Fear as a Weapon

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both

~ Niccolo Machiavelli

September 23, 2014

Last night, the U.S., along with a coalition of Middle Eastern countries, began bombing ISIS targets in Syria. I saw the rockets glaring across the sky and the F-22 fighters shooting off of aircraft carriers on the TV this morning. And all I could do was shrug and pick up my bagel.

Another day, another war.

Back at home, the media hype has me worried. The politicians scare me more. Bipartisan support for the actions in Syria, President Obama said, and I can only chuckle disdainfully. Yes, of course, the only bipartisan support this Congress has offered in 4 years it seems. We’re American though, and we can always get behind a good bombing. We can’t agree on immigration reform, welfare reform, healthcare reform, educational reform, gun control, climate change issues or even a budget, but a bombing, well, we can agree on that. Bombs away.

It’s not that I don’t think we should bomb ISIS, and it’s not that I don’t think they’re awful, I do, but it’s the way I just shrug when I see it, sigh, and carry on about my day. It’s the way that something so serious can slide off like rain on bare skin. What have I become? What has war done to my generation?

We know what it’s done to the thousands coming back. Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day – that’s one suicide every 65 minutes. But we don’t talk about it much. Our troops suffer higher PTSD rates than any of our allies and perhaps that’s because they never get a break. How can you get a break when you’re a soldier for a country that’s constantly at war?

I know that this war has me afraid. And let’s not beat around the bush and try and call it anything except a war. I can’t help but look around me when I walk to my car at night, wondering if someone is going to pop up, grab me and behead me on the internet. That’s what ISIS is calling for now, the deaths of western civilians in public places. Lovely. But I’m afraid too, for my friends who are Muslim. There’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric going around. The politicians who play to the least educated of us are making egregious comments. These people are our leaders, they should be educating us, not feeding into our fear. It’s a rallying cry that makes no sense.

But there’s not a lot of sense going around these days.

Islam is not the first religion to be perverted in the name of power and greed. It’s just the one that’s “hot” right now. So because our politicians are failing to do it, let me give a brief (and ridiculously incomplete) historical overview of how Islam is not the only religion to be radicalized and used as a weapon.

Christianity was in fact sprung from a religion killing for power. The Jews, along with the Romans, saw Jesus as a political threat because of his radical ideology and had him murdered. The Romans then labeled Christians a “cult” and tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. In 1095, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade where hundreds of thousands of Catholic “warriors” invaded the Middle East. Besides stealing a ton of valuable art and relics (a lot of which has yet to be returned), they also raped Muslim women and killed untold numbers of “non-believers.” This went on for about 200 years. And let’s not forget the religious wars in Europe which were basically Christians fighting Christians over the “rules” of Christianity. In more recent history, we all know that WWII was a crusade of sorts to wipe out the Jews, during which over 6 million lost their lives. The Eastern Orthodox Serbians committed mass murder and genocide of the Bosniak Muslims in the early 1990s. In one day at Srebrenica alone, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were executed while the UN stood watch. And of course, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been at near-constant war for over 50 years.

The list goes on and on, this is only a sampling. Islam is not unique, it’s not special and in terms of being used in religious extremism, it’s not even that interesting. ISIS is using a formula history has seen time and time again. A charismatic man hell bent on obtaining as much power and wealth as he can, enlists a bunch of desperate, mistreated, misguided cast outs to do his dirty work. Their leader uses the promise of salvation combined with just enough of a promise of revenge to draw them in, and uses fear to keep them in line.

What’s interesting to me is not really ISIS as much as it is the leaders in the United States who are starting to parallel them. And yes, I’m looking at you John Bennett.

We’re better than this, we have to be better than this. Because if we’re not – how are we any different than ISIS?


Photo (c) AP Photo/Eric Garst, U.S. Navy



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