When fear takes over

Terrorism is the use of violence or the threat of violence to cause and spread fear in an effort to get us to do things we might not want to do.  For example, planting a car bomb outside a family planning clinic is an attempt to force change in the state’s policies on abortion or birth control.  Terrorists want to make us fearful and sometimes it works, but not all that often actually which kinda shows that as a tactic it doesn’t really work all that well.

And sometimes we are really good at making ourselves fearful.  Case in point the decision by a Virginia school district to close all institutions over threats that arose because of a lesson in religion (see story here).

We all know that religion can lead to arguments and disagreements and that it is often wise to refrain from talking about it in public because someone inevitably gets offended.  My late mother always told me never to discuss either religion or politics so of course I ignored her and became a terrorism specialist, thus combining the two things she explicitly warned me against (sorry Mom!).

But the issue in one county in Virginia surrounds a course on world religions, a course where not surprisingly the students are exposed to and learn about religions of the world.  Their teacher presented a unit on Islam, providing the barest of  outlines of the faith of a billion and a half people and asking students to try their hand at calligraphy in Arabic, the language in which Islam was first practiced.  In response she was accused of ramming Islam down their throats and someone threatened to put her head on a stake.  All because she taught religion – in a world religions class where students are exposed to religions that may be foreign to them.  Some might criticise her choice of text to copy, the Shahada or profession of faith, although it is probably the most common phrase ever written in Arabic, but still – threatening to behead her?  Come on folks, who beheads people? Oh, that’s right – TERRORISTS do.

The current wave of fear and irrationality in the US is becoming more frightening than terrorism itself.  A nation is on edge because of one terrorist attack in California (the same fear of Christians did not ensue after a man with extreme Christian religious views killed people at a clinic in Colorado Springs to protest abortion practices) and a litany of politicians spreading panic and intolerance (okay, yes, they are all Republican presidential candidates).

It is unfortunately just a matter of time before an innocent person is killed because he or she happens to be Muslim.  We are already seeing a spike in attacks on random people for no other reason than their faith.

What the teacher was trying to do in her world religions class, contrary to the beliefs of some parents who accused her of  leading her charges away from Christianity, is precisely the remedy we need in a world where terrorism is all too common (yet still infrequent despite public perception).  She was providing knowledge.  Knowledge should always trump ignorance.  For it is knowledge that gives us the tools to deal with those who peddle hate.  A better understanding of Islam allows us to see through the sham version that the terrorists wield and gain common cause with the vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims who abhor what the terrorists are doing.  And it is the terrorists in places like Raqqa and Nigeria who are trying to prevent knowledge from spreading by limiting discussion to their own twisted faith.

Do the parents in Virginia want to do what the terrorists are doing?


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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