I am going to break one of my “rules” for this blog and write about a global issue rather than a local one, but it is something that touches all of us. Today the threat of terrorism hit the front pages again, and everyone is all abuzz. Just to show that there is some personal connection here, I will say that my mother is scheduled to fly into Wausau this weekend. Ironically, she was also scheduled to fly here on September 13th, 2001 — a trip that was obviously postponed. I understand fear. But we are supposed to be the “home of the brave.”
It seems to me that most people that don’t yet understand that “terrorism” is not actually about killing people. Yes, people die in terror strikes, but killing those poor people who happened to be at “ground zero” is not the point. Terrorism is about fear. It is about a people being so afraid that they change the way they do things. so afraid that they will do anything to “get back to normal,” including giving into the terrorists demands. There is no “terrorist” group on the earth that is so big and so well organized that it can kill as many people as the government of the smallest, weakest country in the world. In fact, terrorists, probably can’t even begin to kill as many people as drunk drivers do in the United States alone.
It is all about fear, and fear alone.
The last time we had a real leader in the White House, he said, “The only thing we have to fear — is fear itself!” Prophetic words for these troubled time. It seems to me that when we allow ourselves to be stripped searched before boarding an airplane, the terrorists are “winning.” When we rush to war to “root out terrorism” and find ourselves trapped by a tar baby, the terrorists are winning. When we take away our own freedom — simply out of fear — the terrorists have won.
Much has been said and written about the bravery of our soldiers, but now is the time for the rest of us to find our bravery. Like our soldiers, I am willing to die for freedom. I am willing for people to carry things on airplanes like laptops and hair gel, even though that might mean I might drop from the sky one day. I am willing to let the “Patriot” Act lapse knowing that some “evildoer” might not be “thwarted” by law enforcement and I might be the victim of a car bomb or something. I am willing to die for freedom — and I hope that you are too.
We might was well be willing to die for some higher cause. My grade school principal, Sister John Francis, reminded us ad nauseum that “the old must die — but the young may.” I think it was some kind of threat, actually. But she was right. We are all going to die, so it might as well be for some higher purpose. Being willing to die for freedom sounds pretty noble to me.
You would think that conquering the fear of death would be a snap in a “Christian nation,” but as I look around that is not what I see. People seem literally, well, terrified, of prematurely going to meet their Maker. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to die and even more I don’t want you to die, but we cannot do foolish things in fear of that moment. Are we going to get to the point where passenger airlines carry no luggage at all? No carry on? All the passengers naked under the special security robes that we will be handed at the gate? If we do not conquer our fear, this will come to pass.
There are many ways to conquer our fear. One is simple risk analysis — about 80 planes a year would have to drop out of the sky each year to equal highway deaths in the United States alone. Even at three bucks a gallon we keep driving. Or you could turn to your religious beliefs. If you are ready to meet your maker, what difference does it make if you are hit by a renegade sanitation vehicle or blown up by an ideological lunatic? I believe that no one dies in vain — you can live in vain, but not die in vain.
If that does not help you to conquer your fear, perhaps a book would help. I would recommend Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism by Thich Nhat Hanh. It seems to me that this gets to the heart of things much better than all the police and military “solutions” that have ever been devised. The only way to “defeat” terrorism is not to allow fear — terror — to disrupt your life, take your freedom or corrode your soul.
Here is what Thich Nhat Hanh had to say in 2002:
Terror is in the human heart. We must remove this terror from the heart. Destroying the human heart, both physically and psychologically, is what we must absolutely avoid. The root of terrorism should be identified, so that it can be removed. The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, intolerance, hatred, revenge and hopelessness. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening and compassion can it be transformed and removed.
Do Buddhists say “amen?” If they don’t — I will. We win the “War on Terror” by no longer being terrified, pure and simple.