Monday, September 22, 2014

No, you are not in danger

For the last ten and a half years, Michelle and I have owned a pug, Jax.  The story of how Jax came to live with us is a heartwarming one, but I'll save it for another time.  Suffice it to say that for the whole time we've had him, he's been an extremely loyal dog--almost grateful for the second, third, fourth, and fifth chances at life that he's gotten from us.

Jax is the self-appointed guardian of the household.  That's a common trait among pugs; they are hypervigilant, scared of very little, and fiercely defensive of their home and their family.  Of course, our household rarely faces any threats to speak of, but don't tell him that. Whenever he senses a threat, he sounds the alarm for as long as is necessary to get our attention.

When he was much younger, my parents owned an Anatolian Shepherd, whom they called Tolga.  One Christmas, we came to visit, bringing Jax and our other dog, Gabby, who is a Lab mix.  We let the dogs out into their enormous yard to play, keeping a close eye on them.  The pecking order of these dogs was necessarily determined by their size.  At 145 pounds, Tolga was exactly 10 times as heavy as Jax; their similar markings suggested that Jax was Tolga's "Mini-Me."  Gabby was in between at 55 pounds.

Being in a somewhat unfamiliar yard that belonged to another dog, Jax was cautious as first.  But when Tolga got too close to Gabby, Jax sprang to her defense.  He started yapping at Tolga, and when that was ineffective, he ran up to the bigger dog and tried to bite him.  He came away only with a mouthful of loose hair, and Tolga barely noticed--and that's a good thing, because Tolga could have ended Jax's life easily with a chomp.

One thing that I've noticed, working from home, is that in Jax's mind, there is never a greater existential threat to our household than when the mailman comes.  For the few seconds it takes the mailman to come up to our front porch and drop the day's mail in our box, Jax barks louder than you would think a little dog could bark.  It's annoying, of course, but harmless.  Even if he could somehow manage to get the door open in time, and even if he could reach the mailman (who's fast from years of handling a walking route), the worst he could do would be a pinch.  His teeth and jaws aren't really strong enough to do any damage.

I am telling you all of this as an allegory.  Lately, the media and certain politicians (I'm looking at you, Lindsey Graham, in particular) have spent a lot of time ginning up fear of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL (sometimes referred to as ISIS).  And, like my dog, ISIL would--in theory--like very much to cause damage to Americans.

But ISIL remains a threat only in theory.  Most people don't have any real grasp of just what would be required for ISIL to commit a terrorist act on U.S. soil.  (It takes a whole lot more money, more planning, and more luck than you would think.)  Even if they were to be successful--say, bringing down an airliner, or setting off a bomb in a shopping mall or movie theater--the chances of you or anyone you know being a direct victim of such an attack are microscopic.  That's especially true if you live in a small town, or even a medium-sized city like Little Rock.

The truth is that ISIL is one of many theoretical threats to Americans in the world.  It is by no means the most significant threat.  It's not even the most significant terrorist threat.  (That distinction belongs to our own homegrown terrorists--the Timothy McVeigh/Eric Rudolph types.)  Spending even a few seconds of your life worrying about ISIL is a waste of time.

The problem, of course, is that all this fearmongering is being used by people who want to drive television ratings, or who want to expand our military action around the world, or who want to score political points in advance of the upcoming elections, to goad us into acting imprudently.  These people do not have your best interests at heart.  They don't care what damage they cause you--and they especially don't care that they are doing a better job of terrorizing Americans than ISIL ever could on its own.

ISIL is a threat that we need to deal with.  But it's not an immediate existential threat to the Union.  ISIL is in no danger of flying its flag over any American soil, much less the White House.  There is no good reason to treat it otherwise.  And there are some very good reasons to be cautious--namely, that incaution took us into Iraq and Afghanistan, costing us thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars we'll never get back.

You're not in danger.  Stop acting like you are.

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