In January 2002, a few months after 9-11, my newly graduated son Sean and I traveled to Derry in Northern Ireland to march in the 30th Anniversary remembrance of the Brit massacre on Bloody Sunday in 1972. By the time we arrived at San Francisco International to take BA to Heathrow we were faced with new security measures. The lines were huge, security officers were overly solicitous and incredibly slow and we had to take off our shoes for inspection. The summer before, 2001 when I took our Immersion kids to Derry to live and work in the Bogside, families could walk right through a metal detector and walk to the departure gate with their children. That’s how instantly things change. From Richard Reid, the shoe bomber who caused us to remove our shoes up to the “underwear bomber” which caused intrusive full body scans our security procedures have been reactive since. These were instituted all in the name of safety and have become the usual way of life for travelers. Moreover folks who either had mid-east sounding names were pulled out of line and re-re-searched. “No-fly” lists were created with no double checking. If your name landed on the list because it was “similar” to the name of a “known” terrorist it became almost impossible to get your name purged. This is the nature of terrorism, and the politics involved.
The Bush administration realized that “fear” was a great tool to control people and used it very effectively to establish Homeland Security cabinet level department and launch the “War on Terror.” Fear became the tool for dubious legislation that began to erode our privacy. Legislative actions were done in the name of “safety” of the Homeland. The oft quoted rationalization was “If you have nothing to hide, this won’t affect you” in regards to warrantless wire-taps. How dumb an argument is that? This has been written about for years now with lawsuits still making their way through the courts. Visions of mushroom clouds and yellow cake fueled “fears” led us as a nation to make stupid mistakes costing thousands of lives of our military and treasure in a pointless and criminal war in Iraq. Most of us sat by and “trusted” that government was doing the right thing to keep us safe.
Terrorism is not a country. Terrorism is an elusive, criminal tool of people who want nothing more to scare people into giving up their unalienable rights to a life, to liberty and of pursuing happiness. Unless we change from “reactive” to “proactive” we will be held in the grip of fear and make stupid choices. The only undefeated army that nearly broke the back of the English Empire was a rag-tag group of individuals known by the many names of the IRA. Some of the previous “terrorists” are now part of the government of Northern Ireland. Go figure. This required an attitude change on the part of the English government.
I am please to hear that the attitude of this government toward “terror” is about to take a more “adult” view. Some explanation from them is necessary. They have announced the following items:
“Our enemy is not “terrorism” because terrorism is a tactic. Our enemy is not “terror” because terror is a state of mind and as Americans we refuse to live in fear…the reality of course is that we never have been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America.”
I don’t believe that we will ever win “the war on terror” because fanatics will always be out there to mess things up. This is not a defeatist attitude, but a belief based on history. What we as a democracy need to do is anticipate with creativity the fanatic’s next move. Wars will not accomplish this, just ask the Brits. They threw their best at the IRA and still were not able to defeat them. Based on history we cannot afford to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan for an extended period of time with little or no tangible results. A more intelligent approach is called for.
And so it goes…