But being steeped in fear clouds our judgment.
It is, in fact, a victory for the terrorists: We change something about our lives to accommodate what we feel is now a “new reality.” Here are some small but telling examples from my own circle of acquaintances:
- A couple canceled her long-planned and long-anticipated travel plans to Paris where they would have celebrated their wedding anniversary
- A man wants to sell his guitars that he has been taking around to nursing homes to sing and play as a gift to the elderly. He wants to use the money from this sale to buy guns for protection. He feels he cannot be safe anywhere anymore.
- Many start online crusades asking for easy sweeping and solutions to the complex problems surrounding the scourge of terrorism by confusing civilian casualties with terrorist targets: “Just go drop the A-bomb in Syria.” “Just take them out.””We definitely don’t want to take any Syrian refugees now; we need to protect ourselves.”
- They want us to see the terrorist actions as proof that we need to engage in their clash between religions and their clash of civilizations.
- They want end-time thinking leading to end-time action.
- They want the refugees they have chased out of their homelands to be unwanted and in no-man’s land without any safe harbors in which to land.
But we don’t have to play into their agenda!
By contrast, being aware, vigilant, and able to identify actual suspicious activity, requires us to not succumb to fear!
In other words: When we are terrified, we say goodbye to reason; we don’t think clearly, and we will not be able to accurately identify potential threats (instead we might see a whole lot of false alarms everywhere). In mental states of fight or flight we are unable to accurately identify the solutions that efficiently combat terrorism.
It is beneficial to remember that statistically, whether in Europe or the USA, we are much more likely to die a violent death from a car crash than coming face to face with a terrorist. And we are still much more likely to die from heart disease or cancer than dying in a car crash.
It is good to keep this perspective clear.
Still, I am sure you have heard someone who is talking about terrorism as if the terrorists were right outside their front door:
“I won’t negotiate with terrorists,” “if they come here, I will show them who is boss,” etc.
It is well-meant I am sure, but entirely unrealistic in all its bravado. It is unlikely that anyone but public officials, police, and military personnel will negotiate (or not) with terrorists. And having a gun for protection is a personal choice but it does not “fix” the issue of terrorism globally.
However, terrorism is a serious problem that requires serious solutions. And each of us can do something:
- We can be vigilant and aware, and report suspicious activity in our neighborhoods, public places, or our schools (school shooters are terrorists too).
- We can continue our lives alert and awake, and not cower in fear and change how we think and act.
- We can speak through our votes to have clear-headed elected officials who seek collaborative, powerful, and efficient solutions to deal with threats from terrorism.
- We can talk with others and help them get out of panic-mode. It is essential that we – regular citizens – refuse to let the terrorists win the battle by endorsing crazy-talk – like dropping atom bombs on an entire region, and other end-times talk that, again, play right into the playbook of what the terrorists want to accomplish.
- We can educate ourselves. The terrorists in Paris were French and Belgian nationals. The Syrian refugees are generally families who are fleeing to get away from drought, hunger, and the tyranny of jihadists.
However, we can only do so much individually.
“Fixing” the issue of terrorism requires collective, focused, and determined action.
Violent jihadists know that killing hundreds of thousands of their own, as has happened in Syria since 2011 does not get them much attention. Even terrorist strikes in Beirut and the downing of a Russian airliner receives little attention from the Western press.
However, when they hit so-called “soft targets” of Westerners, they get exactly what they want.
In the West, homegrown terrorists find the fearful reactions of both primary and secondary targets proof of their own significance.They, like some school shooters, are looking to be seen as important – creating history. Sad, isn’t it?
Since my focus for this article series is to compare Denmark, where I am from, and the United States, where I live, I will now share a few thoughts about the difference in the two cultures with regards to this issue.
In Denmark there is broad understanding of global issues.
The Danes have great international news coverage. Therefore they have participated in a thorough debate for years around the horrific circumstances for families on the run from a regime that has taken over their homeland of Syria. The Danes, for a country of only 5.6 million, have taken in many refugees comparatively (about 18,000 total).
While I was just there a few weeks ago, yet another door-to-door collection effort was underway. The ongoing collections of money are to benefit the many millions of Syrian refugees. These refugees, whom such collections benefit, currently reside in places with limited food, water, and medical attention in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
Danes have collected millions of dollars to help the crisis.
Children and the elderly join in and walk door to door and collect money. In airports and many public places the white collection jars are ubiquitous. The issues is considered a shared problem. And it brings the seriousness of the issue into the living rooms, while offering the population a way to be of service.
I always marvel at the news broadcasts in Denmark. I learn much about foreign countries, their elections, their political struggles, and their humanitarian crises. I know that the Danes as a group are relatively – and comparatively – well informed about the world around them.
It is something that I wish was a part of cable news in the USA.
But here the hunt for ratings prohibit informative reporting. And therefore, we often see gladiatorial political debates, talking heads that battle for air time discussing national issues only.
Foreign news mainly enter into the consciousness of cable news watchers in the USA when major crises, or violent and dreadful acts. like terrorism. occur. It creates a lack of broad understanding of the underlying issues at the root of issues like terrorism.
Therefore Americans are – for me to see – more likely to demand easy-sounding solutions that have no basis in a broader understanding of the problems.
I find that in the USA once you mention that you want to understand something, it is automatically assumed that you want to be soft on it, excuse it, or gloss it over – that you naively encourage to turn the other cheek.
However, unless we know how to demand of our elected leaders that they truly understand the basis of international terrorism, we might not get the solutions we hope for. If we insist on them pursuing easy solutions only, we may short-change ourselves – and the world too.
Unless we ourselves look into the problems facing our world today, we will not be able to know who to vote for to create lasting solutions. We might be tempted to vote for the politicians who encourage the most emotionally satisfying solution: the one who promises the quickest-sounding and often also most violent plans.
Dealing efficiently with terrorism requires thoughtful, thorough, and collaborative responses.
We must require that our politicians speak carefully, study deeply, and act decisively and rationally if we want to put an end to terrorism, and not just make it worse.
To root out terrorism, we must dig deep through layers of tough dirt and pull out the roots resourcefully to ensure a penetrating and long-term solution.
Maybe a part of that solution addresses how young Westerners get recruited to become jihadists. And maybe part of that solution is to give all young people, including first, second, or third-generation immigrants a society that actually wants them to discover what they are truly passionate about. A society that gives them opportunities to make a real difference in the world by contributing meaningfully, so they don’t grow up feeling bored and disillusioned.
Graeme Wood states that this is precisely one of the key motivators for the young recruits, who choose terrorism:
“They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.”
To counteract the appeal of shoot-’em-up terrorist groups recruiting our young people, the fight against terrorism might also focus long-term on ways to encourage families to become involved in their kids’ lives.
Maybe we need to fund and support schools so they are not just encouraged to teach how to recite empty knowledge, but also care about what innate talents and gifts are in each student and encourage them to realize them.
The fight against terrorism no-doubt includes well-executed and targeted coalition-based military options.
But it requires many broad-sweeping non-military actions as well. We need improved international intelligence sharing. We need to demand that police and intelligence community is well-funded, and actually has the resources that oblige them to seriously research the tips they get.
And primarily each of us need to understand what creates and perpetuates forces of terrorism, so we can work together in an unbroken chain to get rid of it – one deliberate action at a time. Each one of us doing what we can individually – and knowing what, in contrast, can only be accomplished collectively.
This intelligent, aware, deliberate, and shared way of dealing with the issue, is the only way that any targeted military options will be efficient.
We cannot simply shock and awe our way out of the issue of terrorism. We need to come together with others, put our ear to the ground and listen.