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9/11/2001 - Where to now?

13 September 2001

by Dan Murphy

"My head and my heart are both part of me. They do not come apart." - Cosy Sheridan

While I hope I am allowing my turmoil of emotions to flow without repression, I also know that, for me, the 'head' must and will participate. I can not, or do not choose to, stay out of my head very long in the face of a serious situation. Ultimately, I believe that rational 'heads' must be in charge of our national response to this disaster and tragedy. I believe that I heard in a workshop somewhere, "Feel your emotions fully, but let your head guide your actions." The worst things that are happening now, and that could happen, are reactions driven by raw emotion and unfiltered by our highest and best thoughts.

I also once heard something about "the awesome power of fantasy". Unfortunately, fantasy -- thoughts -- can be negative as well as positive, and the power of negative fantasy was demonstrated on Tuesday in a tragic way.

What were they thinking -- each of those 18 or so individuals who directly carried out the hijackings and subsequent suicides? These individuals planned their own deaths for months, at least. They trained for and practiced the activities that would produce their own demise.

It takes an incredible fantasy to overcome the normal instinct for self-preservation. Other species of the animal kingdom are not capable of this unless their brains are diseased by rabies or their bodies damaged beyond repair. Neither of those appear to have been true of the hijackers. Their mental disease was, I am quite sure, entirely one of evil thoughts and fantasies.

While we have not yet learned the specific motivations of these particular terrorists, we know from numerous past cases that religious fanaticism is the most common source of self-destructive fantasies. Racial/national fanaticism is also a frequent factor, usually combined with and empowered by religious beliefs. Without the fantasy of "God's will" and the promise of rewards in the "hereafter", crusades would not be launched, holy wars would not be fought, and terrorists would not choose to die fighting the "great Satan".

This, I think, is what John Lennon was saying in the second verse of "Imagine" -- 'Imagine there's no heaven...nothing to kill or die for...'

Evil does exist in the world. And we are not yet so enlightened as to know how to deal with it without ever resorting to violence.

Regrettably, we are not yet even aware enough to know when a threat can be handled with love and nonviolence, and when it cannot. We learned at a great cost that the evil of Hitler and Nazism could not be contained by appeasement. The tragic betrayal of their trust in society that was visited on the Jews of that era echoes now in the cry of "Never again!" Never again will we be lead quietly to the slaughter.

I am saddened to think that perhaps -- perhaps, the crews and passengers of three of the hijacked airliners were lead forcibly but quietly to the slaughter. The disturbing possibility is that they did as they -- and we -- have been taught; try to pacify the hijackers, don't fight back, negotiate for as long as possible. Those tactics, though they may have avoided some tragedy in past hijackings, only facilitated a much greater tragedy this time.

Similarly, I am heartened by the possibility, based on some of the cell phone calls that have been reported, that passengers and crew on the fourth hijacked airliner fought back against the terrorists, thwarted their plan, and saved hundreds or thousands of additional lives even as they lost their own. These people are true heros, and I hope they are recognized as such when all the facts are known.

As we move forward from this point, I do not want our fears to become fantasies that destroy that which the terrorists can never touch directly -- our liberties and our spirit of freedom. I do not want to see civil liberties curtailed, and I do not want to see air travel, let alone all of society, become like a police state. This is my concern. Some of what we have already heard about 'tightened security' at airports is kneejerk reaction and would have had no effect on the hijackings on Tuesday. There are many dumb things that may be done and will be called 'security' because they inconvenience everyone. Inconvenience is not security. It will take smart decisions to avoid future terrorist acts.

Ultimately, we can never be completely secure against those who are so fanatical as to willingly give their own lives. The more we try to protect ourselves in this way, the more we hand to the terrorists their goal of disempowering us.

Rather, our focus must be primarily on eradicating from the world those whose evil cannot be contained in any other way. I refuse to give the terrorists one more minute of my time or my freedom; yet I know that I cannot ignore them. I am not in favor of 'retaliation'; I am not in favor of revenge; I am not in favor of violence to 'send them a message'.

I am simply in favor of eradicating them, as one would eradicate disease from one's body, or rats from one's cellar.

I do not say this out fear, as I do not fear the terrorists. I do not fear for myself as I move through the world, now or in the coming weeks and months. The death and destruction of September 11, 2001 is greater than that of Pearl Harbor. And while we do not yet know the exact identity of the enemy, we do know that it is NOT a large and powerful state with military resources comparable to our own. We have much less to fear than we did in the days and months following December 7, 1941. Our power has not been diminished and is not threatened, except by our own untempered reactions.

It is said that anger is an expression of powerlessness. If that is so, then we need hardly even be angry. Yes, we can be angry that our power, great as it is, was insufficient to prevent the attacks on Tuesday or to quickly eliminate this kind of evil from the world. Nonetheless, our power is still great and it must be used, not from a place of fear, but with wisdom and intelligence to preserve our freedoms and our choices.

Sometimes, this is how Love must be expressed -- love of life and of the dignity and well-being of innocent people everywhere. As Winston Churchill said, "It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what's required."

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