Living with Terror in the Modern World


by Hayden Hollingsworth

Is that something we have to do . . . live with terror?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  In the past week that has been much on our minds. One of the interesting and disturbing things is how varied the reactions have been to the death of Osama bin Laden.

After the first realization of what had happened all sorts of reports began to surface.  Immediately, conflicting stories were flooding the media.  He had used a woman, maybe a wife, as a shield; he had been armed and resisted capture; the fire fight had lasted less than 4 minutes; the fire fight had been intense and lasted for forty minutes; the woman killed was wearing a suicide bomb, and more. Whether any of these things were true was debatable. They all were refuted in later reports.  One thing that is certain:  The raid was carried out with precision.  It is too bad that the reports added so much confusion.  Surely, the post-event communications could have been orchestrated better but selling papers requires a lot of hype.

Then there was the matter of whether bin Laden was really dead.  Let’s see some pictures.  Leon Panetta said they would be released, according to the press.  The President, among others, said no, they would not.  A wise choice; it would have taken about a half minute for the blogosphere to be drenched with accusations that the “body” was nothing more than a Hollywood makeup artist plying his trade.  One thing can be said with certainty about conspiracy theorists:  They are never troubled by facts.

The reporting, although shot through with conflicting information, led to even al-Qaeda admitting bin Laden was dead.  If anyone thinks that’s the end of terror they surely look at the world through a very constricted lens. We are now being warned, and properly so, to “be on the alert,” whatever that means.  There is no way to protect ourselves simply by being watchful.  To make a comment that one is uncomfortable with fellow passengers who appear to be of Middle Eastern extraction may cost you your job, as we have seen with NPR.  If someone is bound and determined to harm innocent people, there is no sure defense.

We have seen all too graphically that we are totally capable of killing each other for no apparent cause.  Since the attempted assassination of President Reagan more people have been killed by guns in this country than all the Americans killed-in-action in World War II; that’s over four-hundred thousand deaths.  Virtually none of those had to do with ideological conflicts.  And yet, Congress and the Supreme Court seem powerless to escape the misinterpretation of the 2nd amendment.  Living under that kind of terror has become so commonplace that we scarcely give it a thought.

The problems caused by religions are much less prevalent but potentially much more destructive.  I have often said that if it were not for geography and religion there would be no wars.  We fight because we want land and resources that belong to someone else.  We fight because we decide we have a divine imperative to impose our beliefs on others.

Of all the good that religious orders have brought to civilization none is less founded on reality than the evil concept of divine truth applicable to a selected group.  Christianity has been among the worst offenders.  Think of The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Reformation killings, the Salem witch hunts, slavery, racism, class exclusions from civil rights. Christianity has been invoked in all of those, so let’s not be too quick to paint other religions with the brush of intolerance.  Religion is what we tell each other we believe about God, Allah, Yahweh, or whatever you choose to call a Supreme Being. No matter the name, I don’t think It cares a thing about religion.  Religion is a horizontal idea.  Spirituality is vertical; it reaches beyond our knowing and that relationship should be the determinant of how we live.

Terror will always be around us, but we should never allow it to dictate how we live our lives.  In every community there will be people who terrorize and we give them protection under the 1st amendment.  Too much public recognition gives them more power than they merit, leads us to be fearful and in the end may make them more successful.

The concept of treating others as you would want to be treated is found in nearly every major religion but it’s more than a theological thought.  It is a practical way for living in peace with our neighbors.

Now if we can just get rid of our addiction to sensationalism and violence, maybe we will survive in some semblance of harmony.