Today’s blog entry continues from yesterday’s. Yesterday, my post was about phrases from President Trump’s inauguration speech. Over the weekend (1/21-22), I thought about the transition from one administration to another. As I thought about the transition, the new president’s words came to my mind. Several phrases jumped out at me. So, I read his speech. Some of what he said was troubling. Let me explain why.
Trump said, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones. And unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”
Proposing to “eradicate” a belief system “from the face of the earth” suggests genocide on those who refuse to give up their beliefs. Invoking the label “genocide” might sound dramatic, but words matter. “Eradicate” means destroy completely. To ‘eradicate poverty’ means ‘to put an end to poverty.’ Thus, to “eradicate completely” means total destruction of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Unfortunately, attacking terrorism inspires some people to join the terrorists. For example, bombing a village where terrorists are hiding might lead non-radical Islamic villagers to become sympathetic to the terrorists. Terrorists are successful when they invoke terror. Getting frightening and thoughtlessly fighting back responds on the terrorists’ level. It is like fighting fire with fire.
The President should choose his words carefully. Carelessly tossing off words like “eradicate” to sound tough might inspire some people, but when taken seriously, “eradicate” harkens to darker times. So, how can the U.S. respond to terrorists?
First, we can identify the causes of terrorism. Poverty, inequality, cultural changes, and religious fanaticism. When people address poverty, inequality, and cultural changes, religious fanaticism has more trouble recruiting adherents. How do we address poverty? We can buy fair trade, focus on development and education, and ease away from “America first” ideologies. I will treat “America first” later.
Second, we can develop partnerships with countries who are already engaged in fighting terrorism. Regional partners will be more effective than drones and bombs. I do not know the intricacies of defeating Daesh (aka ISIS). But, a thoughtful response will lead to greater success than bombing the entire area or attacking terrorists’ families, as Trump has suggested.
Third, we must not be afraid. Fear is the currency of terrorists. Big talk, like “eradicate,” reveals inner fear. Instead of playing into their hand, we must rise above it. The Bible assures us that God controls the world. If Christians believe it, then we have nothing to fear.
Words matter. Let us engage in thoughtful discourse about complicated problems and avoid vacuous platitudes.