My wife and I were watching the HBO documentary Manhunt, which detailed the rise of al-Qaeda and the post-9/11 pursuit of Osama bin Laden through his eventual death. It is compelling journalism.

One of the themes of the movie and a primary rallying call of al-Qaeda is the objective to inject fear into the lives of Americans. Now, two years after bin Laden’s death, I think it is safe to say both he and al-Qaeda have succeeded in advancing their objective.

In the dozen years since 9/11, fear has taken its grip. Our sense of our personal safety and security has been manipulated and used against us to create a false sense of trepidation and irrational panic not at all consistent with the realities we face.

I feel it worth invoking Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow recognized that human needs are based on a hierarchy, with five stages: basic needs (food, water and clothing), safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. The critical point being that one cannot move from one level to the next without the needs of the previous step being satisfied.

For most of 2001, we lived in a world where love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization were the primary levels of operation for the vast majority of Americans. Fast forward 12 years and millions have been cast into being most concerned about their own safety and security. Putting food on the table, keeping a low wage job and paying rent tend to be distraction enough.

The result is greed, polarization, anger and a sense of helplessness, by which one can justify any action in the interest of one’s own security. Guided by their own self-interests, corporations’ and politicians’ sole purpose has become the accumulation of wealth and filling election coffers all the while jeopardizing the safety and security of even more Americans.

Our fear and insecurity also have created an environment that has blinded us to recognizing the frightening deterioration of our civil liberties. Going back to Maslow, if you don’t feel safe it is impossible to operate at a higher level that might include concern about issues more related to love, belonging and self-esteem.

I think we are far enough away from the tragic Boston Marathon bombings to take a more critical look at our nation’s response. While the media fed us pictures of the horror of the bombings and kind policemen delivering milk, 9,000 uniformed Homeland Security forces descended on Boston in armored vehicles, full camouflage with machine guns at the ready.

What the major networks failed to report was that these forces entered homes without search warrants, at times without the permission of the owners, and with a hubris unequaled in the war on terror. It was overkill taken to its extreme and in the end did nothing to bring those responsible to justice.

I was a dissenting voice when the Patriot Act was passed. I felt it was driven by what I believed to be an irrational fear of the actual threats present at the time of its passing. It has certainly proven to be one of the least patriotic acts in the history of this republic.

For those liberals who might believe President Barack Obama has any interest in civil liberties, I would argue he has abused his executive power more than any president in the history of our country. Just because he might use his power to “advance” a liberal cause does not make his actions any less objectionable or profane. The irony of our first black president ignoring the groundbreaking work of those who blazed the trail for civil liberties is simply astonishing.

The recent discovery of the Obama administration’s warrantless wiretapping of the Associated Press is just one in a long line of abuses of power at the hands of the Patriot Act and fear-driven decision-making and politicking that now defines Washington.

If we do not do something to break the grip of fear so solidified by those on both sides of the political aisle, I fear Osama bin Laden’s prophecy will come true: “I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have taken the lead in a horrific game. It’s time to change our plan, our direction and our fear. Fear will not carry us to our next horizon, conquering that fear, restoring our confidence in our own safety and security and moving forward is our only hope.

— Tim Durnin is an independent consultant for nonprofit organizations, schools and small business. Contact him at, follow him on Twitter: @tdurnin, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.