Dealing with Terrorism

by | Feb 15, 2002 | POLITICS, Terrorism

Q: How are people coping with the aftermath of the events of September 11th, so that the psychological impact of the terrorist events does not overwhelm them? A: In many different ways. At first, some found an oddly kind of pleasant escape in focusing on events in the external world, because it helped them forget […]

Q: How are people coping with the aftermath of the events of September 11th, so that the psychological impact of the terrorist events does not overwhelm them?

A: In many different ways. At first, some found an oddly kind of pleasant escape in focusing on events in the external world, because it helped them forget about their personal problems — though only temporarily. In a few cases, the terrorism actually “cured” people by shocking them into having some perspective — though this is the very unusual exception, and not the rule. (For example: a squabbling couple decides their problems are not so severe after all.)

By now, most seem to have pushed concern about terrorism to the back of their minds. Most people do not have a solid grasp as to what causes terrorism, and therefore cannot form a strong opinion (or have strong emotions) about the issue.

To understand terrorism, you must know something about the psychology of hatred, evil, and irrationality. People don’t generally see, for example, how the 9/11/01 terrorism was merely the latest in a long span of anti-American fundamentalism spanning at least two decades, since the Iranian hostage crisis. They view it as more of an out-of-context, unusual event rather than part of what will likely be an ever-escalating pattern over time.

The main fears at first were, “Will the world be at war? Are worse strikes coming any day now?” Four months later the overriding sense seems to be, “We’re at war, but it’s just a quickie like the Gulf War ten years ago. Our military can handle it, and all is well. The President is doing a great job.”

What this attitude misses is the fact that fundamentalist terrorism is on the rise more than ever before, and it is going to take much more than a few weeks overthrowing the Taliban (or capturing bin Laden, which now seems unlikely any time soon) to halt it.

We’re not merely at war with the Taliban, nor even Osama bin Laden. Our enemies don’t thirst for power; they thirst for death — our own, and theirs. Thousands are training around the world, as I write this, to plan the next suicide attack. We’re at war with an unprecedented, unspeakable hatred against life itself. We still have every reason to be afraid, though we would have much less reason to be afraid if we had struck back over a wider area — and with much more force — than we did.

The only thing our enemies understand is brute force — something most Americans, especially since the 1960’s, strongly loathe using. By underreacting in this case, we have irritated the poisonous snake — without removing any of its deadly bite. It will regroup and come after us more forcefully than ever in the future.

Can anyone doubt for one moment that bin Laden is not even now, as we speak, working on biological and/or nuclear attacks against the U.S.? And that even if he does die, one of the dozen or so other terrorist organizations won’t pick up the slack, with the help of numerous Middle East governments we would never dream of attacking?

Psychologically speaking, everything I just wrote is not in most people’s frame-of-reference. It’s not even that they disagree (though most would, once seeing the words). It’s that their minds don’t even go there at all. Consequently, I see the mental health of most people returning back to normal — or abnormal, as the case may be. Some of this is due to ignorance and a short-range focus. Some of it is also due to the on-again/off-again nature of terrorism as opposed to the sort of beginning-middle-end warfare mankind has known in the past.

Most individuals probably do have a sense terrorism will strike again, but they also realize they have absolutely no way of knowing when, where or how. Consequently, they suppress the issue as a way to cope and stay sane. In many respects this is healthy. They count on their leaders in the military and academia to take care of them: to know what to do. It’s this latter issue which makes me concerned about all we may yet face in the future. I’m not nearly as confident as the great majority seem to be that our President truly grasps the depth of the problem — and, even if he did, that our country would support him in doing what truly needs to be done.

Both the November-December and the forthcoming January-February issues of The Living Resources Newsletter address the psychology of coping with terrorism — among many other things.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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