A Culture Of Terror

I live in The United States of America, a country which has had few significant terrorist attacks, the most notable being the attack on the World Trade Centers, September 11, 2001. The number of civilians who died on September 11th (2,996) is roughly comparable to the number of civilians my country has killed with drone attacks just in Pakistan alone:

  • Total strikes: 366
  • Total reported killed: 2,537 – 3,581
  • Civilians reported killed: 2000 – 3000
  • Children reported killed: 368 – 997
  • Total reported injured: 1,174 – 1,465

Does the fact that it wasn’t a terrorist cell, but the American military establishment that perpetrated drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere lessen the terror felt by the people there? I don’t think it does. The US government recently admitted to killing four of its own citizens in drone attacks. Before that, they claimed that no civilians had been killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, yet there are estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians:

“Press reports suggest that [between 2006 and 2009] drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent.” New York Times

So, who is really responsible for the terror? Is it the 2% of targets who were actually “suspected” terrorists? Or is it my government who thinks it’s alright to kill fifty civilians to get one alleged bad guy?

What is it about my country that, when a disturbed man shoots six people on the campus of a college, he is labeled a terrorist? In nearly every headline, there was that blasted word “Terror.”

Is he labeled a terrorist simply because his name was John Zawahri? Is that enough to call someone a terrorist, even though he claimed no ideological mission? He left a note apologizing for his actions, but he did not say why he shot six people and he certainly didn’t say it was for a Muslim extremist cause. My heart goes out to the families of the victims in Santa Monica, but this was not a terrorist attack. This was a case of a man gone terribly mad.

“Assault weapons,” “high-capacity magazines,” “terror,” “terrorist,” “Muslim”… these are all words bandied about by the media without any basis of fact. Fact doesn’t matter. Fact doesn’t sell newspapers. One disturbed man shooting six people, two of whom were his relatives, without a “terrorist” motive doesn’t sell.

What is it about my country that allows major media sources to jump to conclusions like that? We see it again and again, any time there is a tragedy. We saw it at the Boston Marathon bombings as I discussed here. And here we are, a few months later discussing terrorists in Santa Monica. What is it about my country that not only allows the media to be so incredibly irresponsible, but that citizens gobble it up?

What is it about me that when I see a man just standing on a sidewalk carrying a large bag like I did at lunch today, my first thought was that something was not right? This man was just standing there. He was doing nothing, but the very fact that he was doing nothing in the middle of purposeful walking people singled him out. He was an anomaly. What is it about me that I allowed myself to think that way, if only for a second? I caught myself falling into the terror trap.

What is this culture of terror in my country? Where did it come from? Why do we tolerate it? We are the terrorists. Ask anyone in a bombed-out village in Yemen or Pakistan. We are the bad guys. We are not just the victims; we are the perpetrators of terror. America is hypocritical. We started wars with countries that had nothing to do with September 11th. We deposed Saddam Hussein and killed Osama Bin Laden, while some Americans cheered.

I don’t want to live in a country that is essentially a big schoolyard bully, keeping everyone in line through intimidation and violence. I don’t want to live in a secretive nation keeping tabs on citizens phone records. I don’t want to live in a country that has shipped countless people, even some of its own citizens, off to Guantanamo Bay Cuba where they are deprived of justice, due process and any spirit of constitutionality. I don’t want to live in a country where I find myself suspicious of people doing nothing.

This country used to be free. It used to be founded on the principles of equality and liberty. Those qualities are dead or dying in a secret bunker somewhere. You are far more likely to die in a car accident in America than to die by a real, honest-to-god terrorist attack. Muslim extremists are not the greatest terrorist threat; America is.

Stop labeling criminals as terrorists. Stop the misinformation and lies. Stop the prejudice and suspicion. Stop the fear-mongering. Stop believing everything you read. Stop the terror.

image from 3iffromwithin.com