I’ve spent much of my life afraid, but I’ve only been afraid like this once before. The fear I feel today is twin to the fear I felt after the terrorist attacks of September 11. This will surprise no one. The parallels are too many. The city has changed. The name used to organize the terrorists was different. Still, so much is the same.
But I am not afraid of the terrorists. I mourn their victims. I have mourned them in all the attacks between then and now. I feel the weight of the knowledge that there will be more. There were more today, in Mali. I grieve for the interrupted lives, dead and survivors alike. But I am not afraid of the terrorists.
I am afraid of us.
Fourteen years ago, I sat in cold dread and helplessly watched the march to war. I raised my voice, but it was lost in the noise of the big machines of government and media. They didn’t even mow me down as they rolled over and past me, too huge and impersonal to target what they could ignore.
We did terrible things then, and since. In the name of our fear, we killed, and we sent our people to kill. We tore apart a nation, turning its substantial problems into sheer disaster, for no better reason than our fear. Our misplaced fear. The fear we accepted shoddy, false reasons to justify.
We did nothing to give ourselves less to fear. Only more. Only new terror. Yet the machine grinds to life once more.
We can’t take up war again. We’ve never really laid it down, just flung it to the skies and proclaimed it invisible, gamified, clean and shiny with technology. And if that isn’t new to us, all we have left is to dig our way into the grime, to cover our hands with ash and blood. That this is the same ash and blood the terrorists wallow in doesn’t deter us. The voices crying out the reality of the situation are once again small, the machine gargantuan and impersonal, even though it is us.
I am afraid of us.
I am afraid we will once again succeed, that we will insist on having accomplishments to show. I am afraid we cannot sit with our fear, that we must have talismans and trophies to distract us, no matter how covered in filth, in death. I am afraid that we are so afraid of our fear that we would rather become the monsters than look them in the face and stand in place and say, “No. We are not like you. We will not be like you.”
I fear our fear too, but I fear we will let it drive us to anything to get away from it. Does my fear have that power as well? If I tell you that I fear, will you hear? Will you honor that fear? Will you let that be a force to push back against the machine?
Because I tell you now, I am afraid.