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Friday, September 12, 2014

9/11/14 Special Edition: 9/11 and Terrorism: Are We Winning Battles But Losing The War?

Thought for the Day: Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of 9/11. I had planned to write this post, but spent most of the morning watching the Memorial Services instead.  On 9/11 over the years, I have often felt the need to turn off the television and reflect privately on the events of 9/11,  but this year I felt compelled to watch  the powerful images of grief, resilience and rebuilding that the families, New York and our nation have made. I could not help thinking about the recent attacks by ISIS on innocent American journalists and Arabs who disagree with ISIS'  beliefs. President Obama's announcement of a strategy in the eradication of ISIS was also running through my mind. We all owe the people who lost their lives and their families to make every effort possible to win the complicated battle against terrorism.
    As a psychologist with expertise in trauma, resilience and conflict resolution, I also feel an obligation to examine this challenge from a psychological point of view. This post is in no way comprehensive, but I hope it will raise questions and help you come up with ideas that you will share to help find creative ways to resolve this important dilemma which threatens the civilized world.

    Although it may be true that,"Nothing is new under the sun." Modern day terrorism may give this well known paraphrase from the Book of Ecclesiastes a run for it's money. Surely religious and ethnic groups have terrorized their opponents with ethnic cleansing, genocide, inquisitions and religious persecution for centuries. In the modern world, there are two major differences. First, in olden times the weapons did not have the potential to wipe out both sides of the conflict. Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction threaten the future of all mankind making nonmilitary solutions imperative for the survival of mankind.

   The second major difference is the power of technology to connect people in real time to events as they unfold. Television and the Internet can bring images of destruction from around the world into our homes. As we learned the hard way following 9/11, this is a double edged sword.  Real time, repeated viewing of traumatic events can be psychologically damaging to adults and children. Not only can it lead to world wide traumatic exposure, it can have a numbing effect as a defense mechanism. Neither ot these extremes will help us be alert to and work towards solutions to travesties that occur at the hands of terrorists. On the other hand, real time images can raise awareness to injustice and galvanize support against aggression faster than in the past. 

    Since emotionally loaded images are easily distorted by viewers and images can be edited and misrepresent the actual events, the task of impartial journalists on the ground is crucial in this day and age. It is not by chance that ISIS  and other terrorist groups have targeted journalists attempting to report what they are seeing in the Middle East. Terrorists are afraid of exposure and hide behind masks.

   Terrorism is much like mold. Mold grows in dark damp places. It spreads easily in the air unless it is exposed to the light of day. Bleach, can kill mold but it needs sunlight to eradicate it completely. 
Terrorism and terrorist cults also grow in dark impoverished places. They thrive and build their forces by reaching out to poor, unemployed,  disenfranchised people.  Bombs cannot destroy fanatic beliefs. In fact, conventional war tactics may strengthen terrorists ideology and increase acts of revenge. The casualties of war ironically may multiply the numbers of disgruntled people willing to join terrorists' causes.

    Any conventional "War" on terrorism will fail without addressing the conditions which feed the discontent of the followers of the terrorist ideologies. To win the war on terror, equal if not more energy must be paid to the war on ignorance, hunger, and prejudice. Real opportunities to live free, healthy independent lives will stop the mold like growth of terrorism. The terrorist's promise of a better life after death as the alternative to dead end lives will not be appealing anymore. 

    Sadly, sometimes even humanitarian aid can backfire. In Gaza, deliveries of concrete and building supplies intended to build schools  and hospitals were used to build thousands of underground tunnels connected to hospitals and schools with the sole purpose of carrying out terrorist acts. Humanitarian aid must be supervised carefully to prevent the misuse for terrorist causes. Transparency of the distribution of aid must be required. Unfortunately, military strength is also necessary when terrorists attack or plan to attack innocent civilians. 

    I wish I had more answers, but I believe collectively, psychologists, educators, physicians, economists, politicians, diplomats and other innovators can find creative ways not only to win battles but also win the war on terrorism. A multi-disciplinary approach using research findings on bullying, cults, cognitive dissonance, conflict resolution, resilience, economic and educational reforms will help. The images of the memorial, the new buildings and the families carrying on with their lives are all signs of our strength. Remaining dedicated to a free diverse society the memorial service  was a testimony to winning and not letting terrorism stop our nation from leading the world to a future void of terrorism. There is however, much more work to be done. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions, since we all can contribute to the solutions.

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