Regan: On Terror from Abroad

We must see terrorism’s broader context.

by Joseph Regan | 5/25/17 12:25am

Two weeks ago my heart beat louder and more painfully than the screeches of the U-Bahn metro as it came to a halt. Eight weeks ago I arrived in Berlin, Germany for my language study abroad program. Three days ago an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England claimed innocent lives. Two weeks ago my U-Bahn stopped, and a man five seats away started screaming in Arabic.

First, there was confusion. I don’t understand German well enough all the time, and frenetic speech slows comprehension further still. I can’t be completely certain that it was Arabic, for it could have been Turkish or another language from the Middle East or elsewhere that I’m not familiar with. The man was Middle Eastern, that is all I know for certain because I could see him, and he was not speaking German, because the language’s sound is by now familiar to me. The man stopped screaming when the train started again and I, along with every other passenger, disembarked at the next stop more hurriedly than usual.

Ten seconds of terror ruled me before all the other seconds that I hoped, and then experienced as loud and scary, but not lethally so. Thinking on it later I wondered what I would have done if bullets had started flying or knives flashing. If I’d had a gun, would I have shot him? Then, and this is where I left it until the most recent terrorist attack, I decided the point was moot because I was alive and so was the man, and it probably wasn’t Arabic anyway.

Yet, terrorism is futile. Put a different way, killing innocent people doesn’t win your argument, it just reduces the audience. Today’s media lusts after sensationalist content, and what’s more sensational than people sacrificing themselves for what they believe in? What is more sensational than cleaving families through with the many-colored corpse of tragedy? Understanding the violence we and terrorists take in response to one another is crucial to removing tragedy from our regular intake of media.

Three days ago, a bomb went off in Manchester. A man named Salman Abedi is the alleged perpetrator. Beyond shady ties to the Islamic state, we do not know the why of his actions, although we do know his how: He released an explosion that ripped through space with total disregard for individual integrity. This happens when the shrapnel is nuts and bolts like it was in Manchester, or when it is the product of precision engineering like it often is in the Middle East.

Killing someone before they kill innocent people, if they are set on doing so, seems the only way of justifying murder. Yet you wouldn’t go kill their friends or civilians from their hometown. Bombing the location in England that was the terrorist’s most recent home is as pointless as spraying death interminably from the heavens in the Middle East. We gain the illusion of control, that is all.

I would have shot that man on the U-Bahn if I’d had the means, but only if he meant to kill me or others. However, our foreign policy should not be predicated on such simple thinking. Sensationalist President Donald Trump appears to favor a policy of aggression in the Middle East. I support an aggressive diplomacy that teases apart the complexities of our international relationships so that Wahhabi Islam is no longer funded by America. We don’t give money to the Islamic State, yet we are more than funders of Wahhabist Saudi Arabia: We are their allies.

I am in my ninth week of life in Berlin; a foreign culture confronts me daily. Sometimes it feels abrasive rather than an opportunity. I am certain that if Germans had killed my family members, my friend who I was with on the U-Bahn, or any other friend, discomfort would easily harden into hate. I think the United States would do well to alter the current proportion of handshakes to hellfire missiles and the receivers of both circumstances.

Terrorism and tragedy cannot be beaten. Both may be overcome or prevented. The problem is not the Middle East, nor is it a religion; the problem is we attack the symptoms and ignore the disease.

Our response as a nation should not be akin to mine on the U-Bahn. We must do better than terror and the reactionist thinking followed by forgetfulness that treats every attack like an isolated incident. Occasionally, terrorism may be perpetrated by those whose madness originates in the cerebrum. I believe that the vast majority of the perpetrators of terror are mad but reasonably so. The best policy of prevention would be diplomatic aggression and military forbearance. Our anger at our dead is not so different from theirs. Corpses mount and engender outrage. Let us channel that into action that seeks to prevent tragedy not create more of it.