Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Worlds Meet

Jericho's Terrorist

An episode of the Jericho television series called “One Man’s Terrorist” brings us into the mind of an average person who becomes a terrorist. The scenes in the episode also offer ideas on how we can deal with a potential terrorist threat. Often we’ve heard about the strong man approach about defeating the enemy, or the language from Republicans that we can’t appear weak to the terrorist. Too often we hear that solutions of social methods fail to understand the terrorist. We are told that supplying food and shelter or jobs have nothing to do with decreasing the ranks of the terrorist community. Maybe the real question is why a person becomes so violent.

A realistic scenario of society breaking down occurs in Jericho. The series shows how a Kansas town copes with the aftermath of such a breakdown. A series of nuclear strikes has wiped out key US cities, and isolated towns are left to fend for law and order, food and power. The show viewed the ways resources are managed to help the community. Key characters such as the mayor, medical professionals, a farmer and a store owner were focused on to show how decisions about resources could affect the entire society.

In the terrorist episode, the mayor believes he can not lead his town through the winter because the numbers on the blackboard of food rationing show the people will starve. His solution is to send a group of refugees, the town recently saved, back out on the road. The refugees were staying in a makeshift shelter. The road meant certain death because of roving outlaws, the lack of animals to hunt or existence of shelter from the cold. But the mayor could not save everyone, so at least he tried to save his town.

The terrorist point of view was shown through the eyes of the refugees. Maybe they react to unusual pressure. An incident arose when one refugee tried pleading with the mayor to reconsider the forced eviction. When the mayor pulled out a gun to show his authority, a scuffle broke out that resulted in the mayor being accidentally wounded. The police then treated the refugee as a terrorist.

But we lost the real cause of why one becomes a terrorist, as the argument shifted away from the withholding of resources to one of respect for authority. The change took away key items of fact. The refugees were not just taking from the town. They were gathering wood for fire. One was even serving as a doctor in the town clinic. The refugees were quartered in a shelter even though the town housed many empty homes of people who left before the nuclear strike, probably never to return. But that was private property so it could not be shared with the refugees. The ideas of sharing and the value of property over lives presents a special philosophical view on why terrorists face unusual pressure.

The incident also addresses how to defuse a terrorist in the making. In one particular scene, a town character cries out to a group of people to share their homes with the refugees. She prods and cajoles until many in the crowd agree. This takes place after she is threatened in her home by a refugee who waves a knife at her. When she sees how he wanted glue to close a worn-out pair of shoes rather than take a pair from her son, she sees that this is an average person who desires self respect. She realizes this person has been thrown into a desperate situation, almost as desperate as the mayor who wielded the gun.

Not all terrorists are as easily placated as those in the episode, but we were seeing the images of people in the start of the process of becoming the hardened killers who strike around the world. These were glimpses of a Palestinian, a poppy farmer in Afghanistan or a Sunni…maybe a Shi'ite whose home lies in rubble.

Maybe the difference between the terrorist and victim is who is in authority. Maybe the way to defeat the terrorist is to strike at the causes of the process. Supply food, shelter and hope and the ranks of the terrorist community shrink.

"Jericho" image courtesy of Sidereel.com

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