Us Against Them, Part Whatever
I posted the following on Facebook yesterday:
Reading some people’s knee-jerk “Bomb ’em all!” responses to various attacks. It got me thinking about the Hunger Games series, and how President Snow responds to Katniss Everdeen’s actions in the 75th Hunger Games by bombing her entire district into oblivion.
Y’all understand Snow was one of the villains, right?
This generated a number of supportive comments, which is no surprise, given the amplification effects of social media. It also triggered arguments about gun control, religious intolerance, idealism vs. reality, and questions about my kid getting shot in the face.
Like most Americans, I don’t have a full understanding of life in the Middle East, the political and religious realities people there are living with. I do know that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. I know many of those Muslims in the Middle East live in regions of instability and war. I know many of them are on the ground fighting back against terror, or simply fighting to survive. Many are trying to escape threats like ISIS/Daesh.
We see innocent people murdered by terrorists, and we feel angry. We feel afraid. We feel powerless, and we want to do something. I get that.
Why are we afraid? What is it we’re afraid of? One American commenter talked about her fear of people who want to kill her for being female and not wearing a veil.
We’ve had a total of 26 people killed in jihadist attacks in the U.S. in the past decade. (Source) The most recent data I could find showed 24 U.S. citizens killed in terrorism incidents overseas in 2014. (Source)
In the meantime, three women are killed in the U.S. by their boyfriends every day. (Source) If we’re going to talk about threats against women, terrorists aren’t anywhere near the top of that list.
Or compare those terrorism numbers to the 11,208 firearms-related assault deaths in the U.S. in 2013, or the 4,913 non-firearms assault deaths. Hell, a U.S. citizen is 74 times more likely to die of the flu than of ISIS-style terrorists, but I don’t see anyone changing their Facebook icons to promote flu vaccines. (Source)
This doesn’t mean we should ignore terrorism. It doesn’t mean we turn our backs on the victims in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and elsewhere.
What it means to me is that we need to do a better job of recognizing our fears, of assessing what it is we’re so afraid of, what we should be afraid of, and how we choose to respond to various threats. We’re so fired up about our war on terrorism. Where’s our war on domestic violence, which is a far greater threat to the people of the United States? Why are we so quick to fear in one case, but not another?
Some of it is media-fueled, of course. Terrorist attacks against white people get a lot of coverage, and so they take up a lot of real estate in our brains.
There’s also that ongoing Us vs. Them mentality. We see Muslims as “them,” no matter how many speak out against terror, no matter how many Muslims save lives in these attacks, no matter how many Muslims are on the ground fighting and dying in the ongoing battle against ISIS.
Emotions suck when it comes to understanding statistics.
Human beings have to be better than that. We have to be smarter.
I’m all for fighting against terrorism. I want my family and my country to be safe. I want innocent people to stop dying.
“Bomb the Muslims!” isn’t going to accomplish that. Turning our backs on people who need help, leaving them to suffer and die, isn’t going to accomplish that. Fear and hatred of Muslims isn’t going to accomplish that.
In fact, that very fear and hatred and intolerance is exactly what ISIS wants from us.
These terrorist attacks were committed with the goal of increasing our intolerance and our fear and our violent reactions, and in so doing, driving more people into the arms of ISIS.
I don’t have all the answers. But I know one thing. I have no intention of helping terrorists.
November 16, 2015 @ 4:43 pm
November 16, 2015 @ 6:14 pm
“Terrorist attacks against white people get a lot of coverage”
This. It hurt me to see how Beirut has been ignored by the media coverage in the US.
Also, as a woman who is a survivor of past abuse, this sentence rings true to me: “If we’re going to talk about threats against women, terrorists aren’t anywhere near the top of that list.” I have felt fear, but never from terrorists, despite living within 10 miles of Times Square NYC for the last decade. My fear has always been of a solitary predator, when walking out on my relatively isolated, wooded property in the dark – we moved earlier this year, and I am not yet used to all of the sounds and shapes in the dark, especially during seasonal changes. My husband doesn’t quite understand why I prefer to take trash out to the can during daylight (the new driveway is 900 ft & curves so you can’t see the house from the end by the street). Other women I’m sure would need no explanation.
Thanks for speaking up, Jim.
November 16, 2015 @ 6:19 pm
“Us vs. Them” is often an easy sell. Much easier than the complex truth. There is always a self-styled leader trying to cash in with that coin. The pattern is so reliable, terrorist organisations like the Daesh can build an entire strategy based on it.
November 17, 2015 @ 2:49 am
Thanks, Jim – you’ve pretty much nailed my feelings on the subject
November 17, 2015 @ 8:30 am
It would help if people were able to at least break the erroneous ISIS = all Muslims equation. While “bomb ISIS” has lots of problems with it, and, as you pointed out, doesn’t address more pressing threats, at least it’s more accurate than “bomb Muslims”.
November 17, 2015 @ 4:07 pm
Very well said! I had the fear reaction as soon as I heard about it. I had then “kill it! kill it with fire!” (which is also how I respond to cockroaches), but I’m also aware that such a response is not thought out and certainly isn’t smart. Jumping straight to bombings, troops, war doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Also, in terms of fighting terrorism, can we start calling the white dudes who shoot 9 black people in a church, who go after a sorority, who walk into a school and kill a bunch of kids, terrorists? Because they’re terrorists. American terrorists. Their goal is to make people afraid so that they feel better, so that people do what they want. Violence against innocents to terrorize people, often for political reasons. Yup. Sure sounds like they’re terrorists to me.
November 18, 2015 @ 8:20 pm
but is the douche who shot the people a terrorist, was it for political gains, probably nothing to do with politics and/or government, racial yes, stupid yes. expanding the word terrorist to encompass and cover non political domestic crimes is probably dangerous. It is a hate crime, we can call it what it is. The guy should be taken out and shot.
I agree with the article we have problems in the US, but here in Texas the problem is the illegal traffic across the border. Hopefully no terrorists get across, here in San Antonio there is heightened alert we have 2 air bases, 1 army base and a city base (don’t ask an old air force base). The problem with terrorist attacks like 9-11 is we go a decade with few casualties and 2k are dead in a day. I think that is what people fear. And fighting them is a war we are not use to and NO one has an idea how to combat it.
hopefully this does not sound like trolling, it is just my opinion.
November 19, 2015 @ 6:57 am
Joe, I’m interested to learn how you can manage to define deliberate acts which are designed to put a certain class, a certain race, a certain gender or a certain demographic of people in fear as being “non-political”.
As I understand it, politics, by its very nature, is the science of power and how power is defined, controlled, wielded, denied, annexed and so on. The definition of a group as a particular class is a political act. The definition of a “race” is a political act. The definition of a demographic is a political act. All of these are political acts, because getting your definitions recognised requires the use of power. Standing up against a particular definition, insisting parts or the whole of a definition are inaccurate, or discriminatory, or demeaning, is also a political act. Politics is part of everything we do, and all of the actions we take. Even the definition of “political” you appear to be using (where you’re apparently conflating “political” as meaning “to do with party/governmental politics at the very uppermost levels of governmental abstraction”) is a political thing.
So how can you say the use of fear as a tool to try and elicit a particular group of behaviours from a particular group of people in response to that fear is not a political act?
November 19, 2015 @ 8:23 am
I am struck by the meme about ‘let’s take care of our own homeless / homeless vets before we take in refugees’ that is going around. Mostly because most of the people supporting it are folks who would not lift a finger to help the homeless, called them lazy, etc, and either cut or wanted government to cut welfare, food stamps, etc to the homeless…
November 19, 2015 @ 7:02 pm
Before i reply i would like to reiterate i agree with the article, my beef is with the labels
you are right in the definition i am using. even good old wiki admits the definition is not clear cut.
So the police who have murdered all the African Americans should be considered terrorists. Maybe we should start using terms like racial terrorist, or state sponsored terrorist or whatever others labels we can make to clarify. Then what differentiates a hate crime form a terrorist act? If who men of different races get in a bar fight and one yells a racial comment at another before striking with a blow that unintentionally kills the other man, he would be a terrorist as well
anyhow didn’t mean to start an argument so i am going to bow out now, just expressed my opinion. It differs from all the other comments on here somewhat so it is not worth talking about.
for the record i think all the crimes listed in the message i first responded to are terrible and the perpetrators are in fact hate mongers. i am not in the least defending them.
November 30, 2015 @ 7:39 am
“In the meantime, three women are killed in the U.S. by their boyfriends every day. (Source) If we’re going to talk about threats against women, terrorists aren’t anywhere near the top of that list.”
Foreign terrorists, no. But men like the one who attacked Planned Parenthood recently.
And then there is the fact that terrorists indirectly help extremists of the nationalist sort gain power.
Without the refugee crisis, and many people’s fear of IS, ISIS and so on, I am sure the nationalist idiots in Germany would not have gained as much power. The AfD now campaigns for taking away women’s reproductive rights! And they might succeed!
That’s the real terrorist threat.
Jim C. Hines
December 1, 2015 @ 7:14 pm
That’s true. I was thinking foreign terrorists, but that’s partly because we never use the terrorist label for so many acts of domestic terrorism. Thanks for making that point.