"Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant." - Henry David Thoreau
U.S. Drones sweep across the landscape in Pakistan and Afghanistan, killing a few masterminds of terror along with thousands of "collateral damage" victims. The private information of citizens in the U.S. and abroad continues to be compromised and their personal space so violated, that they are x-rayed and grouped at select airports. Trillions of dollars have been spent; thousands of military personnel have been wounded or killed; tens of thousands of civilians have had their lives lost or ruined.
After 10 plus years fighting the "War on Terror," how can one not wonder whether this is all really worth it? What is the endgame? When will the sectarian violence in the Middle East, and the hatred, directed toward the West, specifically the U.S., finally stop?
This leads to yet another question. Why are the methods for dealing with terrorism so inadequate? For one thing, antiquated ideas of conflict remain the norm because certain groups and individuals, with the means to craft the arguments and predetermined solutions, present their world view as common sense. Under these circumstances, few of us venture to challenge such "objective truth."
The statistics are bleak. In 1971, there were 241 documented incidents of terrorism worldwide, with 35 fatalities and 230 injuries, according to the U.S. Department of State. Forty years later, in 2011, those figures increased dramatically to 10,283 incidents, with 12,533 fatalities and 25,903 injuries, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. The most recent report from the U.S. State Department shows an even starker truth: 2013 has seen yet another increase in terrorism.
The Institute for Economics and Peace compiles data on terrorism and publishes it as "The Global Terrorism Index." It concludes that North Americans suffer the least impact from terrorism; Europeans are 19 times more likely than North Americans to be victims, while civilians in the Middle East have the highest incidence of death from terror related incidents.
However, the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon is ample evidence that Americans are not immune to terrorists' threats.
The U.S. Government is charged with protecting its citizens. That is what we expect and demand of them and this creates a dilemma. For even well intentioned military action on foreign soil, such as defending the local population, appears to produce more enemy combatants then it eliminates. Killing terrorists simply facilitates the recruitment of young men for other suicide missions. After all, how would you rather die - as a helpless victim or as a hero who has sacrificed himself in martyrdom?
Perhaps it is time to consider a different approach. For in reality, it's not just about how many enemy combatants are killed, but whether the world can change its thinking to better understand and respect all cultures. How to stop fanning the flames of hatred and vengeance is a discussion worth having over and over until we find the answers.
For those who personally witnessed the horrific attacks on 9-11, surviving presents other challenges. The trauma changed us forever and caused us to consider the motivations of terrorism. In the days, weeks, months, and years that followed we have wondered how any man, not much out of his childhood, can be convinced that blowing himself up with as many lives as can be taken with him, is actually condoned and rewarded by God. We asked why radical Islamists call the U.S. a "Great Satan," even after we saved hundreds of thousands of Muslims from ethnic cleansing. Was this not a noble act of friendship?
It is time for a new paradigm, beginning with new bonds of trust and understanding, or the complex problems we face together, as humankind evolves into a global civilization, cannot not be resolved.
At the end of Kevin Costner's epic movie, Dances With Wolves, Lt. John Dunbar must leave the Lakota Sioux tribe he has come to know as his family. As John, now Dances with Wolves, rides away, he hears the voice of Wind in His Hair, a Lakota brave who once hated Dunbar as his enemy, booming from atop a mountain ridge. His voice rises into the cold air and covers the valley. It is a plaintive cry conveying the sorrow both men feel at their parting. Dances With Wolves bows his head as he rides away hearing his Lakota brother cry, "Dances With Wolves, I am Wind in His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that I will always be your friend?"
On a good day, our struggle to know and understand each other can have the same effect.
Connie Atkinson and Thomas DiCarlo are the authors of The Brotherhood of Purity, a novel exploring the mind of a terrorist and whether mankind can build a world at peace, available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.