Thursday, January 21, 2016

Living with Perpetual Fear

Despite President Obama’s State of the Union attempts at reassuring the American public that ISIS is not the kind of military threat that rises to challenge our existence, despite the fact that violent crime is significantly down all across the country, the primary focus of so many candidates is the destruction of ISIS, al Qaeda and other comparable ultra-violent and anti-Western jihadists. There is no way completely to eliminate those who believe so passionately in their faith that they are willing to kill anyone who disagrees. But we are terrified.
For these violent jihadists, their principal goal is to instill fear into the hearts and minds of those they oppose. When countries live in fear, they have accomplished the first major goal of their perceived mandate. Hell-bent on drawing the United States into a ground war in the Middle East, with regional Sunni powers focused more on Iran and her Shiite satellite states as terrorists than ISIS or al Qaeda (Sunni extremists), ISIS is watching most of the Republican candidates actually campaigning on just that… their treasured U.S.-ISIS ground war. Given our track record of abysmal failure against Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and the virtual collapse of the Iraqi government as an effective representative of its minority constituency, ISIS is betting on history and “God’s will” to ensure victory over the West.
After 9/11, various shootings and bombings across the United States and the recent San Bernardino attacks, Americans are scared. Scared enough to reject the most basic tenets of our Constitution, willing to deal harshly with innocent people who harbor minority beliefs and ready to take some pretty strong discriminatory actions against Muslims. Around one percent of our country adheres to the Muslim faith. The average American Muslim is better educated and financially better off than the average of the rest of the American population. With a statistic cited in Wikipedia, Republicans might be shocked to learn that 80% of Muslim Americans voted for George Bush.
With Islamic militants mounting attacks all over the world far from the Middle East, from Mali to France, from Nigeria to Indonesia, from Burkina Faso (pictured above) to Chad, from England to the United States, populations in each of those nations now live in constant fear. Indonesia? The largest Muslim country in the world (255 million, 87% Muslim, and virtually all of those Sunni)? Mali? Nigeria?
With a heavy concentration of Sunni Muslims in northern Nigeria, ISIS-affiliate Boko Haram has annihilated Christians and Muslims alike. Fear permeates the north. “‘You are always afraid,’ said Ms. [Hauwa] Bulama, who lives in Maiduguri, a frequent target of the ruthless Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. ‘When you take your child to be immunized, you don’t know who is seated next to you. You don’t know who is hiding what.’… She worries that suicide bombers might be lurking at the vegetable stand where she shops for her six children. They could turn up at the hospital where she takes her relatives. Any woman in a hijab could have a suicide belt under her clothes, she fears. The frequent public announcements to avoid crowded areas in her northern Nigerian city only heighten her anxiety…
“Though the Nigerian military has arrested and killed many fighters — and more crucially, retaken a swath of territory once held by insurgents that is estimated to be as large as Belgium — the gains have come against a backdrop of relentless suicide bombings that, if anything, have escalated.
Nigeria’s paradox was highlighted recently when [President Muhammadu]  Buhari told reporters that ‘technically we have won the war’ against the group, a statement that many view as premature. Besides the widespread attacks, the United Nations estimates that more than 2.4 million people in the region — half of them children — have fled their villages in recent years and are afraid to return. The more than 200 secondary schoolgirls from Chibok who were abducted in 2014 are still missing, their whereabouts unknown.
“‘To state the obvious, this fight is not over, not in Nigeria or in the neighboring countries,’ a senior American State Department official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential government assessments. ‘Our contacts with the Nigerians, both on the military and civilian side, made clear they also share the same basic understanding of the facts on the ground: The suicide bombings will continue.’” New York Times, January 15th.
By far, the bulk of the casualties from these extremists still takes place in the Middle East. But the recent “liberation” of cities that ISIS had conquered is a hollow victory to those refugees that ISIS chooses to track down. “Mr. Mishaan, a Sunni Muslim, got a job at a tiny grocery in a Shiite-majority neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, and waited for the day when he could return home. Closely following news reports in recent weeks indicating that Ramadi had been liberated, though largely destroyed, Mr. Mishaan, 45, told his brother he would soon go back, even if he had to live in a tent.
“Instead, the Islamic State found Mr. Mishaan in the Baghdad grocery on [January 11th] evening and shot him dead. He was one of at least 17 civilians killed in the massacre on a busy commercial street… ‘We thought we escaped the terrorists to live peacefully in Baghdad,’ Mr. Mishaan’s brother, Thamir, said in an interview. ‘But it seems that my brother was destined to get killed by terrorists.’” NY Times. ISIS and its affiliates have learned that what they may not take and hold in their efforts in Syria and Iraq they can still create that coveted fear away from the main action. It’s inherent in the word “terrorist.”
Without sacrificing prudence and watchfulness, we truly need to understand that if terrorists can make us live in fear, ignore our most cherished values, violate our basic and fundamental rights, they are winning, and we are losing. We must stop letting terrorists govern the way we live, the choices we make and how we follow our stated values. We have got to stop constantly handing them these victories.
I’m Peter Dekom, and to the extent that terrorists can twist our own values, we have become more like them and a lot less “American.”

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