I just finished watching Peter King's hearings about the danger supposedly presented by American Muslims. The congressman was flawless in his delivery, was so plausible in his presentation that one could almost forget he is completely full of shit. The only reason for the hearings was to demonize citizens who happen to be of the wrong religion, and, most of all, to keep fear alive.
There was a time when we weren't afraid, though that time seems almost mythical now.
How many times did we watch the towers fall down?
Over and over that day, and in the weeks following, our TV screens replayed the events of those few awful hours. The jets swooping in, the flames, the people jumping to their deaths, the crowds looking on then fleeing in horror as the smoke and dust billowed into a perfect blue sky. We relived it again and again 'til it was an endless, scorched loop repeating in our brains.
As we tried to make sense of what had happened, our leaders lied to us, using the tragedy as a means to further their agendas of greed and their adolescent, bloodsoaked fantasies.
They said we were hated because of our freedoms.
They said we were now at war with a worldwide network of ruthless and demonic monsters which posed a threat to our lives and our very civilization.
They said this new war was like no other we'd ever faced, that it wasn't a war of nations but one of good versus evil. Paradoxically, they also said we could win with little or no personal sacrifice, that the best thing we could do to defeat the enemy was to go shopping.
They said the world had changed forever.
They said that, above all else, we must be afraid.
And we believed them.
We made fear our constant companion, caressing it and holding it close. Baying for vengeance and beguiled by a cloud of lies, we didn't even notice what we were leaving behind.
Along with the fear came its companions, hatred and bloodlust, and soon we were raining death on people who had never harmed us. The hunt for Bin Laden morphed into shock and awe, conquest and occupation, and broken bloodied corpses in the tens of thousands. At home we let our fear erode our rights and freedoms, while abroad that fear spread outward in ripples across the planet and was reflected, magnified, back upon our nation. Guantanamo Bay and the fetid cells in Baghram, extraordinary rendition and torture; these were all taken in stride as we let fear master us, as we abandoned the high ground for Dick Cheney's dark side.
Ten years on from 9/11, the forever war has taken on a life of its own, relentlessly ruining lives and staining our name with blood. We are bogged down in an unwinnable conflict in Central Asia and, as we wage Crusade by robot against villagers in places most of us can't find on a map, the moral costs continue to mount. Around the globe, millions view us not as a beacon of freedom but as aggressors and hypocrites. Though we still think of ourselves as the best of all countries, to the larger world we are defined more by the images from Abu Ghraib than by our ideals.
For a moment in 2008, it seemed we might leave fear behind us, but the bright slogans about Hope and Change were just empty jingles. The notion that shopping would save us was revealed as a lie, and, fed by economic ruin, by disillusionment from one side and propaganda from the other, the fear continued to grow.
Though the initial, visceral horror of watching the towers fall has abated, the fear lives on. It is manifested in our pessimism and apathy, in our xenophobia and intolerance, and in our mistrust not only of the Other but of ourselves. We now have a political movement founded entirely on fear, and public figures who pander to our basest instincts. Buffoons caper and gibber nightly on TV, telling us that fear is good and that hatred is wisdom, and millions listen. Politicians, working to keep the fear alive, conjure the ghost of Mau Mau and call for congressional hearings about people of the wrong religion. Ignorance and selfishness are seen as virtues, promoted as such by an oligarchy empowered by fear. As we turn on each other, on teachers and unions and the least powerful among us, lies about who the enemy is are eagerly devoured by an electorate which increasingly seems unable or unwilling to listen to truth.
I'm not by nature a pessimistic person. If you'd told me ten years ago we could be so transformed, that a repubic of fear would soon replace our nation of optimism and hope, I'd have laughed at you. Now, surveying the wreckage and inhaling the odor of decay, it's hard to find much to laugh about. George Bush once said the terrorists could never defeat us; he was correct, but what he didn't mention was that we could easily defeat ourselves. By taking counsel of our fears, by turning away from what's best in us and embracing the worst, our nation has become a shadow of what it once was.
I'm sick of fear. Fear is for children, and it serves as a smokescreen for thieves and whores whose main goal is to keep us distracted and divided as they loot whatever is left in our country to loot. It's time to look at what fear has cost us and to decide if we want to live this way forever. It's time to stop being afraid.