Brussels – March 2016: Resilience and Terrorism

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Brussels – March, 2016

Another day we awake to scenes of unspeakable violence.  The camera’s eye is magnetically drawn to the dust, debris, destruction and death. And we wonder: “How could this happen yet again?”

We instinctively realize that we may never know what dreams of paradise – or demons – drove the dastards to these acts. But we can see a larger pattern emerge as we look at the attacks in Paris and Brussels and elsewhere – a clash of ideologies and cultures where one side is determined to annihilate any vestiges of the other, while the other side frames this as “terrorism.” Certainly the perpetrators were intolerant and certainly they were terrorists, but by their own words we know they see themselves as warriors going into battle against the “Crusaders,” as if a millennium had not intervened since then. While our leaders treat this clash merely as a series of police actions and seem to ignore the existential threat.

Brussels attackWars are not always won by the strongest; our recent experience (see Vietnam, Afghanistan) indicates that commitment to a cause can overcome material advantages. So while the jihadists’ hate is fed by a belief that their ideology cannot co-exist with Western civilization, Western leaders give us a pale soup of words that nourishes none of us. If we are to survive this war, we must find “a reason to believe.”

Indeed, the intellectual leadership in our universities throughout the Western world seem more intent on preventing a clash of ideas than they are of defending those inalienable truths and rights that so many of our forefathers fought and died for.

Item:  In the U.S., the University of California system is trying to develop a policy to ban intolerance but cannot figure out what that is. The ban is predicated on limiting what can be said. It has gone from an initial statement that was tilted toward Palestinian-supporting groups to one that these same groups see as favoring Jews. How about turning that around and saying that no individual or group will be allowed to infringe on anyone’s freedom of expression?

Item:  In the U.S., the vast majority of our leading institutions of higher education are more concerned about creating “Safe Spaces” where never a discouraging word is heard (have to protect the little darlings’ delicate sensibilities) than in protecting the basic right of freedom of speech. In fact only about 1% have signed on to the University of Chicago’s defense of free speech.

Item:  Throughout the Western world, self-anointed “victims” have become self-appointed arbiters of acceptable speech. This has led to grossly undemocratic actions such as the recent call by the student union of the University College London to boycott, divest and sanction those companies that stock or advertise Israeli products. Or as Frank Furedi reported in September,

“In the UK, the academic year has barely started and already Manchester students attending a fancy-dress club night have been banned from wearing bindis and feather headdresses. The NUSbrussels tweet [National Union of Students] organisers, backed by the Black and Minority Ethnic Students Campaign, argued that ‘to wear an item or to attempt to embody a culture that does not belong to your own personal systems of traditions can be perceived as mockery of others’ culture’. The same argument has been used to ban sombreros from the University of East Anglia. Meanwhile, the human-rights campaigner Maryam Namazie was all set to talk at Warwick University courtesy of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. She was then disinvited by NUS officers who feared her talk might ‘incite hatred’ and ‘violate its external-speaker policy.’”

Instead of standing up for freedom, what some Western leaders have done is to try to instill fear – let’s all stay inside; let’s cancel the football season; don’t participate in large gatherings; let’s patrol “their” neighborhoods. Perhaps worse is their trivialization of our real fears – expressing perfunctory sympathy for the victims then riding off on their golf carts, or telling us that more people die in car crashes or are killed by handguns than by terrorists. And in neither case standing strongly for our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So how are we, targets of terrorism, to respond?

The answer, I think, can be found in that most essential attribute of the human spirit – resilience. During the Blitz, the British could have folded, but no, it was “I’m all right, Jack.” Katrina destroyed homes and disrupted lives, but New Orleans – indeed the entire Gulf Coast – has come back and is arguably stronger, even with the BP Oil Spill thrown in for good measure. In the face of these terrorist atrocities our response must be the same – seeing where we were weak and becoming stronger, helping each other to build back better, building our futures around those values we honored in the past. Above all, not letting our fears divide us but rather using our common values to bring us closer together and thus achieving a new – and better – normal. Our resilience is our greatest weapon in this war.

As Brendan O’Neill recently said, we should determine to live our lives…

“with a keener determination to partake in and celebrate the openness and the freedoms and the huddling of humans in airports and restaurants and rock stadiums that these terrorists so clearly hate. They want us to feel fearful as we do the most everyday things of jumping on a metro train or clinking champagne glasses with a lover. So our response, our best blow to these lovers of death and loathers of the joys and associations of modern life, should be to refuse to feel that fear, and to live even more freely after the Brussels barbarism than we did before it.”

Posted with permission from The Community and Regional Resilience Institute

JohnPlodinecJohn Plodinec, Ph.D is the Associate Director for the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) at Meridian Institute.

In this role, he is responsible for identifying and evaluating technologies useful for enhancing community resilience.

He also is playing a leading role in development of CARRI’s Community Resilience System. He has also been heavily involved with CARRI’s engagement with the Charleston, SC, region. John recently retired from the US Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), as its Science Advisor. In this position, he led SRNL’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program, as well as developing strategic partnerships in areas aligned with the laboratory’s primary thrust areas.

As part of this effort, he developed CARRI’s Resilient Home Program, aimed at improving the survivability of American homes to disaster. This built on earlier work he did while at Mississippi State University, where he led the University’s efforts to establish programs related to severe weather. Dr. Plodinec helped his research group become the first entity in the state of Mississippi – and one of the first in the nation – to win a competitive award from the Department of Homeland Security.

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