A Rude Awakening: A Reflection on Recent Terrorist Attacks

by Sarah McLean Archer


I am in the closet of my dorm room, a red high-heeled shoe in my left hand and a black shorter-heeled shoe in my right hand. I oscillate my head between the two shoes, examining both, trying to make this very important decision. I decide to go with the black shorter heel. It will be more comfortable, anyway. Then I remember I have the perfect dress as well! It’s black with delicate lace and comfortable enough to dance. Oh, these shoes and this dress—perfect for a formal event. I put the shoes down, and giddily take the dress off of the hanger and hold it out for examination.

Then suddenly, my phone rings and awakens me from my ditsy dream. I assume I have a text message. The digital clock on the microwave reads 6:45 a.m. I groggily reach for my cell phone to turn off the volume so I can resume dreaming. However, the screen shows not a text, but a CNN update, which informs “Passenger jet that crashed over Egypt in October, killing 224, was brought down by a bomb…” Talk about a wake-up call.

I woke up to the real world. As I was informed of the most recently-discovered act of hatred, I remembered this messed up world I live in—including the acts of hatred that occurred Friday, Nov. 13, when ISIS attacked innocent people in a concert hall in Paris

It just so happens that this past summer, I went to Paris while taking a class in London and Florence with Dr. Kurt Thaw called “The Psychology of Fear and Terrorism.” I vacationed to Paris on one of our free weekends. You can imagine the eeriness I feel having been there in the midst of learning about terrorism, and now all of this has occurred.

And here is what I can conclude from the class, which I believe relates to our current global state of affairs: Terrorist groups form from nobodies. No one is a terrorist who has the world at his or her fingertips. The people who decide to shoot up concert halls, bomb planes, destroy infrastructure, etc. are not loved by anyone to begin with. They are generally oppressed minority groups and they take these drastic actions to gain some kind of autonomy and control in a world of people who will not listen to or accept them. I am not sympathizing with these people, I can promise you that, but I am empathizing with them because without understanding there can be no resolution in any situation.

Sure, the FBI can track down terrorists and stop them from making attacks, and although that will make us safe temporarily, it’s like trying to destroy a weed by chopping off the vines above the ground. These people have long-term goals and backup plans. They will persevere even when one attacker is captured. To destroy the weed, you have to poison the roots, and the roots of terrorism are intolerance and alienation. Now, let me be very clear—we should not tolerate violence. What we tolerate is one another as humans. If you distrust a human right off the bat, inevitably he or she will give you a reason to distrust them.

So let me relay some news. Here is the bad news: there is no known way for you, an ordinary citizen, to stop terrorism in its tracks. It is a dynamic issue, rooted in hatred of self and residual hatred for the rest of humanity. The good news is this: You have the power to prevent terrorism in the future. Any time you display tolerance, love and acceptance for another human being, you are slowing this circular thinking of despair. I truly believe if you are vocal about your acceptance of others, it allows the world to know that there is another ally out there. Be recognized as an ally, and maybe the world will not seem so dim to others. Give people something to live for, so they don’t resort to any drastic action. Hatred doesn’t work. Although in times like these, our tendency is to resort to anger, our rude awakening is that we must combat hatred with kindness—an easy thing to accept a face value, but difficult in practice.