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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:13 am | Fog/Mist 53º


Randy Alcorn: Before Terrorism Gets the Upper Hand, Let’s Get a Grip on Fear

Fear is a powerful emotion, an indispensable survival mechanism that in the face of clear and present danger ignites the fight or flight response.

But persistent fear in the absence of clear and present danger becomes chronic anxiety that hangs about the psyche like a thick, toxic fog obstructing rational thinking and eroding health.

People can come to hate what they fear, and hatred permits ruthless overreactions to eliminate the object of fear. For example, most snakes are not poisonous, posing no danger to humans, but people who fear snakes will flee from or kill any that they encounter.

The same syllogistic logic — some terrorists are jihadist Muslims, therefore all Muslims are or might be terrorists — affects people whose irrational fear overwhelms reason.

Just as smashing a harmless snake is an irrational, cowardly, reaction, Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from the United States appeals to the most pusillanimous among us.

After the recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, the lingering fear over Islamic terrorism has intensified, and, predictably, the most alarmist Americans are ready to support further abuses of civil rights as a remedy against terrorism.

Their champion, Trump, who shamelessly panders to their many fears, does what bullies do. He beats up on those he perceives as vulnerable and easily intimidated.

Muslims are a small and distinct minority in America. It has always been easier to discriminate against such a minority. Just ask Japanese Americans.

American history includes recurring episodes of fear-inspired overreaction that subverted the founding principles of the nation and perpetrated disgraceful civil rights abuses like racial internments, blacklisting, domestic spying, unnecessary wars and torture.

As a nation, we are ashamed of that behavior, mostly after the fact, yet some Americans continue to flirt with repeating it whenever they get spooked by something.

There is much anxiety in America today over many genuine threats, but terrorism, while appalling, elicits greater anxiety than its incidence warrants.

Since the 9/11 attacks, America has incurred fewer than 90 deaths from domestic terrorism, less than 50 of those have been perpetrated by jihadist terrorists.

The chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack in the United States is infinitesimal.

Some would argue that the sacrifice of certain constitutional civil rights, notably with the Patriot Act, accounts for the relatively low number of terrorist attacks in America.

However, as former CIA director George Tenet has revealed, the CIA identified the 9/11 conspirators before they attacked, and did so without the extra police powers of the Patriot Act. Had President George W. Bush’s administration heeded the CIA’s emphatic warnings of an impending attack, 9/11 could have been prevented.

Before overreacting with more measures that abort civil rights, consider that neither the extra police powers of the Patriot Act nor California’s strict gun regulations prevented terrorists from murdering 14 people in San Bernardino.

The nation will always have problems and threats to confront. How we respond to them is the crucial concern.

Allowing fear and anxiety to run rampant undermines rationality, short-circuits objective analysis, and can eventually destroy what makes America, America — which is exactly what the jihadist terrorists hope to accomplish.

They haven’t got the military might to destroy us, but, if we allow it, they can have us behaving like puppets on their strings, dancing about in panicked overreaction, giving up our rights and turning on ourselves.

Terrorists, bullies and cowards feast on the fear of their victims. By succumbing to fear, we become exactly the targets they desire. We invite their attacks.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, panicked Americans allowed the erosion of their constitutional rights — the perfidious extent of which has been revealed by Edward Snowden. Some Americans justified this surrender of rights by declaring that “the Constitution is not a death pact.”

Isn’t that some battle cry?

The Constitution may not be a death pact but as all the rows of tombstones in Arlington, Normandy and elsewhere attest; thousands of Americans believed that the founding principles of our nation as established in that Constitution were worth dying for.

Those three Americans, who took down the jihadist on the train from Belgium earlier this year, got it right. They focused on the clear and present danger, and rather than submit to fear and be victims, they fought.

We can’t always physically subdue or evade terrorists, especially suicide bombers, but we can live valiantly and fearlessly in spite of them.

While in France last month I witnessed how the French responded to terrorism. Yes, there were troops on alert in the cities, and the government suspended some rights, but the people went about living life freely and defiantly, uninhibited by paranoia.

Big attractions like the Louvre and Eiffel Tower had plenty of visitors. The boulevards, cafes and restaurants were crowded. The metro was packed, and Christmas shoppers thronged the Galeries Lafayette.

In Paris, fear did not interfere with life — well, except when crossing the streets. Pedestrians are at greater risk from French drivers than from terrorists.

And America is at greater risk from paranoia than from terrorists.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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