Jewish World Review August 11, 2004 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5764

Jill Porter

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On terrorism, we're adapting, not winning | It's tempting to wax triumphant about the nation's calm response to the most recent terrorist warning. People showed up for work in the targeted buildings in Washington and New York. The stock market didn't plunge. Life went on largely undisturbed.

"New York City is not going to be cowed by terrorists," Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted.

The terrorists haven't won!

Nonsense. The truth is we've been forced to adjust to the constant threat to our safety, so much so that we have no choice but to go about our business. That's to be accepted as a miserable necessity, not misconstrued as a symbolic defeat of our enemies. Yes, the human spirit is remarkably resilient.

And yes, we've shown spunk in resisting emotional collapse in the face of a constant threat of attack. But it's tragic that the unthinkable has become the routine, that perpetual danger is a dark thread woven into our daily lives, so much so that panic isn't even considered an option.

The cowboy code espoused by our politicians makes sure of that.

"The terrorists want to scare us," New York Sen. Charles Schumer said as he stood outside the New York Stock Exchange, shaking hands with arriving workers. "We feel it's almost a moral imperative for everybody to go about their jobs."

Anyone who chose to stay home from work, even in a building specifically targeted for destruction, would be considered of questionable character. To succumb to the real fear of a real threat has come to be seen as tantamount to treason.

"If every time they made a threat we stopped doing what we're doing, they win," Schumer said.

Not only can't we protect ourselves from an attack - at an unknown time at an uncertain location by unseen enemies - we can't even try, for fear of being considered un-American.

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So, sure, we trudge to our workplace even when we're told our building has been targeted by al-Qaeda. But the truth is, we yield to the threat of terrorism in countless ways every day of our lives.

We go through metal detectors, submit our packages to bomb-sniffing dogs, encounter permanently locked entrances, wear identification cards, mentally profile our fellow airline passengers.

The heightened security of the last few days in Washington and New York - where traffic was diverted and trucks were searched and machine-gun toting guards patrolled targeted buildings - only seems like an incremental change.

Then, too, we're victims of what a New York Times story called "warning fatigue." Since 9/11 we've been subjected to occasional vague, unspecific warnings from the Department of Homeland Security - all accompanied by an admonition to go about our business, of course.

The timing of some of the warnings appeared politically suspicious. And since none was followed, thank Heaven, by an attack, we developed a numb indifference.

And to some extent, the counterterrorism measures that we've adopted may have made some of us feel safer than before - despite pronouncements to the contrary by security experts and by the 9/11 commission.

For all these reasons - resilience, resignation, numbness, denial, bravado - we absorbed the news of the targeting of our financial institutions this week without appearing to flinch. If it was a test, we clearly passed. And that's good, of course.

But don't mistake it for a "triumph over terrorism." Don't pretty it up with reassuring platitudes that don't apply. We've done a laudable job of adapting to horrible new circumstances. That's not to be celebrated, but accepted with angry resignation.

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Jill Porter is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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