February 14th, 2010 10:15 EST
Terrorism is About Crazy Buttons and Getting Crazy Responses
We all know terrorists
Oh yes we do.
Each of us encounters somebody who knows just where our crazy buttons are and how to punch them, eliciting our most self-destructive impulses.
That is the nature of terrorism, to induce us to dismantle ourselves because we are too big for the terrorists to destroy us.
They are exhibitionists, extreme versions of people who assault us every day of our lives with their exaggerated, elephantine behavior. They may be screechy children or politicians or Wall Street predators. But they have one thing in common, an overweening self-importance. They want to be noticed and they want us to give way to their histrionics.
Their actions are meaningless without our hot buttons. The more we overreact the more successful they are. Hence an overprivileged zealot holing up in a cave in Waziristan can panic the greatest democracy in the world, causing it to humiliate itself by shedding its democratic principles in a fearful frenzy. The more our composure disintegrates in the face of terrorist showmanship, the more undeserved recognition the terrorists receive. This is the case with spoiled brats, celebrities who think they need mansions, yachts and racing cars on every continent, and all the oafs and twits who expect everybody else to tiptoe around them on the street.
Are they dangerous? Of course. So are politicians, radio hate-mongers, Islamophobic preachers and backyard chicken hawks, teenage gangs and sociopaths in all their other iterations. But more dangerous is our allowing them to corrupt civil order and equate ragtag assassins with the Wehrmacht or the Mongol horde.
It is an axiom in psychology that sometimes, in spite of all our theorizing and huffing and puffing, a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a loudmouth in front of a mike is just a loudmouth.
If throwing billions of dollars at banks to ease the mortgage crisis doesn`t solve the problem, what makes us think an army will reduce the number of wackos in the world? The army, after all, is another way to throw billions of dollars at something.
Is it because we have lost faith in civil society`s ability to redress wrongs? Polls suggest the public has lost faith in Congress and the media. With such broad sectors of public life in the doghouse, it is not surprising the public would look to the armed forces for competence. War is a more compelling distraction than video games and television. It is right up there with drugs and alcohol when it comes to relieving us of the grown-up responsibility to reflect on the sheer difficulty of sustaining a democracy in a woorld of unremitting challenges.
If this is so, we have lost confidence in ourselves, not society or government. They are merely surrogates. We are the ones who overreact when somebody hits our crazy buttons. We reward the showoffs, we worship the celebrities, we believe the liars when they flatter our prejudices.
Whenever our crazy buttons are punched we should ask who gains? Yes, the terrorists gain, but who gains from our exaggerated responses? Politicians acquire more power. Profiteers rip off more money. Banks grow fat on war debt. Opponents of social programs gloat at the diversion of money to the war machine. Hate-mongers puff up like adders. Democracy plays second fiddle to jingoism.
The proper response to terrorists is often a good book, not another war, not the curtailment of bloodily won liberties, not postponement of our forefathers` dreams, nor the withholding of help from the unfortunate and beleaguered.
I have one such book in mind. It is *Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists,* *Thinkers, and Artists* by Michael Hamilton Morgan. This remarkable book, published in 2007 by National Geographic, blends formidable scholarship with contemporary savvy, showing how ordinary lives today are directly shaped by events in medieval Cordoba, Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. It shows why we name hospitals after an Arabic-speaking Jew from Andalusia named Maimonides, how our pursuits are rooted in Arab advancements in arts, sciences, medicine, astronomy and mathematics.
Once you read this book the Islamophobic demagogues among us will sound like the usual Jew-baiters and racists with whom we are too familiar. Their smarmy disquisitions will sound even less persuasive than Nazi eugenics. Just as any thoughtful person reading T.E. Lawrence`s *Seven Pillars of Wisdom *would have thought twice before barging into Iraq, so the thoughtful person recovering Morgan`s lost history will recognize that other civilizations have had to cope with nut jobs and have often found ways not to go nuts doing it.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com