|Annabella Wood is a first year McBride student at Bryn Mawr College. This essay is made available, with her permission, as a contribution to a Serendip on-line forum discussion of "The Place of the US in the World Community, November 2004". Readers are invited to join that discussion with comments.
We currently live in a world where terrorism seems an inevitable part of our lives.
In an effort to end terrorism, our government is going out and systematically killing off races of people who have terrorist members. We are asked to believe that this will put an end to terrorism. However, I find this hard to believe. It seems to me that putting an end to terrorism by killing everyone who might kill us, we would have to kill everyone on the planet. Then when we are all by ourselves, we would have to kill ourselves, too, because we might kill ourselves. You can see the problem.
To truly put an end to terrorism, we must first determine what causes terrorism, and put an end to its cause.
Our governments theory is that terrorism is caused by people in other cultures that want to hurt us. Their recommended remedy is to kill everyone who would be bold enough to cause us fear, and scare the rest of the world into submission, through threats, innuendos or outright violence. But I have not seen that their remedy is working. It seems that more people get mad at us the more we kill them, or threaten them. This does not look like the end to terrorism to me. It looks more like growing cycle of terrorism.
So what is terrorism? Terrorism is an attempt by a few to scare the many by committing random acts of violence against them. It does not seem to be motivated by personal material gain, as the terrorists themselves often wind up dead because of the terrorist act itself. Therefore material appeasement of the terrorist is impossible.
The key to successful terrorism is to terrify. In order to terrify an individual, the individual must become terrifically afraid. This requires active participation on the part of the people receiving the terrorism. They must participate in the drama by becoming afraid, typically of their own death. Highly successful terrorism includes threats of future acts of random violence, keeping the terrorists prey in terror at all times.
Our government tells us that this state of peak terror at all times is called "Security." However, we all seem keenly aware that it does nothing to keep the terrorists from striking again, except that possibly they wont strike again as long as we are all terrified.
Hence, in this state, we can try to convince ourselves that we have been successful because we have not been attacked again, but inside we all know that the terrorist has already won as long as we are afraid.
There is some good news in all of this. Since successful terrorism requires active participation on the part of the victim, that makes the victim at will to change the environment of fear that they live in. It is possible for the victims to stop the cycle of terrorism in its tracks without committing any violence to anyone, including themselves.
We have already seen that fighting violence with violence only creates more violence. How about trying to change the terrorists behavior through kindness? Doesnt the Golden Rule state, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you?" Werent we taught to believe that this means that if we are nice enough to others, they will be nice to us?
The whole rule as taught to us as children went something like this, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you, so that they will treat you kindly." Have you ever tried to get that to work? Heres how a typical scenario plays out. As a kid, someone asks you to share a toy with them. You dont want to, but your mother said you should because it is what you would want from them. So if you share your toy now, they will share theirs later. Thats the promise.
For a while it works. You share your toys, they share theirs. Then something comes up, and they wont share their toys with you. You say something like, "Hey. I shared mine with you. After all this time. Thats not fair!" and go running home to Mommy. She holds you and says, "Life can be that way sometimes." So much for the Golden Rule.
Has it worked in your life so far? Probably not 100 %, or we would vote in a president who would be kind and non-retaliatory in every respect, fully knowing the people of the world would respond kindly to us. No, somewhere in the back of our minds we remember the previous scenario. We would never put our national security in the hands of someone who would put us in that kind of vulnerable position.
The fact is, that as long as we think we can end terrorism by changing the terrorists behavior, and thereby be at peace, our peace is dependant on their behavior. This is an exceedingly vulnerable position. No wonder we seem to go off at the slightest provocation. We are scared to death. Going off to fight a war on foreign soil is neither brave nor courageous. We do it because we are scared to death, i.e. terrified. We dont know how to end terrorism, so while it exists, we want to be the biggest and baddest on Earth, hoping everyone will leave us alone. Thats why we go to war.
The only way to truly end terrorism is to look at what causes the fear and deal with THAT. This is something we can do. And if we could not be terrorized, terrorism would necessarily cease.
What causes our fear when we see things like airplanes flying into the World Trade Center? Why does this terrorize us? Because it proves that we are vulnerable to attack. And why does that terrorize us? Because we dont know how to stop it, or predict where it will happen again. And why does that terrorize us? Because it means we might be next. And why does that terrorize us? Because we might die. And why does that terrorize us? Because we value life more than death.
This is the bottom line for terrorism. We value life more than death, and this is the leverage bar the terrorist uses to terrorize his victims. Without our belief that life is more precious than death, terrorist acts would fall silent.
We all know what happened on 9-11, and have been watching the predictable scenario play out ever since. They came and ruthlessly attacked us. Took innocent lives. So we are fully justified in going over there and taking their lives, because none of them are innocent anyway. They are all Muslim, and so they necessarily back the terrorists. Of course if we were to read the Koran, the Muslim equivalent to the Bible, we would find that terrorist acts are NOT condoned in the Koran. But who is reading books? We are emotionally involved now, and not looking for understanding. We are the innocent victims, and anything we do to "protect" ourselves is understandable and justifiable in the name of God. So we cheer as our boys decimate their country. After all they asked for it, and we will give it to em.
OK. So we have felled their leader. Their country lies in ruins. We are victorious. Are we breathing easier? No. The treats of terrorism still come in, and our concerned government leaders pass them on to us.
So when will we be able to relax? Since we can not control their behavior, not trust them to stop terrorizing us, especially after we have shot up their country, we must kill them. Only after we kill every last one of them and all their friends and relatives, and anyone who is a friend or relative of any of their friends and relatives will we be able to relax.
Or maybe if we just put someone in power over them that will keep them under control. Someone who will rule them with a strong hand, but still be completely submissive to us. Someone we can totally trust to have the ability and desire to do our bidding. Yes this is the best way to go. Then we will be able to relax.
Or maybe not. How do we know this person will be able to control the extremists? Well, it is still the best shot we have at remaining the good guys and ending terrorism against us. So we will remain in an uneasy state of seeming peace on the surface, with terror still running through our veins as we go from day to day.
It seems to be a long way around to an uneasy peace. Or how about this? We let go of the terrorists leverage bar, and stop taking part in our own terrorization?
Now consider the following scenario: Starting today, right now, you look very hard and honestly at what proof you have that life is more precious than death.
Be scrupulously honest with yourself. This belief is near and dear to our hearts. It is one we have held for centuries in our culture, and it is very sacred indeed. Yet the price for hanging on to it has become terrorism. That is a very high price just to hold a belief. See if you are brave enough to question yourself on this old, sacred idea, that life is more precious than death. Only the truly courageous will be able to carry this out.
It can be done anywhere, any time you think of it. On a bus, in a coffee shop, at home, anywhere. Ask yourself these questions whenever they come up for you. What proof do you have that life is more precious than death? Did someone tell you it was? How did they know? On what authority were they speaking? Can you really know that their information came from the source they claim, or are you taking it on faith that it did? Do you even know anything for sure about death? So can you actually compare the two, when you know nothing about the one? Do you revere not dying more than living in peace? If you support the war efforts, then the answer to this question is yes. Could living a short, contented life be more satisfying to you than a long, worried one? Follow these questions as far as they will take you. Theres no telling where you might end up, but it will probably be much more comfortable than where you are now.
Lets go back to the Golden Rule. Here is how I believe Jesus meant it in its entirety; "Do unto others as you would have done unto you, because as you do unto others, you do unto yourself simultaneously." Have you ever noticed that when you are kind to someone simply because you want to be kind, you experience the feelings and warmth of kindness while you are being kind to them? Same with meanness. Whenever you are mean to someone, what are you experiencing in your mind and body at the time of your mean act? Chances are good that you are experiencing high blood pressure, headache, aloneness, and emptiness. This may not be true in your life, but I know it is true in mine. I experience whatever it is I am giving out or even thinking about others. When I think someone is unkind, I feel the barrenness of unkindness. Even just the thought creates the experience for us of what we are thinking about someone else. This is what Jesus meant when he gave us the Golden Rule. It is not to try to manipulate kindness out of others. You can never control anothers behavior. He was simply revealing fact that you experience what you do unto others, so make it stuff you want to experience.
And you only do this for yourself. After all, you are the only one experiencing your experience. You need not get your friends to do this. You need not get your government officials to do this. Only you. Should others notice a difference in you, and ask what you changed about yourself, share it with them. But then release them to do with it what they will. For you still can not control the behavior of others. The most you can do in this direction is to inspire them through your example. And that will only happen if you are truly doing it for yourself, not to be an inspiration.
Some musings about death; funny thing, isnt it, that the only things we all must do while we live, are the bodily functions. Breathing, drinking, eating, and defecating are all bodily functions, and they are the only things we absolutely must do while we are alive. All activities other than bodily functions are optional. Death is one of these bodily functions. Nothing more, nothing less. How do I know? I dont. But I am very comfortable believing it, and I can not be terrorized by anyone while I feel this way.
My focus remains on how I function in my life, not how long I remain alive. What is the quality of my life? If I am living in fear of terrorists, or just robbers, or even false lovers, the quality of my life suffers a great deal. Let me do unto others as I would have done unto me, because as I do unto others, I do unto me. And so it is done to me. In this way I remain in a state of having it done unto me as I wish.
Why do we surround something like death with such fear and foreboding? After all, isnt it death itself that gives life its meaning? Would life be nearly so precious if we were guaranteed to have it endlessly? I dont think so. It is the very fact that we are guaranteed to not have it endlessly that gives it value. So give death its due. Be grateful for the fact that we are guaranteed to die. When death comes to mind, thank it for its very presence, and let it know you will be coming to it at the appointed time. And live in peace, whether in a quiet countryside or in the middle of a war zone, or under threat of terrorism. Your physical location has nothing to do with the peace you experience in your life. Embrace your mortality, and live in peace.
So, back to the question, what proof do you have that life is more precious than death? Sit with it again, and again. As more proof comes up determine if it is absolute proof, or if you are actually taking it on faith somewhere along the line. As you disprove your proof, go to the next shred of proof, and the next until you dont come up with any more. This can take you a lifetime. But it could be a lifetime spent in peaceful, thoughtful integrity. A lifetime spent ending terrorism for the very last time.
You, yourself, can do this. You dont have to get anyone or everyone else to do this to make it work. You need not get anyone to change their behavior toward you to change your whole world.
The terrorist is dependant on us to become terrorized. Without our cooperation, they could not terrorize us. Do you want to put an end to terrorism? Would you like to live in a world where peace was always available to you? If so, give these questions a try. Why not? Nothing else has worked so far to end terrorism. If the questions dont take you anywhere, then you will simply be where you already are, and no one will be the wiser for it. But if you do travel on these questions, they may take you to a peaceful world, impervious to terrorist threats or violence of any kind.