04 August 2005

Don't Do Al Qaeda's Work for It: Christian Science Monitor opinion piece

Repeating the "not if, but when" mantra can also simply empower terrorists. It spreads the very fear they want, and risks creating a defeatist atmosphere and an erosion of diligence in defending a nation.

Churchill's warning

Winston Churchill, in his "never give in" speech of Oct. 29, 1941, warned against this kind of thinking in matters "great or small."

With the victory in the ferocious Battle of Britain behind him, yet the US still not in the war to help him, Churchill rightly reminded citizens that "you cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are..."

What people need to be told is the reasonable risk of attack and to know what their leaders are doing to mitigate that risk. They also must learn what they themselves can do to minimize that risk.

"We must fight the urge to clamp down in fear and bring our society to a standstill," Mr. Chertoff added in his recent speech. "Our antiterrorism efforts must be based on assessments of risk, not reaction to attacks. In the face of terror, there will always be a temptation to panic, to react, but we must be steady, unwavering - dedicated to the task at hand."

Liberated, not numbed by fear

What the public doesn't need are vague, meaningless phrases that do nothing but encourage more fear. Terrorism is a topic for open debate and regular reconsideration by the public. The terrorists' tactics are constantly changing, and so the public must be encouraged to be flexibly responsive, and not just numbed, to any new kinds of threats.

Defending a society against terrorist acts requires the work of all levels of government, backed by a fearless and informed citizenry. It is a fight for liberty, that is, a campaign to be liberated from the very fear that terrorists try to instill.

For nearly half a century, the Western world fearlessly stood against the Soviet Union and communism - and watched that "evil empire" crumble in 1991 into its own emptiness. Now both the West and most Muslims are standing up against an ideology that thrives only if others join in its fear-mongering.

Why do Al Qaeda's bidding?