Monday, May 16, 2011

Is It Really a "War on Terror"?

I want to question the accuracy and value of the phrase, War on Terror. I personally do not see the war as really being against "terror". It is more accurately a war against inhumane ideas that lead to bondage. Therefore, it is a War On Ideas, or a War Against Bondage. I believe we should not fight an emotion. No human emotion is evil or abnormal. The feeling of terror is a normal and beneficial human feeling. I’d like to look at this beneficial view of terror from two perspectives.

First, from a practical socio-political perspective:

The Week magazine, and other sources, estimate that up to 10% of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world are actively engaged in spreading some form of the old Sharia laws of Islam to all seven continents. My focus is on the most harmful and inhumane laws of Sharia, like stoning gay people, honor killings of women, limiting education of females, enforced clothing laws, teaching young boys to grow up and die for Allah, taxation of non-Muslims, religious intolerance, etc. I will not call them Terrorists. They are ideologues. It is their ideas that are dangerous and worthy of fighting, not their terror. This war that threatens the world is neither against Islam nor terror—but against ideas that lead to enslavement of the mind and body. So at the socio-politcal level, we are in a War Against Inhumane Bondage. The emotion of terror is actually very beneficial because it awakens, motivates and activates free people everywhere to do something to stop the infectious spread of enslaving ideas. We will never win a war against terror. We might as well fight happiness or grief. Terror, like all emotions, is a normal and beneficial human experience that moves people to transform intolerable situations.

Secondly, from a psychological perspective:

Psychologically, the emotion of terror is a very normal and beneficial human experience. Terror awakens the complacent human soul to the larger issues of existence—like one's core beliefs, values and priorities in life. Terror makes us conscious of suffering and injustice, of death and a host of other experiences that cause the soul to come up against something other than work, food, sleep and collecting more stuff. This psychological perspective is seldom taken into account by our politicians and by our culture in general. I am not talking about the “psyche” that is discussed in cognitive, behavioral and pharmaceutical psychologies. While there is a place for all of these approaches to human problems, they have virtually nothing to do with the soul per se. These therapies treat brain function, social behaviors and other assessable “scientific” phenomena--stuff that can be statistically quantified, measured and fixed with some technique or drug. When I use the word "soul" I am referring to that vague but very real "aspect" of sentient existence which moves us from our current level of consciousness to the next. This distinction between "soul" and most modern therapies reminds me of David Chase’s award winning HBO series, The Sopranos. In the pilot episode, mob boss Tony Soprano goes to a psychiatrist and receives a lithium prescription to treat his panic attacks. His wife Carmela finds out and is elated, saying to Tony, “Psychology doesn't address the soul--that's something else--but, this is a start.”

Soulful experiences of terror work on the complacent, unconscious static human being. Terror is like a hair or speck of dust under your eye lid, creating concentrated focus. Terror moves one to know him/her core self. Most of us want the "self" to have experiences of life, but few of us want to experience the life of the "self". Few people take time from their busy schedules to know their inner self and its judgments, motivations, worries, pleasures, inclinations, fantasies, dreams and behaviors. This is not bad--in fact I highly recommend being unconscious as long as it works! Being unconscious is a very pleasurable experience, but it almost always comes to an end, and most often that end comes through feelings of terror. The stark and icey feeling of terror has a way of moving one inward toward the core self. In the midst of a terrifying situation the really important things of life rise to the top and seemingly evaluate themselves while we feel like a mere spectator. It is as though someone is playing a scary video for us, revealing thoughts, feelings and points of view we didn't know we had. The soul expands at such times and psychic tsunamis rearrange our whole personality. To fight against this experience of terror is to wage war on the soul.

The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron tells us that terror and hope are wonderful feelings because they both push us up against the limitations of our current ego consciousness. The moment we are feeling terror we can be sure we are trying to flee from our current self, to leap over the present soul-making moment. To get rid of terror robs us of the opportunity to follow that emotional trail into the rabbit hole of consciousness and find the culprits that are keeping us from expanding. When terror is examined as an ally of psyche, and the disintegrating and reintegrating work of terror is realized, most often the terror will evaporate--its work is done.

That is why I don't like the phrase, War on Terror. I see the world fighting a War Against Bondage. I suggest that we stop fighting the terror, and instead, we should openly feel the terror and explore our unconscious assumptions, values, projections, prejudices and actions. Psychological iconoclast Thomas Szasz says, “There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.” Through terror, you can come to know your self in ways you never could without the experience. Let's fight to keep our American freedoms, but cease fighting the soul-making experience of terror.

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