Here I sit once again in the comfort of my home, reading and watching news reports about yet another terrorist attack. A CNN anchor gives a live interview with a trembling young man – identified as Paul Delane – standing directly in front of a police barricade used to shield the press and public from the gruesome remnants of the night before. This man had been interviewed the night before on the phone, and had given an emotional account of being in a packed crowd that suddenly turned into a sea of screaming people running away from something that he couldn’t see. His trembling voice cracked as he said he began to run with the frighted throng, not knowing what caused this, but picking up on the panic of those around him. As far as witnesses go, he offered very little information regarding the actual terror attack, but as I listened last night, it was clear by his voice that he had been traumatized, his life forever altered by those moments of sheer fright, not knowing what, if any, impending doom was upon them all. Then this morning I watch as a reporter tried to bring the man back to those moments, asking him to recount how he felt as it unfolded.
Mr. Delane: “All of a sudden, we heard screaming, we saw hordes of, thousands of, seemed like thousands of people running towards us, and if you didn’t run with them you’d just be trampled yourself, so we ran along, not knowing anything, not knowing even what was going on, just trying to escape but at the same time thinking ‘well, maybe I shouldn’t be running, I should be looking for a place to hide’, because we couldn’t hear any bullet shots, the music was so loud, that there was just literally screaming and running that we saw, so it was mass confusion, and we both felt very afraid for our lives.”
CNN Reporter: “You said that you and your partner, John Pierre, stopped, and you listened to the music. Do you think that stopping and listening to the music, and staying there that moment saved your life?”
Mr. Delane (pausing for a moment, his face revealing the emotional reality of that decision): “Yes… yes, because I had just, I said to him after, um, imagine if, um, normally I don’t like crowds, I don’t like being in the middle of all that kind of, uh, folly, but I decided that, well, it was so festive that I felt reasonably safe, so we did stop and listen for awhile, but I said to him afterwards, imagine if I had just wanted to leave and just go immediately home, we could have been crossing the street, and could have been one of the victims… and I would also like to say I’m sorry to France. I love you, and I wish you courage for the future, and for all the families that were affected, and God bless you…”
Dear reader, this is the face of terror. This is what our enemy wants. In addition to the many lives snuffed out, the many injured, there were thousands of survivors who did not know what was going on, but knew Something horrible was unfolding, who were either rooted with fear and trampled, or who joined the stampeding crowd, trying to escape an unknown fate. Are you going to think about the possibility of terrorism from now on every time you find yourself in a crowd? It might very well sit there just under the surface, this wariness, this unease, this anxiety. It may fester in your mind, causing you to scrutinize everyone you see, making you take notice of exits, dragging you kicking and screaming out of your comfort zone, affecting your very existence. We are on the front line of a war, you and I. We can’t go to the grocery store, can’t take our children to school, can’t attend a football game or concert, can’t enjoy the small pleasures of life without worrying if the next terror attack will soon be upon us. We have to adopt a soldier’s mentality, scan our immediate environment, assess the threat level each second, always on the ready to react to whatever malevolence may befall us. Make no mistake: we are at war, and if you are to survive, you must become a warrior.
Our enemy is shrewd. He might look like us, may come across as the average everyday Joe. But his mind is filled with hatred, fueled by an ideology of barbaric, religious evil that has convinced him that he must kill and become a martyr to his twisted god. We can’t look into his heart. There are no neon signs pointing him out as a murderous Islamic terrorist. He is free to move among us, pretending to be our friend, waiting patiently for the exact moment we let our guard down. And we will, I assure you, because we are predictable creatures. We allow ourselves to get caught up in the flow of life, moved along by a fickle media that feeds on the drama of the moment. Last night’s terror attack in Nice, France will be nothing more than a discussion point in the weeks to come, a sound bite, a flash in the news pan. Tomorrow the pundits will be talking about whatever floats to the surface, whatever gets them the best ratings, whatever succeeds in dragging us along by the nose. Our present anger will be tamped down yet again, or worse, redirected to some other seeming injustice elsewhere. And we will let it.
We are at war, fellow citizen of the world. But here is the most heartbreaking point: our enemy isn’t just Islamic Jihadist terrorists. Our enemy is each other. We are in a war of moral attrition, and we are losing badly. Not only are there monsters in our midst, we are the monsters as well. Not only is there an army of kafir-hating Muslim extremists out to get us, we are busy holding onto labels that break us down into colors, political partys, religions, genders, sexual orientations and nationalities, to name a few, and we use out prejudice to pull us apart. Divide and conquor. It’s the best way to defeat an enemy, and damned if we’re not helping our enemies out.
Here’s part of the problem: if you’re not one of the people directly affected by terrorism, you’re probably going to act concerned for a day, maybe two, but then the tide of daily existence will drag you under into your usual mediocrity. Most of us really don’t care about what happens as long as it doesn’t affect us directly. Our society has become pathetic hedonists, floating along in our own dreams, asleep and immune to the horror of hatred until it reaches our tiny worlds. We may clutch our pearls for a second, raise our eyebrows and make some politically correct gestures to make others think we really care, but then go back to our spreadsheets, our soap operas, our YouTube videos, our drug of choice, while secretly hoping we aren’t distracted again by the suffering of others. We will have no one to blame but ourselves when someone filled with hate invades our sterile little world and turns us into the face of terror.
If you don’t decide to fight, and fight right NOW, you’re doomed to be a casualty. Sit there in the comfort of your home. Eventually the fight will come to you. Tell me, citizen: are you finally going to wake up and fight, or go back to sleep and wait until the face of terror is yours?