Way back in 2001, when the events of 9/11 rocked the world, I was living in a small Alaskan town of about 4000 people, a microcosm of American society. I saw how suspicions prevailed. How the word choice of seemingly intelligent colleagues broadened to include pejorative terms like rag-heads. How the immediate reaction was to shore up and dig in, to close borders, and keep America for Americans. Fast forward and this is Europe today.
I’d grown up in an Ireland where bombs were regular occurrences and being a terrorist was a job that came with and without a uniform. I’d been taught from an early age that if their actions changed how I lived my life, they’d won. I remember writing to the top ranks of the company I worked for, explaining how curtailing flights, changing work patterns, and modifying company behaviour was encouraging the very change in behaviour that would give the terrorists their win. I never received a reply.
Bombs, loss of life, man’s inhumanity to man – none of it was new. America was no stranger to terrorism back then. The Oklahoma bombing was proof of that. But, as was explained to me back then, McVeigh et al. were home-grown. The 9/11 perpetrators were different. They had breached the border, broken through the defence. America was no longer a safe place in which to live.
The day before the Paris bombings, many lives were lost in Beirut. I saw little, if any media coverage. And then Paris happened. And the world became red, white, and blue. I wondered aloud when we had become so selective in our condemnation, in our reactions, with our sympathy. And this was one answer I received: ‘This is on our patch. What they do at home [i.e., Beirut], that’s their business. But when they come into our back yard, and kill us – that’s different.’
What happened in Paris, and in Beirut, are atrocities. ISIS, in claiming the action as their own, will continue to foment anger and terror. Reports are already circulating that they have infiltrated refugees fleeing to Europe with 4000 militants, armed and ready to kill. Who knows if it’s true. Their aim would appear to be to split the world in two. To change how we live our lives. To turn us into Muslim-hating citizens who live in fear. And I do live in fear … fear that they will succeed.
Two centuries ago, politicians were citing eternal vigilance as the price of liberty. Today, we want our governments to protect us. Yet when they mention surveillance and accessing social media in order to track these terrorists, we cling feverishly to our privacy and cry foul on human rights. We want our security organisations to filter out the bad guys but when we’re held up at airport security, we moan about the inconvenience. Can we have it all? I wonder.
Are those branded ‘conspiracy theorists’ right? Is this nothing but a corporate war for profit and power being financed by the West using others as puppets to do their dirty work? Is it an excuse for countries like Hungary to put armed police on the streets to further agitate the masses and shut their borders to those in need? Is it about religion and false ideologies? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I have a choice. I can choose to live in fear. I can choose to treat each Muslim I meet as a potential terrorist. I can choose to join those who are damning the millions fleeing ISIS-strongholds like Syria because one bomber got through the net. Or I can refuse to hate. I can have faith in human decency and hold fast to the belief that good will triumph over evil. It’s my choice. It begins with me.
First published in the Budapest Times 20 November 2015