September 27, 2004

Terror nuts

David Warren writes a moving piece on terrorism. He relates:

A friend writes: "I find that reading the news these days, with hostage beheadings front and centre, is quite depressing. You have to keep up with all of the horrors; doesn't it drive you nuts?"

His answer:

No. It does not drive me nuts. I have no more right to allow it to drive me nuts, than I have the right to ignore it: for an evil on the scale of what we face demands a coherent response. This, in turn, requires a clear head.

The purpose of terrorism is to terrify: to drive us nuts, to leave us incoherent, to make us run away. To spread fear and confusion, feeding upon each other. To make, for instance, the American electorate think: "O dear, Iraq is a nightmare, we had better get out right away."

But that will not do. Instead, we must look, as calmly as we can, right into the heart of the carnage, and find, unblinking, a way to bring it to an end.

I certainly agree with these sentiments, but not with the specific answer to his question. We don’t have choice about what drives us nuts. It’s nonsensical in the way that a standard answer to this question is: How did you manage to succeed at XYZ? Answer: I had no choice. Well, a lot of people fail at what they try to do, and pay the consequences. The answer reverses his cause and effect. If you have a clear head, you won’t be driven nuts. It is well known that people panic not because they are faced with some horrendous situation, but because they don’t know what to do. People who know what to do, do it, though they might be scared they don’t panic. Similarly, people who know how they feel about the news aren’t driven nuts. Nuts is what you feel when your worldview is short-circuiting, and you feel compelled to ignore the new information which is causing the problem, rather than making the effort to rewire your worldview.

Israelis, for the most part, aren’t driven nuts. We go on living normal lives, going to work and school, shopping, going to movies. But we are all soldiers in the War on Terror: the terrorists have made it so. Children are taught in school to recognize and report suspicious packages. (Suspicious package: hefes hashud – חפץ חשוד – an everyday term, one of the first I learned when I moved here. You think this is awful? As I understand it, children in the US are taught to be suspicious of people. I think that’s a lot more awful.) You learn to expect bomb scares whenever you’re in a crowded place: the police clear you out while the bomb squad deactivates it, sometimes by blowing it up. You learn that if you forget your backpack on a park bench, it is liable to be blown up while you’re gone. And of course, you learn to wait for your car to be searched before entering a parking lot, to be searched going into malls, supermarkets, cafes, anywhere where there are lots of people. You learn that in the War on Terror, you are on the front line.

But since you know what to do, you do it.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 27, 2004 02:42 PM
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