article: On Terrorism

By Lester A. Shepard
Commentary Read on KPBX Spokane Public Radio 10/16/01

The recent terrorist attacks, which exceeded in scope and devastation all previous atrocities of their type, have highlighted with graphic horror the need to make peaceful civilians secure from violence. The perpetrators belonged to an organization that has cells in numerous countries, and this underscores the necessity to handle the threat of terrorism itself on a global basis. Hopefully the commitment to rid civilization of this scourge will become worldwide. The culprits must be brought to justice, and the more internationally broad the effort to do so, the better.

In talking about how the matter should be dealt with, “retribution” is probably not the happiest choice of term: I would prefer “prevention.” History teaches us that revenge is apt to escalate as well as protract violence. Apprehension of the wrongdoers and security measures, indispensable as they are, should be regarded as the immediate and short-term task. But they are just like a band-aid, and the underlying causes of such acts have to be addressed.. Instead of being pitted against each other in a never-ending contest or feud, families, communities, nations, and religions will have to regard one another with respect and understanding. As long as we have creeds that consider any group of people essentially and irredeemably wicked from the outset, the problem will persist. I realize that rectifying this is a big order, yet therein resides the only long-term solution.

While we set about recovering from this calamity, we should not make the mistake of exaggerating its effects. In the aftermath, air travel has fallen sharply, aircraft manufacturers scaled back their production plans, indeed there is concern that the entire economy will totter. Relax: the risk of being on a highjacked flight is minimal, and the tragic loss of the World Trade Center building didn’t deal a mortal blow at this country’s might. The media thrive on sensational events, and other entities profit from it too. The impact has been primarily of a psychological kind, dwarfing the actual material loss. This plays into the hands of those who want to harm us: it is precisely what they want.

Concurrent with magnifying the event into cataclysmic proportions–with the result of generating from a phantom apocalypse a real one–is the danger of overreacting to it, plunging the nation into a war hysteria. A former US ambassador to a Middle Eastern country has wisely cautioned that whoever was behind the highjackings must have hoped for a disproportionate reaction that would galvanize Moslem public opinion and drive the actually disparate lands of that region together by having a common enemy. Crusade against Jihad, right out of the Middle Ages, but fought with twenty-first-century weapons. I don’t believe that this country will succumb to that, though there are signs that some would favor such a course.

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