Sometimes I wonder if I am the last person who remembers the true definition of the word ‘terrorism’, such as it was understood some 15 years ago, before opportunistic politicians set about emptying it of its substance to fit their own populist goals.
Before it became a newspeak catch-all term for some vague faceless enemy we are supposed to wage endless war against, terrorism had one overarching meaning: “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public”. It’s right there in the word: terrorism does not seek to start a fight or win a war, its only goal is to terrorise.
It is the last-resort of fanatic minorities powerless to convince the overwhelming majority and too cowardly to admit it.
With such an obviously stated goal as instilling fear and chaos, it is hard to imagine entire countries falling for it. Yet, from Bush Jr.’s jingoistic macho nonsense to successive British governments’ increasingly Orwellian rhetoric, responses to terrorist acts in the 21st century have always unfailingly sided on the side of fear, confusion and catastrophic reflexive policies.
In the years that followed, “don’t let the terrorists win” was a catchphrase favoured by the very same US mainstream media1both rightwing ones and a depressingly large number of supposedly more moderate outlets who spent their time encouraging their fellow countrymen to run around like headless chickens, while surrendering every last bit of that precious freedom those terrorists were after.
Twenty fanatic arseholes with box cutters successfully drove 300 million people to near-psychosis and shaped the next decade of US policies (both foreign and domestic). Three military quagmires, millions lives destroyed and trillions USD wasted later, I think it is rather clear that the terrorists won that one.
This time, as every time before, a lot has been written about the need for restraint, the danger of reflexive macho thinking2Seeing this piece published in the most nakedly fear-mongering populist rag that ever was, is proof that satire is well and truly dead. and the importance of acknowledging that there is no easy solution3This is indeed a situation so complex that I disagree with many of this piece’s points, but it is still a worthy read.…
And just like each time before, all of it will weigh depressingly little against the ongoing tide of hashtag-based emotional reactions and blind indignation, demanding immediate actions against someone, anyone: be they muslims, Syrian refugees or some neighbour with the wrong shade of skin.
And while the world is busy sharing a torrent of approximate rumours and outright bullshit on social media, politicians are already milking this opportunity for more xenophobic, freedom-curtailing, securitarian laws and counter-productive unilateral geopolitic moves.
While I don’t doubt the good intentions of the millions people who send their #prayers to Paris or light their monuments and Facebook profiles in tricolor, I am not sure that the World needs more religious fervour or emotional flag-waving right now. I would rather see us collectively express our cold disdain for the Lovers of Death and refuse to play by their reptilian-brain fear-based rulebook.
You cannot wage war against terrorism, any more that you can remove fear from the gamut of human emotions. But you can certainly resist the urge to act in fear and panic, and deny terrorists that satisfaction.