What Should We Do About Terrorism?

On 2001-09-13 I wrote the following in response to the terrorist attacks and subsequent debate over how to react.

An Eye for an Eye vs. Turn the Other Cheek

A few days ago, if you had asked me, “Should we ever bomb our enemies?”, I would have given you the pros and cons of shooting weapons at people: destroying your enemy, but occasionally killing innocent victims. It was easy for me to distance myself from the so-called ‘collateral damage’ because I didn’t have to be bombarded with the imagery of, say, innocent Yugoslavian people jumping from the burning buildings on which we had just dropped a couple of missiles. But everything is different now, everything has changed; we are now the victims, and we have a choice - to treat our enemies as they have treated us, or to turn the other cheek, so to speak, and to refuse to stoop to their level.

For once, I tend to agree with the Pope; I don’t want to be on the “downward spiral of violence and hate.” But I do believe in Justice, and I believe in bringing it to the cold-blooded, calculating murderers who were involved in Tuesday’s attack on American Democracy and Freedom. I feel that these principles are more sacred than life itself, and must be defended accordingly. However, even in taking retribution, we must always be as merciful and honorable as we would want our enemies to be. We must always remember what it feels like to see a building full of innocent people collapse, because that is what it feels like to the citizens of other nations we might decide to bomb. The whole reason we find terrorism to be so horrible is because it seems so meaningless and wasteful; therefore, we should try to avoid those qualities of warfare when we redress our attackers and those who have sponsored them.

We must also learn from our mistakes, find out what has inspired so much rage against our nation around the world, and try to avoid involvement in activities that are inhumane, greedy, or just plain thoughtless. Sometimes I don’t blame the Palestinian people for cheering in the streets; they have suffered through many years of violence and poverty and they probably don’t know the true extent of the attack on the US. They just know that a wealthy, distant nation, which has long been funding and militarily supporting their occupiers, has been dealt a blow by someone who is against America, and so they automatically are on that person’s or organization’s side. At worst, I would say these people, and many others in the Middle East and around the world, are hideously misled, but that is not a crime in itself. When you think about it, the only thing that may eventually solve terrorism is better education and democracy worldwide, so people will be able to imagine a better world, one where the downward spiral is long forgotten.

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A prophet on the burning shore