Why our best defence is to live our lives
By Rebecca Peterson, Staff Writer
I was seven years old when I walked into my living room before school and saw the World Trade Center fall on TV.
My house was right under a flight path, not too far from YVR, so all morning I heard planes flying low overhead, desperate to land. In class, children who didn’t know much about the world discussed what had happened in hushed whispers. The teachers all looked grim. That night, I asked my parents if Vancouver was going to be attacked next.
This is why terrorism works.
Safety, security, and control. These are all invisible things that humans have a deep-seated need to feel comfortable in their daily lives. When war breaks out overseas, we can tell ourselves that we are safe. When acts of terrorism happen in “third world” countries, we can tell ourselves that it will not happen to us. It is far, far more likely that you will be hurt or killed driving your car to or from work or school every day than it is for you to be killed in a terrorist attack, but car crashes do not create the same pervasive atmosphere of fear that terrorist acts thrive off of.
Terrorism has two goals: to scare us, yes, but also to divide us. Terrorism serves to create a stigma, a strawman that we can point to. After the attacks in Brussels, many were quick to leap to the phrase “Radical Islam” as a target for righteous rage, even turning a wary eye on the Syrian refugees we’ve finally opened our borders to. “Not every Muslim is a terrorist,” some have argued, “but any Muslim could be.”
Any Muslim, certainly. Any Christian as well. Any Atheist, any Canadian, any American. The world is a broad place with many horrible people in it. In the history of where my family is from, terrorists were white Catholics convinced they were fighting to regain their country. And my family, also made up of white Catholics, feared and hated them the same as any other sane person caught in the middle of a bloody war would.
In my mind, it’s easy to go to the Troubles in Ireland in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a point of access to the plight that many Muslims are caught up in today. The Syrian refugees that many seem to enjoy pointing fingers and crying “ISIS” at are running from the murderers who attacked Brussels, Istanbul, Ankara, Paris, and so many other places. As a friend of mine told me recently, many Muslims do not call ISIS by that name as they do not consider them Islamic—rather, they call them “Daesh,” another acronym of the group’s Arabic name that closely resembles words such as “Daes” and “Dahes,” meaning “one who crushes something underfoot” and “one who sows discord.” Given that Daesh has threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who calls them such, it’s safe to say that this is not the sentiment of a people who support terrorists.
If we turn on each other out of fear, and if we condemn a group of people one billion members strong for the actions of a few that have co-opted their religion as an excuse to murder and destroy, then we are doing exactly what terrorists wish us to do. There were many Muslims working in the Trade Center who died on 9/11. Many Irish Catholics were among the thousands killed by IRA members during the Irish Troubles. Terrorist acts in the name of one doctrine or another have never discriminated between their targets and those who they claim to fight for. Pretending otherwise is helping no one but the terrorists themselves.
So what can we do?
We can reach out to one another. We can refuse fear in the face of such unimaginable idiocy. We can laugh, we can go to school, go to work, travel, and make friends. We can open our arms to people running from killers and a war they did not choose, and we can accept them without doubt or suspicion. We can call “ISIS” “Daesh,” and we can refuse those who seek to turn us against each other.
That is how we regain control. And that is how we begin to feel safe.