I got an email recently from a man who wrote, “Thanks for the TV shows. They will provide a historical documentation of a time when Europe was white and not Muslim. Keep filming your beloved Europe before it's gone.”
Reading this, I thought how feisty fear has become in our society. A fear of African Americans swept the USA in the 1960s. Jews have been feared in many places throughout history. And today, Muslims are feared. But we have a choice whether or not to be afraid.
Of course, terrorism — which, by its very nature, is designed to be emotional and frighten the masses — makes it more difficult to overcome fear. But my travels have helped me distinguish between the fear of terrorism...and the actual danger of terrorism. I was in London on 7/7/05…a date the Brits consider their 9/11. A series of devastating bombs ripped through the subway system, killing 52 and injuring about 700 people. Remembering the impact of 9/11 on the United States, I thought, “Oh my goodness, everything will be shut down.”
Instead, I witnessed a country that, as a matter of principle, refused to be terrorized by the terrorists. The prime minister returned from meetings in Scotland to organize a smart response. Within a couple of days, he was back in Scotland, London was functioning as normal, and they set out to catch the bad guys — which they did. There was no lingering panic. People mourned the tragedy, even as they kept it in perspective. The terrorists were brought to justice, Britain made a point to learn from the event (by reviewing security on public transit and making an effort to deal more constructively with its Muslim minority)...and life went on.
The American reaction to the shocking and grotesque events of 9/11 is understandable. But seeing another society respond so differently to its own disaster forced me to grapple with a new perspective. If the goal of terrorists is to terrify us into submission, then those who refuse to become fearful stand defiantly against them.
Every time I'm stuck in a long security line at the airport, I reflect on one of the most disconcerting results of terrorism: The very people who would benefit most from international travel — those who needlessly fear people and places they don't understand — decide to stay home. I believe the most powerful things an individual American can do to fight terrorism are to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home with a new perspective, and then work to help our country fit more comfortably and less fearfully into this planet.
About This Entry
You are reading "Terrorism: Fears and Realities", an entry posted on 01 June 2009 by Rick Steves.