“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you…And you…And you…Gotta give em hope.”
― Harvey Milk, The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words (link)
The definition of terror is an intense fear. The suffix -ist is added to words to denote someone who specializes in something; the suffix -ism is used to denote the state or quality of something. Working from those definitions, a terrorist is someone who specializes in creating an intense fear. Terrorism is the state of being in intense fear. That’s what happened thirteen years ago today in the United States. We were placed in a state of intense fear, and I’m not sure we have ever escaped.
So many people around the world are living in a state of intense fear right now. People are afraid. Many of them have good reason to be afraid. There are lunatics with guns and other weaponry invading their homes and dropping bombs on them. Syria, Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan. I’m not sure there’s a single country that hasn’t been somehow touched by terrorism. By comparison, we’ve gotten off easy.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re not entirely safe, and quite frankly, our foreign policy since 9/11 hasn’t really made us any safer. The way our airlines and other transportation have handled security has not created more secure travel. All any of what we have done the last thirteen years has accomplished is to create more fear, for ourselves and so many others.
And I don’t diminish the damage that’s already been done. The amount of damage and suffering that’s been caused by the 9/11 attacks has been way more than enough. I still, to this day, cannot fully wrap my head around what happened. I feel so very lost and afraid when I think about all those people killed, the skyline of New York scarred forever. I know it could happen again anywhere at any minute. The point of terrorism is that nobody knows when or how terrorists will strike. The terrorists do this precisely so they can create that intense, crippling fear. They want everyone to be so afraid that they stop doing whatever it is the terrorists hate so much. Because none of this is about legitimate protest or revolution. It’s about hate. And fear. It’s about creating a world where the only point of view that matters is that of the lunatic with the guns.
You’ll probably recognize the state of intense fear in more than just 9/11 or ISIS attacks. You can probably see it in all the school shootings. It’s there in rioting and police shootings. It exists anywhere it’s illegal to even speak about homosexuality. Terrorism comes in many forms; it wears many faces. It lives in every racial slur, or misogynist insult. Not all terrorists are Muslim, and not all of them come from foreign countries. There are terrorists right in our own backyards, in our malls, in our office buildings. Every place where someone lives in intense fear, there is terrorism.
And the only way to fight fear is to stop being afraid. It’s not going to be simple, or easy; there are a lot of complicated problems that need real solutions. But each and every person on this planet can do something to stop terrorism. All they have to do is replace their own fear with hope.
Addendum: I still feel this way. This is not the final solution to the problems the world faces, but it is the best first step we can take. Like the Beatles said all those years ago, “All you need is love.” It isn’t the practical cure to practical problems, but if we can approach our problems from a place of hope and love, then we can find the solutions.