Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

I thought of FDR's famous statement during the recent spate of human stampedes at our airports and malls. With the actual terrorist attacks at airports in Brussels and Istanbul fresh in people’s minds, it didn’t take more than some loud noise to cause panic at a mall in Raleigh on Aug. 13, the next day at JFK in New York, at a mall in Michigan on Aug. 20, at another mall in Orlando on Aug. 25, and then, the latest, at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 28.

There were no cries of “Fire!”, no explosions, no gunshots. We have become so sensitized to actual terrorism that a sudden noise can start a panic in a crowded area, such as an airport terminal or a mall. Those who would commit terror are probably having a good laugh at us.

Unfortunately, the emergence of terrorism makes it difficult to assuage our fears. Can we be unduly critical of that handful of  travelers or shoppers who, for whatever reason, became frightened and began to run, setting off a wholesale panic? This problem is not easily solved by Roosevelt's dictum.

But there is a great difference between his statement — a call for sober reflection on dealing with difficulties — and the stoking of fear by Donald Trump. His mantra is that we are doomed if we don't elect him president. He capitalizes on every violent incident that may or may not be related to terrorism — such as a shooting in Chicago. He would have you believe that crime is rampant across the nation, when, in fact, it has been declining for the past several years.

I believe that the leaders of ISIS would like nothing better than to see Trump elected president. It would create the perfect atmosphere for massive recruitment by ISIS and al Qaeda. Terrorism would multiply, both in the Middle East and in countries around the world, including the United States.

So how do we combat terrorism and the fear of it at the same time? First, we must not elect Donald Trump president. Second, we must intensify commitments with and by other countries — especially those in the Middle East — to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda. Third, we must increase our efforts to curb terrorist recruitment. As for the fear factor, uniformed security forces at airports, malls, and other places of large gatherings, must be increased. The more their presence is felt the less likely it is for either an actual terrorist incident to be carried out or for “false alarms” to result in panic.

Donald Trump's bluster notwithstanding, there is no easy solution to eradicating terrorism from the planet; it has all but replaced warfare between countries. But while FDR's statement may be somewhat simplified — spoken during the pain of the Great Depression — it certainly trumps Trump's cure: “We're gonna bomb the shit out of ’em!”    


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