Fighting the Cancer of Terrorism

September 12, 2001

By Jock Gill for

I know more about cancer than I would like. It is a systemic decease with local manifestations. I find it is useful to think of terrorism as a form of systemic cancer. We can treat the local manifestation, but that is not good enough. We have to address the entire system if we want a cure. And as with cancer, there are no silver bullets just lots of hard work, difficult medicine, luck, hope, and time.

As we mourn the dead and missing from yesterday's horrific actions, we need to remember to also ask about our role in the world. It is a simple fact that to prevent further terrorist actions in the United States we need to know our enemy better than he knows himself. A key to our future safety will be to understand why does he hates us so passionately that he is willing not only to kill himself but to kill 1000s of innocent civilians? For example, we look for high technology attacks. We were completely unprepared for a low-tech high concept attack - asymmetrical strategy. Our lack of understanding made us vulnerable. Should we not cure this weakness in ourselves?

I suggest we need to understand, at the least, the Cultural, Economic, Environmental, Political and Religious roots of this inflamed and passionate hatred of America and Americans. We have to face the fact that we can easily be seen as a rogue nation which consumes its unfair share of resources, puts back into the system an unseemly amount of pollution etc etc etc. Any of us could write this indictment easily.

We do not have to do this. We could change our activities and still live unbelievably well compared to 90% of the rest of the world. We could chose to make the world a better place for all as a matter of simple self-interest and national security - if nothing else.

We were not attacked yesterday simply because we are the symbol of freedom and democracy as President Bush told us last night. We were also attacked because we are hated too intensely by a sufficient number of actors. The problem is, in fact, worse than is being discussed. We are dealing with people who, beyond religious issues, also have political, environmental, economic, and cultural bones to pick with us as well. These are synergistic arguments that amplify each other into hysteria and yesterday's events.

We can only reclaim our long-term security if we can come to understand the roots of this hatred and, with time and effort, diminish it.

We might, as suggested by L. F. Erz, also want to reflect on our language. Do we talk of "a vision of peace, partnership, equality and celebration of difference?" Do we speak of "healing social ills"? And do we see and understand "how the language and culture of domination and violence reinforce each other, and how continuing to speak in these terms can only bring us more of the same?" Or will we continue to talk of fighting, defeating and wining?