In the years following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States embarked on an all-scale effort to combat terrorism. However, the primary focus of those efforts was Muslims, both at home and abroad.
Ignored in the process were threats posed by domestic militias and white supremacy groups. Rather than worry about these groups, the Muslim religion was deemed public enemy No. 1, which led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At home, Muslims were subject to counterterrorism efforts, surveillance, spying, stop and frisk, and incarceration in special prisons to contain the terror threat. The double standard showed not a blanket war on terror, but a war on Muslims.
If these developments showed hypocrisy, the incessant mass shootings at schools proclaim the war on terror’s death — another way of articulating this is simply to say that we lost this war. There seems to be no other way to understand the ongoing malaise when it comes to gun violence in America. The nation is gripped by fear and frustration, but hardly anyone has dared utter the phrase “war on terror.”
Of course, no one is willing to state the obvious, perhaps because these acts don’t involve people that can be constructed as “other,” but the fact remains. Just look at the characteristics of terrorism, and you can see what people feared about Muslims in the post-9/11 era has manifest, only it is mostly Christian Americans doing the terrorizing. For some reason, we have managed to construe these actions of horrific violence as something different.
After 9/11, Americans were adamant not to let the terrorists “win.” We were not going to live in fear of cowards lurking in shadows, the rhetoric went. “We are not going to let them compromise our values and our way of life” are the types of statements President George W. Bush made at the time. “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
While the words were tough, we forgot to include ourselves in that bravado. In due time, however, we became a house plagued by domestic violence. And like houses where domestic violence is common, we have consciously decided to submit to heartache and pain. We are like a partner caught up in an abusive relationship who can’t seem to take a stand and do something.
But it is clear, we have lost and terrorism has won. But what makes this truth so utterly gut wrenching is that when our financial centers were destroyed, we mobilized. Today, the victims are young children, and we are paralyzed from doing anything about it.
A simple look at Robb Elementary proves the point. In addition to having regular lockdown and evacuation drills, it has a security plan that included police officers and support counselors, software to monitor social media for threats, and software to screen school visitors. Now there is talk of arming teachers and installing trip wires and trap doors.
It is hard to imagine any greater indications of a society that is living in fear. These are not measures for the local precinct jail or state prison — they are for schools, where are children are expected to concentrate and learn the skills they will need to contribute to our society. It is hard to imagine who lives in fear the most, the children or the parents who entrust the state with their child’s education.
If these points are unconvincing, then what can we say about the police themselves? By all accounts the police were afraid to confront the gunman. Frustrated parents were prevented from entering the building to rescue their children, all while children were bleeding to death. No one can blame the police for not wanting to rush to their potential death, but what does that say about the weaponry we allow civilians to possess? Perhaps it says that we are terrorizing ourselves.
For skeptics out there who think these statements are hyperbole, just talk to some kids — they are scared. It is bad enough that their learning is compromised by thoughts of intruding gunmen, but the school day itself involves exercises that assume one day it will come true. This is true fear being allowed to take away our freedom to live in peace.
If shooting after shooting in our society says anything, it says that we have become comfortably numb to the fact that young kids smear blood on themselves to feign death, that parents must give DNA samples so that obliterated bodies can be identified or that some children in a flash have become orphans. This is all plain evidence that we have lost the war on terror, but unfortunately, the actors in control — the gun lobby, politicians and a minority of gun zealots, could care less.
This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on 6/1/22. Read it here.