Terrorism and Not Being Afraid

© Dolat Khan, Via Wikimedia

The result of terrorism is rarely what terrorists think it will be. Terrorists believe that their act is going to get people to change their ways or teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget. Terrorists hope to instill fear in people, so that they’ll be willing to give up their status as persons worthy of respect and care, and thus submit to the ideology of the terrorist, be it religious, patriotic, or tribal. Terrorists believe this works because they themselves have given up their status as people worthy of respect and care, and become submissive to an ideology.

The faith of terrorists, however, succeeds in only one way: it produces counter-terrorism, which is merely terrorism in a new disguise. Those who’ve been attacked become terrorists, willing to inflict injury on those who represent the source of their fear, even though many innocent bystanders are injured, too. The consequence of terrorism is the spread of terrorism and the breeding of more terrorists.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps. 23:4). Notice that the psalmist doesn’t say there will be no evil. That is not something to hope for; it is an indulgence in fantasy. Rather, my fear and the damage to the community that it can cause needs to be my concern. We are hardly aware of the evil consequences of fearing evil; everything we fear is strengthened and empowered by our fear: Fear makes us act in ways that increase the force of what we fear. Fear changes us and makes us defensive. When we become fearful, we create a gap between ourselves and that which we fear, and consequently become fully equipped to do evil. This gap cuts us off from those who love and support us, because they see the danger we have become. The price of fear is always too high.

Fear comes from the ego’s need to defend itself. Hence, the only way to let go of fear is to find a guide other than self. And the other guide is indicated in another section of the psalm: “He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul” (2, 3). (The male pronoun is just a pointer; don’t imagine you know the sex of the referent.) It is when we are quiet and have come to a still place inside, underneath the ego, that we are enabled to let go of our fears. In that place, we come to know a connection to reality where we can never be anything but safe. The separation between ourselves and what we previously saw as a threat fades away. Saying this is easy; doing it is a hard discipline. Many people would rather die angry than subject themselves to this discipline. Killing the devalued other is so much easier, and “justification” (meaning an eye for an eye) is easily found. We can fantasize that we can nurture our anger, destroy our enemy, and thereby “keep the peace.” When we do that, we ignore the fact that our “peace” was never real, but was merely the studied lack of awareness of the violence in which we had immersed ourselves. Those who are surprised by terrorism ignore or discount its causes: what their own side did to cause terrorism to arise. Also ignored is the way their own violence leaves a legacy of hate that will fester and erupt later.

If we hold fast to our Guide, we will be able to let go of our fear and come to genuine peace. We will be able to retain our love and compassion and our recognition that even terrorists are human beings, however lost they have become. Both love and hate have power to change people, but love alone can heal the world. The only hope for us is to let go of fear and hate and equip ourselves with love. All the rest is a snare and an illusion.

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