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9/11: The Psychological Fallout

Aug 17, 2007
Five years ago, our world view suddenly changed. We lost the sense of safety we had enjoyed in our long-held isolation from the rest of the world. Two enormous oceans no longer provided a buffer zone that the zealots could not cross. We sat in astonishment as the twin towers collapsed, appalled by the loss of life but even more deeply affected by the realization that we were hated by millions of our fellow human beings.

There had been lives lost in Oklahoma City, and Waco, and Columbine. But those scenarios were quite different because they involved home-grown fringe groups, outsiders who surface periodically throughout history to strike out at society with whatever means are at hand. Their murky political agendas address perceived threats from the government, the local authorities, the community, and the military. They make a statement about the individual versus the establishment.

The attacks of 9/11 were very different. The 19 hijackers were not a fringe group pursuing their personal goals. They were an advance force striking the first major blow in a total war to follow. They represented a vast swath of the world who seeks to destroy not only the American government but its entire cultural and social fabric. Dancing in the streets of Gaza, chanting and applauding the televised images of destruction, they felt no qualms of guilt because they saw no redeeming social value in America's existence.

Are they succeeding in their goals?

Look around.

We no longer speed to the airport and hop on a plane to a sudden-whim destination. We spend two or three or four hours of our precious and limited time to stand in line and remove half of our clothing. We shudder in an elevator when our co-riders speak together in Arabic. We surf the Internet, aware that our every move is being watched and recorded. We call friends overseas and know that others are listening to our conversation.

We learn of torture and atrocities committed in our name and feebly protest before going about our business. We check out books from the library for a school paper on Islamic militarism and uncomfortable realize that our choices may be documented and assessed as seditious.

There are congressional mutters about carrying papers, cultural profiling, no fly lists, and restricted travel abilities. Those who dare to speak out are the targets of smear campaigns - swift boats and covert outings and accusations of disloyalty and lack of patriotism.

Our fears and emotions are played like violins as the terror threat levels are manipulated by those with their own political agenda. We are warned of the dangers that confront us and the liberties we must forfeit to stay safe. We watch the horrors of the evening news with growing boredom and apathy. It is easier to let "them" take care of us rather than really think about what is happening on this fragile planet we inhabit.

As the rebuilding of the Trade Center proceeds, we are assured that our resilience proves that we are winning this shadowy war.

There are not enough airplanes in the universe to blow up the entire United States. That was never anyone's intent. The goal of terror is to change the enemy through the psychology of threats and fear. Each new step we take to modify our lifestyles and our dreams, because of such attacks, moves us further away from the totally free society we built so long and so painfully, and closer to the cultural imprisonment our enemies seek to impose.

If we must embrace evil or die, we need to make sure we are making the right choice.
About the Author
Dr. Bola is a clinical psychologist specializing in the effects of social issues on the individual. Visit her at: http://drvirginiabola.blogspot.com
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