

The goal of terror is to terrorize. And the greatest cheerleader of Osama bin Laden and Al-Queda, the greatest amplifiers of terror for the last five years, have been the administration of George Bush. They feel that spreading terror to the American public, and to the world, gives them a few points in a poll. Instead of telling America that the only thing we need fear is fear itself, the Bush Administration constantly does the opposite. The terror alert system’s only real purpose seems to keep our citizenry terrorized and anxious. It permits the mere rumor of a terrorist act gain the same power as the actual act, because the rumor is sanctioned by the government and broadcast across America, bringing yet more terror into the homes of the American people.

A model to emulate is India, and Israel, as countries that better understand the price of an open society. In an open and free society, every public space is open to all. This openness and freedom can be used against these societies by those who seek to sow fear, death, and chaos, because it is impossible to prevent a lone, determined individual from taking a small explosive into this public space. But we must hold our heads high, and we must bear this burden, for it is the price of freedom. In India, when they had the deadly bombings of the trains in Mumbai, where hundreds of people died, they did not shut down the train system. They cleaned off the tracks and got the trains rolling, that very day. While we must honor those we have lost, we must advance the cause of liberty. We must remain unbowed, undaunted, and unbroken.

The key is to remain unterrorized. That is not to say that any victim of terrorism will be forgotten. They should be mourned, and their killers should be cursed as cowards. The intelligence and investigative services should vow to hunt the perpetrators down and bring them to justice, just as they should penetrate radical terror cells before they strike to prevent such actions. The populace should not be encouraged to live in fear and jump at shadows, however. They should be told to hold a stiff upper lip in the face of this senseless violence, to continue with their lives in order to show the killers that a free society cannot be intimidated.

The Goal of Freedom Over Terror

The minds of man contain the seeds of both great good and great evil. Whatever security measures we devise, I assure you there is some way around them. But the goal is not total security. That is impossible. The goal is freedom. The goal is to live meaningful lives, unchained from paralytic fear. We must not live in a land of constant checkpoints, pat-downs, and searches, of men with guns always watching, always watching. We must not live ever suspicious of the millions of muslims across the world, and in our own communities. We must live for liberty and justice for all, for it is these common, humanistic ideals that can defeat the pathology of terror.

Ideas are like viruses. This applies to good ideas, like democracy and the rule of law, and to bad ideas, like fascism and terrorism. You cannot bomb an idea away. You cannot exterminate a tactic. You can only inoculate a society against bad ideas by supplying them with the good. These ideas must develop naturally in a society, brought by the sons and daughters of a land, who grow to understand these ideas and embrace them on their own terms. The age of globalization should provide a great opportunity for this exchange of ideas. But fearmongering and war can spoil this bounty. When the stench of Death and misery fills the air, the ideas of law and democracy, based as they are on reason, cannot thrive, and become choked off by the reptilian desires of hatred and vengeance. We must serve as that shining city on the hill, we must serve as an example to those who yearn to think, and reason, and live free. But we must recognize that what we name “collateral damage” is often the death of the innocent. Such deaths give rise to hatred, vengeance and fear. We must live our lives as an example, not act as a scold and a bully. It is difficult to offer peace, freedom, and brotherhood with one hand while the other hand is busy destroying buildings, torturing prisoners, and taking actions that produce innocent corpses.

The Idea of Terror as a Tactic Can Only Be Fought With Other Ideas

We must fight a war, but a war of ideas. A war that champions liberty, justice, and freedom over terror and repression. We must not forget our past in fighting this war. We could not establish democracy and capitalism through the barrel of a gun in Vietnam. We fought, and we killed, and we bombed, and we won every tactical battle we engaged in, and we lost the war. We lost because we tried to fight Nationalism and Post-Colonialism with platitudes about freedom and napalm. However, we won the war of ideas in Cold War Europe without firing a shot. That is not to say that we were not wary, not prepared, and not willing to fight, and yes, to kill, to defend our ideas. But we must act to defend them, not to aggressively insert them. The communist east fell once enough people, even those in power, realized that their ideas could not compete with ours, and, most importantly, that their ideas fail their people.

How to Fight Terrorist Ideals

We must win by appealing to common humanity. If we treat others as humans, with dignity and respect, and support democracy and justice in their country while not eroding their sovereignty, then less people will want to hate and kill. Those killers will still exist, though. We must keep proper tabs on foreign visitors, but we also must ensure that the communities these killers come from reject them. Osama is a murderer and a brigand. But many people respect him. They think he is a great man, for standing up to the US and for lashing out when they feel weak, because they view the U.S. as a colonial occupier. But if they do not feel compelled to lash out, then our intelligence agencies and those of our allies can penetrate the groups and foil the plots. It is a far greater thing to turn a potential terrorist into an agent who will work for peace and work to prevent murder, than to simply kill the man. Winning hearts and minds is not just an empty slogan, although it has been bandied about far too much by those that clearly do not believe in it.

If the muslim communities of the West feel they are part of society, then it will lead to several positive goals. The London airline bomb plot was foiled by people inside the muslim community reporting on suspicious activity. If these immigrant communities feel they are part of the broader society, then they will have a vested interest in defending the society, and will make contributions to prevent attacks.

In a similar vein, if the nations of the middle east are treated as sovereign entities with full status at the table of nations, it will also defuse some, although certainly not all, of the present hostilities. Much too often are terms dictated to these nations, through demands and veiled threats. A consensus is not reached through negotiation and respectful discourse. The Arabs feel that the U.S. and the West are merely seeking to reassert a colonial mantle to control natural resources, which leads to hostility. The Algerian war for independence only ended in 1962. The U.S. helped Britain overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mossadegh, in 1953. Britain and France invaded Egypt over the Suez in 1956. While we in America forget about these things, and we believe in letting the past be the past and always looking forward, the Arabs do not forget. There is a constant and collective fear on their part of a return to colonialism and manipulation of their lives by distant Western powers. Combined with their generally repressive state governments, this fuels numerous conspiracy theories which paint the West in a generally ugly light. If the U.S. makes sure to deal with these countries in a respectful way, it will improve both the American standing and security. Invasions and bombings under false pretenses, such as in Iraq, have only hurt our cause.

There is No Need to Trade Liberty for Security

The current administration generally argues that Americans must give up their freedom and rights to be safe. That thought echoes numerous repressive regimes throughout the 20th Century. If there is an inefficiency in the gathering of information or monitoring of suspected terrorists, the Constitutional solution, the legal solution, is to ask for the law to be changed and the intelligence agencies reformed. However, it is clearly improper to assert that the Executive is unbound by the law. We have a system of laws in America, not a system of men.

The London liquid bomb plot shows that it is easy for the authorities to obtain warrants for surveillance of suspect characters. The British obeyed the law and kept track of a potential threat. Our freedom is that of a government that cannot do as it pleases against who it pleases. Requiring government forces to move through proper channels, generating the attendant paper trail, will ensure two key goals. First, it will ensure that this paper trail can be spread to associated government intelligence agencies, so that the national security apparatus fully understands who is a potential threat, what the potential threat is doing, and how the government is keeping tabs on the threat. It will help the agencies connect the dots. Second, it ensures the liberty of our citizenry, and if governmental powers are abused (and all power and authority given to man is eventually abused), then these abuses can be corrected and the harm redressed. The strength of the American system is that we should be able to honestly deal with failures of both liberty and security, and that we can then move to correct these failures. Repression and silence not only hides potential abuse, but it hides incompetence and ineffectiveness. The 9-11 Report took a good hard look at American intelligence failures, and it didn’t conclude that the only way to solve things is warrantless wiretaps and secret prisons. The solution was an open, communicative government that could efficiently transmit information and put the puzzle pieces together.

Bush is fond of saying the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. If that is the case, then destroying our freedoms can only bring joy to the terrorists. We once had a slogan in this country: Give me Liberty or give me Death. General Stark, a hero of the revolution, toasted his men “Live Free or Die: Death is not the worst of Evils.” New Hampshire adopted this as their state motto, so at least someone in this country still remembers our revolutionary ideals. We must never surrender our liberty for any enemy, be it foreign or domestic, because it is for our freedom that we fight.


We must have the strength of our convictions, and we must let freedom and liberty triumph over fear. This is accomplished by refusing to allow the threat of terrorism, which is an essentially psychological weapon, to close our societies and curtail our liberty. The greatest rebuttal to a terrorist is a refusal to be intimidated, to continue to leave free despite the threat of senseless violence. The message to terrorists should not be that they are the embodiment of evil, upon whom we focus all the energies of our society. This only feeds the narcissism of Al-Queda to help them believe that they lead the Islamic world against a Western crusade. Instead, we should mock them and let them know that as they cower in their caves, we shall always hold our freedom dear and will not surrender it because a few have fallen. We have our own martyrs, martyrs to freedom, whose blood only serves to refresh the tree of liberty. If an airplane is bombed, or if numerous planes are bombed, we will not stop taking to the air, but we will grit our teeth and carry on without intimidation. The terrorists must know that we shall never let their acts of childish violence prevent us from breathing the outside air, from speaking our mind, and from living as proud Americans. We defeat the tactic of terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized. As President Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

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