Sept. 11, 2001: a day that lived in infamy in the international community. Since that pivotal moment, the world has been at war with extremist views and acts of terrorism. But it has been 17 years since the fall of the Twin Towers, and our world is still plagued by fear. Attacks still occur with alarming frequency around the world, even with the “War on Terror.” Fear permeates this world for just reasons, but there is a misconception that I believe has led to the spread of mass fear in regard to terrorism. Today I plan to discuss with you my opinions on terrorism in the U.S. versus the world, and why I believe our efforts have been ineffective.
First of all, it is important to note the two forms of terrorism that the United States has been affected by. The first is international terrorism. As defined by the FBI, international terrorism is “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored).” Events that are defined as international terrorism are the 9/11 attacks and the San Bernadino attacks of 2015. The second form is domestic terrorism. Defined by the FBI, domestic terrorism is “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” This includes the 2016 Orlando Nightclub shooting and the 2015 Charleston church shooting. The reason I make a clear distinction between the two is because I believe that we, as a society in the United States, have focused on the wrong one. The constant fears and concerns that are portrayed in the media are that of international terrorism, but there is little focus on the act of domestic terrorism. To be honest, the thought of domestic attacks from political extremists is a far more terrifying reality than an attack from a religious extremist influenced from outside the U.S. Statistically, more domestic terrorism acts have occurred in the United States than international terrorism attacks. It is worth noting, however, that more people have died due to international terrorism, namely because of the enormous death toll of 9/11. I believe this is the reason that so many people are afraid of an attack from ISIS or Al-Qaeda.
The reason I bring up the differences is because misinformation leads to the spread of fear. When you dissect the word terrorism, the root word terror, which is defined by Merriam Webster as “a state of intense fear.” More powerful than any bomb or gun, more destructive than fire or explosions, fear is the most powerful weapon one can wield. The deaths associated with terrorism are devastating and tragic, but what makes terrorism so powerful is the fear that is spread from an event, regardless of how successful the event is. For example, in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks, there was a sense of fear that rippled through the international community.
Fear is a dangerous weapon, but I believe we give into fear too much and too easily as a society. We have been to war, taken part in NATO missions, and had troops on the ground in the Middle East. There are ways that as a nation, we can combat terrorism without lifting a firearm. For example, when I was in London over summer break, I was at a production of “Les Miserables” in the West End of the city at the time that the London Bridge attack occurred. When my brother and I found out the news, we rushed back to our hostel to make sure our parents were safe. Sure enough, they were fine and getting ready for bed. They asked why we were so panicked and we explained. We all went downstairs to the lobby to watch the news. It was so hard to believe that my parents were heading toward the bridge when they got sidetracked by a concert going on. They were also in the market that was attacked. But I must give the Londoners their credit. The next morning, it was business as usual, with a little added security. If an attack like this was to take place in the United States, it is fairly easy to assume the entire city would be shut down, and the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 is a prime example of that.
This is not to say that Americans are cowardly. Rather, we tend to dramatize events such as this. That drama gives terrorism more power. We are fighting an ideology, and one cannot simply take an ideology down with guns and bullets. I believe we must move towards the London style of handling these actions: with dignity and grace. To be able to continue life as normal, even in the wake of a terrifying act, shows a sense of strength and fortitude. It sends the message, “I will not let fear rule me, and I will not give you power by cowering in fear as you want me to do.”