Earlier this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., appeared on CNN. Both acknowledged that worldwide terror events have been on the upswing. The statistics are bleak. According to the State Department, there were 241 documented incidents of terrorism in 1971, and 40 years later, those figures increased dramatically, climbing to 10,283 incidents and expected to rise.
I began to wonder, after so many years of fighting the war on terror, are we doing something wrong?
I was mulling this over as I sat down to watch HBO’s documentary “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” an autobiographical one-man stage show by Spike Lee. I have never paid much attention to Tyson outside the occasional television interview grilling him about his brush-ups with the law. Nonetheless, I was curious to see what Tyson could come up with to do on a Broadway stage besides box. How could he pull this one off? Yet, he did, and I found it compelling.
Tyson can tell a story, and his story is very good. By the sheer effort he makes onstage, one can tell exactly why Tyson achieved so much. Despite his breaks, there is still that indescribable something that people who make it big have that Tyson amply displayed during this show. I saw exactly the same hard work, discipline, passion and drive that brought him heavyweight championship titles
When the show was about halfway through, I realized I was gaining some insight into this person that I could not have read about in a news story. Tyson’s history, the manner of his speech, his gestures, facial expressions and antics made him grow on screen to a multidimensional real human being, rather than the fierce fighting-machine-warrior of the ring or the ex-convict I imagined him to be. Yeah, I know it’s a show that is not the complete, unvarnished truth. Yet I saw so many of those things that make us all human, that make us all the same and, more than that, I got to see a little of what made the man who he is, and that, for me, changes everything.
Now I know one thing: Tyson will never seem quite so foreign or frightening to me again. I respect the man even if we don’t see eye to eye. That is what education is supposed to do for us, and this show educated me. It validated the risk I took when writing about the mind of a terrorist and the rationale behind his very evil plans, while also exploring whether or not knowing what he thinks and why, changes anything. Maybe when we know, we can trust. Maybe when we trust, we can be hurt, but not trusting also gets us hurt, doesn’t it?
Feinstein and Rogers related how our intelligence community shoulders the lion’s share of the burden when it comes to stopping a terrorist attack against the United States or its interests abroad. But what is the end game? We design methods to thwart the enemy, they counter, we redesign, and on it goes. Shouldn’t we be applying the same effort and resources to waging peace?
Fighting the war on terror as we have been, though perfectly justifiable under the circumstances, also appears to result in producing more terrorists. We need to work with our allies, at home and in the Middle East, to learn how to prevent innocent children from being abused at the hands of evil men who wish them to grow up to hate so violently that their only hope for the future is to gain paradise by blowing themselves up with as many other humans as can possibly be taken with them. We need to find a way of killing the message of the jihadists and rendering it impotent to attract masses of new recruits.
The real question is whether we can persevere with little or no reciprocity, perhaps for a long time because, in my view, it is not only how many terrorists we can kill, or plots we can thwart; it is what policies we can pursue that, in the end, have the best chance of taking us to the place where we all hope to be — lasting peace.
Connie Atkinson and Thomas DiCarlo are the authors of “The Brotherhood of Purity,” a novel exploring the mind of a terrorist and whether mankind can build a world at peace.