Fear and Freedom

Several editorials and opinion pieces appeared last week that sought to address the impact that fear is having on our society. These articles sought to explain how fear has become the number one weapon of mass destruction being used against the American people. Ironically, its not foreigners seeking to psychologically pin us to the canvass and force us to surrender our ideals and our rights. It’s not Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden, but rather it is some in our own media, some of our own politicians, and commentators wielding this powerful weapon, “fear” against us. It has been Americans of various races and religions who are carrying out various violent, and criminal acts against their own country and countrymen, and perpetuating fear. Our response to this stealthy campaign of domestic terror has been so strong that it can be measured statistically, and the results of studies on this topic are eye opening and very disturbing, though perhaps predictably so. After all,! the one thing we all have in common since 9/11 is our fear that we might be attacked again by the extremists who penetrated our parapet of psychological and physical security when they killed nearly 3000 of us with only three unanticipated blows. Just as our nerves calmed down, we were confronted by a series of other unnerving events that remind us of our vulnerability, and heighten our sense of fear.

Most of us would make any sacrifice to prevent 911 from ever happening again, short of surrendering our freedoms, since when we give up our freedoms due to fear, we have for all intent and purpose, done exactly that, surrendered. The most humiliating and angering aspect of the 9/11 attacks was that the cowards stole our ability to fight back, and to prove that we are up for any fight, and that given a fair chance, or warning, we could win. We were sucker punched. We came back after a short month or so of grieving, and successfully attacked the Taliban and al-Qadea. What’s left now, after a marginal victory in Afghanistan, is not to surrender our freedoms at home, but rather to keep fighting back. In this instance the fight is not with bombs and bullets, it’s with faith and hope, and trust, and most importantly righteous indignation. Refuse to be frightened, and be determined to fight like hell, or heaven, which ever you prefer, against our number one enemy and threat, which ! is fear.

Today, we are being told that not only must we fear “Islamic” extremists, but that we must also fear Saddam Hussein, and anyone else who might have the ability, or a reason to attack us, which is a large and growing larger everyday line-up of potential enemies. Keep in mind that there are other countries that have weapons of mass destruction outside of the United States and Europe. Israel, India and Pakistan all have weapons of mass destruction. Just last year, both Pakistan and India issued public statements saying they were willing to use their nuclear weapons and that they would respond preemptively to threats, rather than actual attacks. Several years ago, Israel dispatched agents to Jordan to attack an Hamas political representative with a biological weapon. The representative, Khalid Mishal was hospitalized in Jordan where he laid in a coma until the now deceased King Hussein of Jordan insisted angrily that Israel deliver the antidote which they did, along with ! releasing Sheik Ahmed Yassin from prison to quell international outrage over the Israeli confessed attack. Pakistan and India are violators of UN Resolutions in respect to Kashmir. Israel is the number one violator of all time. All three of these countries are key players in the crisis presently facing the world in respect to the 9/11 attacks, Israel/Palestine and Kashmir conflicts along with perhaps the Chechen conflict being the primary causes of East/West tensions due to Osama bin Laden’s co-optation of these causes.   So where does Iraq and Saddam Hussein fit into this picture? It is claimed that he also has weapons of mass destruction, and he is a violator of UN resolutions. What distinguishes Hussein from these other three is that he is the only one of the leaders of these nations who has openly and defiantly opposed the United States, and attacked Israel, and he has oil. Forget the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as a reason. Israel invaded Palestinian controlled areas and no one attacked Israel. Pakistan and India routinely infiltrate one another’s borders, rape, kill and pillage and nothing of this magnitude happens. The question for us, aside from the need to go to war against Iraq, is why do we have to be scared to death to argue that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction must be addressed. Why must we be scared to death to agree that UN members must comply with UN resolutions? Why do we have to be terrified to accept that Saddam Hussein, along with some others, has demonstrated a moral vacuity that leads us to believe that he might use such weapons and would likely use them against the United States? The answer is that we don’t have to terrify to accept, or argue these points. So why are so many people using fear to support the need to address the threat posed by Iraq?

Before examining fear and the impact that fear is having on our people and society, keeping in mind that people in the East are also perhaps being terrified by this campaign, imagine what it must be like to live in an underdeveloped and economically sanctioned country like Iraq. Imagine that your communications and radar are being knocked out through military attacks carried out each day, as you are being softened for the kill. Try to make sense of the fact that you are about to be attacked by the most powerful and sophisticated military in the world, so your leader, a single man who you also fear, and perhaps even hate, can be either captured or killed? The news media in the West portrays our enemies as a Saddam Hussein Arab and Osama bin laden Muslim. The media in the East portrays the enemy of Arabs and Muslims as a Jew, joined by a blond haired blue eyed Christian Brit, led by Christian American zealots who are reluctantly being pushed onto the battlefield by the other two. The only thing each side has in common in this scenario is that we are all being manipulated by our fears, which translates into a victory for al-Qadea. We will save terrorists the trouble of attacking the so-called civilized world, by attacking and killing one another ourselves. Not that Saddam Hussein is one of the civilized, but he is the leader of a nation recognized by the world as an independent and sovereign nation. The poisonous fear al-Qadea injected into our psyche September 11th, and the insensitive exploitation of that fear by the likes of the neo-cons and their lackeys here in the United States and Britain, if we are not careful, will have us all sitting in the gulag, charged with crimes of free speech and poor choices in political opinion, asking Bernard Lewis “What went wrong?”

In an article by Chicago Tribune writer Clarence Page, “Our Freedoms are Necessary Nuisances in troubled times” (September 27, 2002) Page contemplates the results of a poll conducted by The First Amendment Center, and the American Journalism Review.  According to Page, 58% of respondents could name only one of our constitutional freedoms, which was freedom of speech. Only 18% named freedom of religion as one of our freedoms, while a meager 14% named freedom of the press as a constitutionally protected right. 10% knew that we have a right to assemble. Most disappointing of all these responses was that only 2% of the American people polled knew that we have a constitutionally protected right to petition our government. It gets worse. Page says that 49 percent of the people surveyed said they think our first amendment rights to free speech and a free press go too far. Page says that 49% think the first amendment gives us too much freedom and 40 percent said we should not b! e allowed to criticize U.S. military strategies and performance. This was perhaps the saddest of all responses.   It suggests that we should birth and raise our children, then watch our Johnnies and Joans go off to war, fight and die and keep our mouths shut, as though our children are wards of the state rather than our own flesh and blood family.

If that is not enough to send a chill through you, half of these respondents said that the government should limit academic freedoms, and bar criticism of government military policies. More than 40 percent said the government should be able to monitor religious groups in the name of national security, even if it means violating religious freedoms. Another 10 percent said the government should have the right to specifically monitor Muslims and not other religious groups. Page says that this tells him that many Americans are “afraid. Very afraid.” Of course, this survey might have turned out differently prior to 911. It may have also turned out differently if following 911 we had been helped and encouraged to heal, rather than our loss and grief being exploited to accommodate some people’s military aspirations and political desires. Imagine we are using a slogan similar to the Holocaust slogan “We will never forget” to commemorate 911. Ask Norman Finkelstien, author of the Holocaust Industry, what the exploitation of the pain and fear created by the holocaust has cost the Jewish people who want to heal, forget and move on. This is not the world of the Second World War, and we are not those people. We are not political ideologues we are consumers. We are the live and let live baby boomers whose motto is “get a job and by a house.”   One of the best responses to fear to date was written by Columbus Dispatch Senior Editor Joe Hallett. Hallett wrote in, “Dear Mr. President: Tell us more before we get Saddam,” ( September 29,2002) “Oh well, I mused irrationally as the day wore on, being vaporized by a nuke wouldn’t be such a bad way to go. Quick and efficient-in an instant, a life a memory, a beer gut becomes a pile of dust.”

The bottom-line is that our public servants, and think tankers and others need to understand that the United States is taking a beating. Not loosing, just taking some hits. The economy, corporate corruption, fires, mosquitoes, the war, the anticipated war, and 9/11 are stressing us and we are throwing up our hands on democracy.  Even though there are some pundits, most notably Emerson the terrorism expert, who feel that our constitution inhibits our ability to fight terrorism, most would disagree with him and feel that its the wrong response to 9/11. Whereas we might need to keep fighting, we must keep in mind that our number one enemy is fear. The way to fight fear is simply to refuse to be frightened and understand that fear never made a fight easier, nor has fear ever made the need to fight real, or made it go away. Fear has never made taking a punch harder, or any easier, and it never prevented anyone who has made up their mind to punch from punching. One of the most common responses of bullies to people that say, “I am not afraid of you” is “You don’t have to be afraid. Your fear has nothing to do with what I am about to do.” Fear has never accomplished anything. It has ruined many good things. It has never been credited for anything positive, and in fact it has been blamed for many negative mental and physical side effects.  So who needs it? To hell with fear. We must put our trust in God. If we don’t believe in God, we should put our trust in those who do, at least they are accountable to a bona fide possessor of super natural powers, lighting bolts and stuff like that (smile).

It is amusing to read remarks by those who use comparisons between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill to portray the two sides in the Iraq debate. It’s as if they want to narrow down our choices as to which leader got it right. Well, for most Americans, it would of course be our own president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who steered our country through World War II, and not British leaders. Roosevelt guided our nation with strong counsel, saying that we must not fear, and that we would win. He was right on both counts. Whenever my mother wanted to urge us to get the house cleaned before my father would come home, she would say to us, “it’s a pity that some people only respond to beating and fear of beatings. Intelligent people understand what and why they must do a thing, and their lives are easier because they are intelligent and can understand.” This meant that unless we were smart enough to get the house cleaned before my father got home there would be trouble, no fear! , just facts. Our national debate on Iraq can take place in this same spirit. We are an enlightened nation of people who are pretty good thinkers. Please give us the facts, but spare us the fear.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.