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Dr. Ricardo Azziz

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Keeping Up Our Guard Against Terrorism -- and Its Corrupting Impact On Our Collective and Individual Psyche

Posted: 06/26/2013 4:52 pm

It has been less than 100 days since the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the senseless deaths and maimings, which continue to remind us of the ease with which massive destruction can be made to occur -- suddenly and without warning. And how deeply and almost uncontrollably it affects our psyche and perspective.

When I was a young boy in the late '60s, my parents moved us from a quiet oak-lined street near Regent Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Montevideo, Uruguay. I recall finding myself suddenly in a country in the midst of war, with urban and nationalist guerrilla movements battling the police and military on all levels -- in the streets, the countryside, in soccer stadiums, shopping centers, and in universities and schools. And I learned of terrorism and its pervasive effects.

The many kidnappings, bombings, assaults, imprisonment, torture, and killings that occurred during the late '60s and early '70s in much of South America's southern cone were a true crime against humanity... and against our humanity. But the most lasting long-term effect of the many terrible acts of terrorism, perpetuated by all sides, seemed to be that it indelibly and almost instantaneously changed the way we thought... and the way we behaved. About others. About race and ethnicity. About our faith. And about our and other countries. About the future. And most of all, about those who did not agree with us on all counts.

In Uruguay during that terrible time, we all began to look upon each other with great suspicion and deep distrust, not knowing who was trustworthy and who was not. And many good citizens began to inform on their relatives or co-workers or neighbors, and on those who had been their friends to the military, to the secret police, to the guerilla gangs. An 'us vs. them' mentality prevailed, and general paranoia swept through the country.

But what struck me the most was the speed with which the change in the collective and individual psyche (and behavior) occurred. Rapidly, insidiously. So many... too many... citizens became informants, judges, and jurors, supporters of oppression and punishment, almost overnight.

We saw this happen, in a somewhat different way, following the tragic events of 9/11. Our way of thinking, the American Way of thinking, changed dramatically. Individuals with Middle Eastern or Arabic sounding names were viewed first and foremost as probable terrorists. And some among us viewed the Islamic world, the largest religion on the planet, as a threat to our way of life. It is clear that that barbarous attack changed the way we think. About our citizens, about our friends, and about the world. Rapidly and in ways we can hardly control.

In Boston more than 170 people were injured (many grievously) and three innocent lives were lost -- an eight-year-old boy, a Chinese graduate student, and a 29-year-old restaurant manager who had made a tradition of attending the marathon to cheer on the runners. Lives lost and lives wretchedly changed.

 

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