Pomp and Cowardice

Syria-vote-640x480The first effect of fear is to sharpen our self-preservation and to enhance our awareness of danger. Those instincts are useful, but hyperbolic—they claim the unfamiliar is more dangerous than it is, and the familiar more benign than we should reasonably presume.

The second effect of fear is that we act, but the choice of action depends on whether we use our fear as an impetus or as a caution.

There are a lot of people consumed by their fear. It’s okay to be afraid, and it’s even okay to be overwhelmed by it. But it is not okay to use your fear to justify prejudice and xenophobia. And it really is not okay to deny your unthinking fearfulness and spin it as a virtue.

I’ve seen every step of this the past week and a half. It’s easy to watch, because the most fearful among us are the loudest. They are many of them supposed leaders, the people we should look to for courage in hard times; instead they are flailing about in panic, overcome by their biases and their terrors.

Some people are saying refugees are potentially dangerous (isn’t everyone?), that we can’t vet refugees effectively (a bit of cooked-up justification for their fear), and that we should turn them away. I can’t think of many things more American than giving solace to refugees, and yet there are plenty of people suggesting the American thing to do is the exact opposite.

Some of these fearful people are just sober enough to seek justification from the xenophobic statements of actions of the past, mostly Roosevelt’s that I’ve seen, as if old prejudice is more acceptable than new prejudice. Some don’t bother with justification and simply assert their fear as if it were objective danger.

Some are saying we should just accept Christian refugees, maybe because Christians have never terrorized anyone in the history of the world, or, more likely, because they aren’t listening to their own words; they’re just indulging their fear.

Some are saying horrible things are justified, because we’re at war.

Well, they might be right about the war part. But it isn’t the war they think it is—there’s no war with Islam, unless we create one. But there is a war with terror, and it’s a war of ideas. It’s a war between cowardice and compassion, and it’s most definitely a war at home. It’s a war in which we get to choose between being the nation we think we are, or being the nation they think we are.

It helps only a little to realize that the horrible people are just very afraid. It helps only a little, because fearful people still say and do horrible things if we let them. And if we let them carry on long enough, we will end up joining them.

 

Image Credit: Breitbart

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