Thursday, February 06, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Good Medicine for the Age of Terrorism

Last night I had a bathtub discussion about the possibility of war breaking out in Iraq. What exactly is a bathtub discussion, you ask? Well, it's when you're in the tub and someone else is listening to your ramblings; sort of like a therapist's couch, only soggier. This particular discourse was prompted by a message from someone "in the know" that we should be careful about terrorist activity in major US cities in the near future.
I don't know about you, but I'm a bit burned-out over daily worrying about terrorist activity. It's not that I don't believe that it will happen, but I am becoming emotionally fatigued by constant headlines about weapons inspections, restarted nuclear reactors and isolated cells of terrorists in my back yard. I'm certain they are here - in our country, in my city, no doubt - and they will probably strike at some point. However, I refuse to let that fear suck away at my life and absorb the mental and psychic energy I need for daily living and growth.

Yes, there will be future terrorist activity both abroad and domestically. But worrying about when and if today will be the day that it happens here at home is tantamount to spending your waking moments in fear of getting cancer, or being hit by a stray bullet. Certainly, it could happen, but consider the effect that the worry itself has on your life before the event happens? After all, isn't that what "terror"-ists hope to accomplish - to create a pervasive sense of fear and apprehension in a target population that brings normal life to a standstill?

We're relatively new to the terror experience here in the US. What about people in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and other strife-torn parts of the world? Let's consider Israel, for example. Almost weekly (or daily, it sometimes seems) we receive reports of suicide bombings and other tragedies from the cities and the countryside. I wonder, how on Earth do people live with this? How does one go about their daily business of rising, living and sleeping when any moment can bring unspeakable atrocity? It's as if those who live in war-stricken areas develop a shell around them, a protective layer against the daily onslaught of explosions and blood, because to truly experience the fear these events engender is to capitulate to terror. I don't live there and I don't personally know what life is like lived in the "shadow of the valley of death", but it does highlight just how good things are where we live, despite all the bad news and gun thumping.

Does it feel like the world we live in is dangerous? Perhaps it is, but is it any more dangerous than the world we lived in 100 years ago? I don't believe so. A century ago, childhood fevers and shaving nicks often proved deadly, and half of us died from exigencies we today reflect with a vaccine shot or the pop of an antibiotic pill. Our world is more palpably dangerous since 9/11, but mostly because the thief has struck and we feel vulnerable - and the rest of our lives seem relatively placid in comparison to the nightly news.

Remember that terrorism is a man-made danger, and by definition someone has control over it. The problem is, we don't really have that control right now, and perhaps never really did. Zealous anger and boiling rage among extremist factions around the world has been seething far longer than we know, and only recently have we felt its presence so personally. I am actually far less afraid of Saddam Hussein's ability to build a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons arsenal - or for that matter North Korea's reactivated reactors - as I am of the weapons that very likely are in our back yard as we speak. We worry that our enemies could develop weapons of mass destruction? I believe our enemies already have them, and have had them for some time. What I'm most afraid of is that in this day and age we can no longer pinpoint our enemies with geographic precision as we have in years past. The next wars will be utterly unlike any before, if only because the wolf doesn't have to knock at the door: he's living in our basement.

The enemy is no longer a discrete country or foreign leader, but a funguslike web whose tentacles have spread into many nations - and they can't be extracted with any real effectiveness. Terrorist cells can be entrenched behind the faces of people we see every day. Certainly government intelligence gathering works, but it's probably no more effective against the metastasized cancer of terrorism than chemotherapy or surgery is against bodily disease: we can control it, but we still can't cure it. We can make educated guesses, keep our fingers crossed and hope that today won't be the day our fortunes turn. This won't be a war of nation against nation, but ideology against ideology, and it could make the Battle of Tours in 732 AD look like child's play.

We may not be able to control the time and place terrorism may strike, but we can control how far we let that fear into our lives. Living our daily lives and moving forward despite the dangers we see in the media isn't living in denial. It's also "good medicine" for us, and our nation as a whole. Like those who live with a chronic disease, we have the option of dying with it a little bit every day....or living with it. The choice is ours.
There you have it, my bathtub speech. Confessions and cleanliness!