It seems that news of the recent horrific attacks in Paris have permeated every corner of the media, touching us all with the grief and distress of the victims and the instability in the world. It is not only in Paris that such things happen; the violence is worldwide. It is that Paris has occupied most of the media.
Although there is a large contingent of people in Europe and North America who are advocating for a sympathetic response to the plight of Syrian refugees, the majority of official response seems to be one of drawing inward and raising the defenses, as well as an eagerness to fight back, to commit troops to what is hoped will be an extinguishing of the men and women who commit these violent atrocities. There is not only a hatred of ISIS, but a distrust of and resentment of any Muslim – and perhaps of any stranger.
The reaction is quite understandable. When one is under attack, the inbred, ancient response is to fight or to run away. In our shrinking, interconnected world, it is not really possible to run away. In addition, one wishes to protect one’s own family, one’s own tribe, one’s own culture. The right of self-defense exists. The only problem is that these responses are usually born of fear.
Fear is present not only among the victims of terrorist guerrilla attacks, in the form of, for example, suspending civil rights in the name of collecting intelligence, refusing shelter to refugees in the name of protecting the people from terrorists who might be hiding among them, in the calls to arms and the aggressive political rhetoric that surrounds the issue. It is also present among the attackers. People, with the exception of a few mental deviants such as sociopaths, do not generally desire to murder others for no reason. Most humans, in order to do that, need to first think of their victims as subhuman, as less and unworthy of life. However, people will kill when they are afraid. The more afraid they are, the more violent the aggressive defenses they enact. The more afraid they are, the more they try to hide their fear or project it onto others.
What could these criminally murderous terrorists possibly be afraid of? They do not appear to be afraid of being caught or of retaliation. They even seem to invite that, to wish to escalate the conflict and atrocity. Even more, they seem to be intent on attracting others, particularly young others, to adopt their viewpoint and join their efforts. They are willing to die for that. Their movement is not a resistance to any one government, or designed to eradicate human sufferings, such as poverty, or inequality of some people compared to others. Their announced goal is to defeat, to eradicate, Western civilization. Logically, that goal, as horrific as Hitler’s goals of the last century, is a clue to what they fear. It would seem they fear Western civilization itself, perhaps fear that their own culture will be eradicated by the economic and cultural strength of the West.
The fear reaction is no longer a viable reaction. This is increasingly apparent as distances in the world diminish and the pace of time increases. The result of fear, multiplied many times over, is simply mutual destruction. It is the voice of death. And yet, it seems remarkably difficult to disengage from it. What if the other guy does not disengage when we do? Yes, we must remain aware, ready to react promptly and responsibly to imminent threat. We are also aware of fire, and protect ourselves against it. No, we don’t need to simply bare our throats to a predator. What we do need to do is understand, and to tailor our responses from that understanding. It is the first step to response without fear. Perhaps we need to double think responses which give an impression that we are trying to convert the world to Western secular culture, to eliminate others’ ways of life unbidden. Perhaps we need to avoid those actions which would lead to our becoming less than who we are – such as suspending civil rights or closing our doors to innocents who suffer. Perhaps we need to employ our creativity in creating defensive stances that do not involve bombing our attackers out. Perhaps, even, we need to figure out ways to prosper on our planet without destroying it. At the very least, devoting some energy to publicly thinking about these things would be a step in the direction of continued existence on our Earth.