It’s easy to look back and see how we allowed the “Patriot” act to slip past us: we were emotional from the attacks on 9/11 and fearful and thereby willing to sacrifice the rights that make us American. We were convinced that it was a different time, a time when the Constitution needed reinterpretation. More than a decade later we still feel the effects of 9/11 everywhere: airport security has never been the same, war has consumed our lives, our military has become enormous, executive action has become an increasingly popular recourse; we have constantly been in a time of “great threat” since 9/11. Around 3000 died on that day and a subsequent 5000+ fighting abroad in the wars since. Perhaps the most terrorizing effect, however, is the credibility we have given to terrorism and the way that fear is now being exploited.
Last week in Boston, in a senseless and abhorrent act, terrorism struck again and 3 died and 170 or so were wounded (17 critical). In an all-out manhunt, the city was placed in martial law and we threw any rights to freedom out the window to catch the despicable individuals responsible. Upon apprehension, the one living suspect was not read his rights.
Real damage: 3 killed, 17 critically wounded, 150+ more wounded to some extent. This is what threw our country into a tailspin. Without getting into a passionate discussion on gun rights but to give this perspective, at the time of writing this blog 3,527 Americans (according to a NYT tracker) have been killed from gun violence since Newtown. More than a 1000% fatality difference (even more if you consider the time lapse between the last victim of terrorism on our soil), yet it was the terrorist act killing 3 that spun us into martial law and a common sense bill that could not get through the senate.
We have been tricked into believing that terrorism is our greatest threat; it is not. Terrorism relies on communication; it is a message that relies on us being scared of it and thus requires more credibility than it otherwise would warrant. It is emotional, yet irrational; it is not the biggest threat and not worth giving up the rights that we should be enjoying as Americans.
The real fear from terrorist acts, then, is not the damage in blood spilt, which when put in perspective is extraordinarily small in comparison to other real threats plaguing our streets, it is the fear generated from the blood spilt, or as FDR said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” We need to push back. We need to let terrorists know that they will not scare us, but not by massive police manhunts made for CNN to appease the mob calling for a head on a stick, or massive invasions of foreign countries, or massive restructuring of homeland security posts, or absolute desecration of the Constitution, but by sending the message that a terrorist is, by itself, a small person; it is a person that only wields the power that we give it. Terrorism, then, has to be a minuscule part of our lives, it only holds value if we give it value, but we must realize that we are more threatened by a car accident than a terrorist bomb. Terrorists are nothing more than criminals; they’re no more a war combatant than a crack dealer on the corner holding up a liquor store—the only difference is visibility and thus the credibility we give it.