In his Letter to Lord Byron, III, the poet and critic, W.H. Auden (1907-1973) wrote:
“By wire and wireless, in a score of bad translations,
They give their simple message to the world of man(kind):
Man(kind) can have Unity if Man(kind) will give up Freedom.
The State is real, the Individual is wicked;
Violence shall synchronize your movements like a tune,
And Terror like a frost shall halt the flood of thinking…”
How right he was! The terrorist – the person who commits an act of terror – is trying to send a message. Whatever message that may be, terror becomes the vehicle or channel of delivery.
But why terror? Well, terror is “intense, overpowering fear (or) the ability to instill such fear”, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. So, fear, maximum fear, is the object of terrorism.
Fear is a form of slavery or enslavement. It does enslave the mind too, or render it incapable of action. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) put it, “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its power of acting and reasoning as fear”. Bear in mind that those who seek to rob others of freedom by terror are not free themselves. They are governed and driven by fear; and that is why their actions are so irrational, as both Edmund Burke and W. H. Auden observed.
Victims of terror need to avoid two things: One, succumbing to fear. Doing so will not only continue the cycle but also give victory to the terrorists. Marathons and sporting events in general are demonstrations of freedom. It is not simply the freedom to congregate or engage in social activities, but also the freedom to be in the open, enjoy and feel being part of nature.
The second thing to avoid is thinking or feeling that we, as a society, are necessarily the object of hatred. True, there may be some jealousies or even political misgivings but we must not see them as indicative of the rest of the world against “us” – whoever the “us” may happen to be during any terrorist act.
Think of the women in Afghanistan holding placards in solidarity with the people of Boston, for example, and in Pakistan. There are millions of people around the world who are grieving with the families of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and all those who were injured in the carnage.
As the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, said during the inter-faith service, and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; darkness cannot drive away darkness. Only Light can. This is a momentary time of darkness. Light comes from love, compassion, caring and healing. Light comes from solidarity with those who are mourning and lifting one another up to keep going.
Ultimately, as Henri Nouwen wrote, we need to “deeply trust that we are precious in God’s eyes”. Then we will be “able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart” Fear robs one of the assurance of worthiness, as it also robs one of freedom. That is the goal of those who instill fear and we need to defeat it with sounding assertion of our preciousness.