Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press

Terrorism did not begin on September the 11th 2001. However, for Americans it is a date to remember our fallen heroes and the innocent victims of a vicious and senseless act. We must also remember the event was perpetrated by cowards, criminals, and extremely zealous fundamentalists, who, in the name of a great religion performed a perfidious and barbaric act that decries acceptance at any level within the human community. But we must also remember that no one can deprive us of our freedoms lest we agree to give them up.

We must reinvigorate the patriotism that has been exhibited by our citizens and the veterans among them who have provided in large part the small degree of stability that exists in an agitated world. We must also recall the fundamental tenets upon which our country was founded and the constant vigilance that is required to retain the liberties we cherish.

As we readjust our national ethic in light of all the negative current events, we must resolve not to relinquish our basic freedoms to the acts of a craven minority that represents the worst aspirations of humanity. Nor should we forget that we are not well served by governmental dictums that tend to usurp the democratic characteristics of our open society to provide the appearance of security for political reasons.

Terrorism is an ill-defined term. It represents the unknowns that comprise the fears and apprehensions that may take any form we allow our minds to dwell on. It is a word that has no rational boundaries and has no single target for engagement. Terrorist acts are designed to create chaos. They are designed to create fear, distrust, uncertainty and disruption in normal human activity. The ultimate targets of terrorist acts are human minds.

The word “WAR” is entirely inappropriate to be used in context with the pursuit of terrorists and those who support them. Since these acts are acts of criminals, the action taken against them should be implemented in terms of international criminal law. Enforcement actions should be applied by established international law-enforcement agencies.

To describe the action taken against terrorism as a war is unacceptable. War, as odious as it is, is bounded by recognized conventions of engagement, and is generally confined to limited geographical locations by combatants who have formally declared their hostile intent toward each other. Nationally sanctioned Armed Forces act as representatives for the political entities engaging in war and the participants are identifiable. Wars have recognizable beginnings and ends and, as stupid as it sounds, rules of acceptable conduct.

Just as terrorism did not begin with the September attacks, it will not end as long as criminal elements exists in the guise of political or religious causes. Terrorism recognizes no conventions of humanity nor are they confined to any given geographical location. There is no way a conventional war can engage and end the acts of clandestine terrorism.

When we empower terrorist acts by declaring them acts of war we elevate the acts to a level of acceptability that is consistent with our acceptance of the use of overt war in settling political disputes. When we do this we lose our sense of proportionality and this leads to wrong thinking. Then, a greater hazard exists in the concomitant extension of military war powers to any government when the more appropriate action would be to join into an international coalition of law-enforcement agencies dedicated to addressing the unique problems associated with terrorism.

Anyone who believes that their personal security against terrorism is enhanced by the actions of a government exercising war powers is very badly mistaken. Personal security, in fact, is reduced in the so-called interests of national security. If personal freedoms of travel, of speech, and access are impinged in the name of providing security against terrorism, then the terrorists are achieving their purposes.

What is needed at this time in history is a vision of how the variety of political and religious interests on the international scene can be coordinated to formulate a new approach for the problems generated by the radical, criminal international terrorist organizations. Of how the understanding of these acts, in context with the moral base of all humanity, will render them so universally unacceptable that they will no longer have the political impact to provoke overreaction by national leaders lacking vision to counter the terrorist phenomena.

Religious philosophies abhor the acts used by terrorists in their names because they advocate, rather than violence, a broad vision for finding solutions to the stressful interactions among the members of the world community. This is stated succinctly in Proverbs found in the Old Testament: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

In remembering the events of September 11th we must develop a vision for the future that will not spawn terrorism of any kind – foreign or domestic.