Why Terrorism Won’t Go Away

We’re supposed to not hate anything — not even hatred itself.

But if you don’t hate anything or anyone, then what does this do to principles, people or things that you love?

The absence of hate makes no sense. It implies one of two things. Either utter indifference to everything, or indiscriminate love of anything.

In a world where terrorism and violence are on the rise, such a view is not only ridiculous; it’s downright dangerous.

David Gelernter, himself a victim of terrorism in the 1990s by the infamous Unabomber, said it best: “A society too squeamish to call evil by its right name has destroyed its first, best defense against cutthroats. Our best line of defense against crime is to hate it.”

Psychiatrists and psychologists, whenever there’s a 9/11 or a random public or school shooting, frequently tell people (in essence) to forget about the terrorist violence. “Don’t worry, be happy,” sums up the advice you hear from them on radio, television, and elsewhere. In short, they are encouraging emotional repression—the exact opposite of what they are supposed to teach us, and probably the exact opposite of what they intend. Why?

The answer is simple. They have no answers. They don’t know what else to say. They are as clueless as everyone else—including many at the top of our national government—as to what caused the violence, as to what causes the hatred so many feel against our way of life, and what must be done not merely to feel safe but to actually be safe.

Consider some of the advice typically handed out by mental health professionals as a way of coping with the evil and terror we now face:

“Understand that certain emotions are normal.” (Which emotions? Is anger a “normaland therefore desirable, rational emotion? If so, why?)

“Remember past triumphs over difficult times.” (What made those triumphs possible? Are we following those principles now?)

“Talk to friends or family about how you are feeling. Communication is an essential coping skill.” (What is to be communicated? And to what end? How will it help us actually be safer, not merely feel safer?)

“Think positively! Things will get better in time.” (How do we know that? What is the right—and the wrong—course of action for becoming safer? Are we, and our leaders, pursuing it at the present time?)

Long before 9/11 and the escalating terrorism and violence in our society since then, I was well aware of the lack of critical thinking in our society. I was also aware that the people to whom we look for help in the mental health profession are as guilty as anyone of it. But sometimes it takes examples such as these to graphically illustrate just how desperately bad the problem is.

If we don’t know what caused the terrorist violence—that is, the ideas and mindsets within our very selves which made the terrorists feel (correctly) that we were vulnerable targets—then how on earth can we be expected to cope with it? It would be like telling a medical patient, “You have cancer. We don’t have the foggiest idea how to treat or cure it. But don’t ask any questions about it. Just go about your business and try to be happy.” How would you feel if a doctor said this to you? Probably the same way you feel—indeed, should feel—when a psychologist on television or radio tells you (after each blown up building or beheading) to pick up the pieces and move on as if no other danger exists.

In the early 1980s our national government did something unusual for that time, and literally impossible today. Our enemy at that time was the Soviet Union. The President came out and publicly declared them evil; then he proceeded to build up our defense structure in a manner to back up his words. He did this with almost no congressional support and only a minority of support from the American people. Within a few years, the evil empire that had plagued us for five decades completely collapsed.

Granted, the Communist system had to collapse sooner or later because of its very nature as an oppressor of human freedom, ingenuity and productivity.  Dictatorship is never practical. But the willingness of the good side to pronounce moral judgment against the bad side was enormously powerful, especially when backed up with actions. Calling them evil (and treating them as such) sped up the demise and defeat of the Communists by years, maybe decades. It scared the daylights out of them, because they knew once we saw ourselves as moral and good, we would strike back if they dared strike us first.

The lesson from the 1980s is that you cannot thoroughly defeat an enemy until you first grasp its evil and name it as such. This principle applies whether we’re talking about international affairs or the affairs of everyday family life. A woman married to a hateful, sometimes violent husband must first develop the clear-headedness to see that he’s a bad man. If she doesn’t, she’ll fall into the trap of making excuses for him. For example: “I can’t be so black-and-white. Nobody’s perfect. Yes, he has some serious flaws, but he has some good points too. I should just love him, support him, and this will bring out the best in him.” Of course, she eventually finds that loving such a man only makes him worse.

In the current “war” against terrorism, most of us are like this woman who excuses the abusive and terrorizing husband. President Obama is the epitome of the excuse-making, enabling spouse. “It’s not about religion. They don’t really mean it.” He goes through a few token motions to make it look like we’re defending ourselves, and then forgets about it almost as quickly as the majority of Americans concerned about what the government will next do for them in the way of benefits.

Simply look at the actions of our present government, and observe the fact that ninety-five percent of the population strongly supports these actions. A few of our leaders call the terrorists “evil,” but only with great reluctance—a kind of blank, glazed-over bewilderment created by a failure to understand what the nature of evil truly is. If anyone is killed we apologize. We bend over backwards to make it look like we have no disrespect towards a religion in whose name all the destruction (we’re supposedly fighting against) is done. It would be like fighting World War II on the open premise, “We have nothing against Nazis. In fact, we mean no disrespect towards them and want to make sure that we don’t kill or even emotionally harm any innocent Nazis.”

In our neurotic excuse-making, we insist that radical Islam is not the same as moderate Islam—even though radical Moslems merely carry out the tenets of the religion with absolute consistency. We ignore the fact that even though most Moslems in the Middle East are not technically terrorists, none have risen to fight on the side of the British and the Americans against the terrorists either—nor would they even consider it. We seem to forget the fact that whenever there’s a revolution led by the people in this part of the world, it’s never in favor of a system based upon individual freedom and capitalism, but in favor of religious dictatorship. Yet these are the people we hold completely blameless for the actions of their political and religious leaders in attacking our country.

We’re taught not to see things in black-and-white. But people who hate America and all things American do see things in black-and-white. They see us as bad, and themselves as good. People like President Obama sneer back, of course, that “there are no absolutes, that nobody’s perfect or all bad, and we just need to somehow get along (and, by the way, please, please, don’t think I’m criticizing Islam, because I’m not).” When they see us waver and send mixed messages and insist we have nothing against their religion, they sense we are weak and riddled with guilt, setting the stage for more attacks. This is exactly how it works in families with psychological terrorists and abusers, and this is precisely the mindset of the international terrorists. Every time you stand up to a terrorist, you defeat a part of him. Every time you apologize, waver, or appease him you make him stronger.

As a psychotherapist, I encounter victims of psychological terrorists all the time. I see them attempt to control people with their anger, their pouting, their hostility, and their rage. They are abusive personalities. Some are men, some are women. Most are adults, but some are teenagers and a few are young children. Most of them do not become violent, although some do; some merely use the threat of violence to intimidate and control family members and, sometimes, co-workers. How do they do it? Do victimizers succeed at controlling others because they are stronger and better? Absolutely not. They succeed in controlling others only because their victims are afraid to challenge them, to be black-and-white, to morally judge them. This is what abusive personalities count on more than anything: their victims’ fear of judging them for what they are.

In his book Fighting Terrorism (published back in 1995) current and then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that Islamic terrorism, left unchecked, would spread further inland to the United States (it did, 6 years later) and that down the road we would face nuclear attacks from countries like Iran (which we will, unless we destroy all of their military capacities first).

The psychological climate which serves as a breeding ground for dictatorship and terrorism is one in which the good refuses to pronounce moral judgment against the bad. In a politically correct, hyper-sensitized world where we’re not allowed to think in terms of good and bad—of good guys and bad guys—you can be sure that the bad guys will go on the attack. This is precisely what’s happening now. The continued destruction of terrorism isn’t merely a consequence of the fact that we don’t properly defend ourselves; it’s a consequence of the fact that most of us don’t feel the moral certainty and the right to defend ourselves.

Evil is weak. We make it weaker by being strong and knowing that we are right—not the usual language or concepts of the psychology and self-help professions, but they are the language and concepts we need if we are to cope and survive. Part of our strength must manifest in fighting a war like a war, not the guilt-ridden and tepid mixed messages we are currently displaying. Rational military observers outside of Obama’s circle of power have been right to point this out. But fighting a war in the right way is a consequence of something deeper: it’s a consequence of loving life and knowing that the right to pursue happiness in life is a birthright. This is what got America started (when fighting the British, now our most loyal friends); this is what sustained America through the Civil War and World Wars I, II and the Cold War. It is the only thing that will sustain us now. Its absence explains why we keep losing.

Whether your enemy is a nagging relative, an abusive husband, or an ISIS-led gang of terrorists, the principle is the same: let anybody dare step on your happiness, and they will get exactly what they deserve. If this mindset does not define self-esteem, I don’t know what does. If we don’t exercise self-esteem now, during a time of such great danger, we may never get the opportunity to do so.

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