By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
We’re Surrounded by thousands of preteen girls wearing cat ears trying their best to figure out who to be. How they are supposed to look, what boys they like, what their parents will let them get away with and something about this hazy and ominous thing called their future. Most of their faces are buried in a smart phone. Some press together for selfies, striking leaned-in poses with practiced smiles for social media posts tagged with “Dangerous Woman Tour, Ariana Grande, The Palace of Auburn Hills.”
It’s Sunday, March 12, 2017 and we’re outside Detroit, Michigan in the United States. This is America. Ask any of these girls where Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia or Iraq is on a map and, unless they are one of the growing number of immigrants in this community who moved here for a better future, they will likely give you that sideways head lean and go back to their Instagram or Snapchat. It’s just after Spring Break, and there are waaaaaayyy more important things to worry about.
Chinese military philosopher Wu Ch’i, wrote:
“Now suppose there is a desperate bandit lurking in the fields and one thousand men set out in pursuit of him. The reason all look for him as they would a wolf is that each one fears that he will arise and harm him. This is the reason one man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand.”
Terrorism is the desperate and effective strategy of striking terror (hence the name) into a civilian population by transcending the conventions of warfare. Everyone is fair game, and the rules are, there are no rules.
Until 9/11 the United States was blissfully and ignorantly insulated by geography from international terrorism. It didn’t happen here unless it was homegrown. We had Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in April, 1995. That was about it.
And then there was 9/11.
Many of the girls at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester were not born before the terrorist attack on the United States on 9/11/2001. If they are under 15, it is simply a page on a history website. They wonder if their cat ears are on straight or if that boy they’re following on Snapchat will see the selfie they just posted.
This is how terrorism works. Take the fight to the most vulnerable.
I am told there are two kinds of wars; Wars that are started over territory and commerce. Oil, borders, political rule. These wars resolve quickly as their costs, both human and financial, spiral. And then there are grating and unending wars of demented hatred. These are often linked to an ideology that has nothing to do with hatred at its basis, but some perverse distortion of an ideology- any ideology will do- is bent to justify a demented agenda.
Terrorism only grows in soil where nothing else will. There is no opportunity, no room for dreams beyond martyrdom. Poverty, oppression, fear. That is life, and death is promised as better. It’s a set of beliefs that expresses the unknown as evil and threatening. It condemns education and liberty, and reinforces rigid belief and blind acceptance with the threat of rough “justice”. It is a doctrine of fear, ignorance and limitation.
In the fertile soil of freedom and liberty terrorism cannot maintain its roots. The growth of hope and opportunity cast a shadow over it that chokes out its sunlight.
Hope and opportunity are the greatest weapons in the war on terror. They offer a better alternative. They offer abundance and tolerance, growth and safety.
As we absorb the intimate enormity of our daughters and nieces being drawn into a global war on terror we need to consider a future when we are free from these fears. And we need to plot the course to get there. The Global War on Terror has fractured off fragments of malignant hatred that take root elsewhere. The fragments get smaller and smaller, but spread farther and farther. Eventually they may be gone altogether, but it is a laborious and tedious process of finding them and eliminating them.
And what will we provide in their absence? If terrorism only grows from places where there is no alternative what will the alternative we offer be? I know that the leader of the 9/11 attacks attended Hamburg University, but his personal doctrine was already set when he got there, and it emanated from poverty, hatred and prejudice.
Ultimately we will find the greatest weapon in the Global War on Terror is the enormous might of inclusion and understanding, new opportunity and alternative. Until then we will continue to fight smaller and smaller fragments of this hateful doctrine into deeper and deeper corners of our lives.