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The new America

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted October 29, 2001

It's hard not to ask -- or at least momentarily ponder -- whether the terrorists are winning. Before you're tempted to ask me how I could even consider such a thought, look at just a smattering of what's been happening in our country. Did you hear about the Philadelphia man who recently ended up being denied permission to board a plane because of the book (yes, the book!) he was reading?

Hayduke Lives!According to a Philadelphia weekly newspaper, the man was reading Hayduke Lives! by Edward Abbey. The book's cover portrays an illustration of a man's hand holding a number of sticks of dynamite. As the Philadelphia paper described the book, it's about a radical environmentalist who destroys anything and everything he thinks is threatening the Southwest landscape.

Aspiring traveler Neil Godfrey told the Philadelphia City Paper that when an airport security guard frowned at his Hayduke Lives! book, "For the first time, it occurred to me the book may be a problem."

After Godfrey cleared the security, he did what most of us do at the airport when we have time on our hands and a book -- he sat down to read. However, Godfrey had only gotten in about 10 minutes of reading time when his day took a decidedly unexpected turn after a National Guardman approached him.

As Godfrey told the City Paper, "‘He told me to step aside ... Then he took my book and asked me why I was reading it.' Within minutes, Godfrey says, Philadelphia Police officers, Pennsylvania State Troopers and airport security officials joined the National Guardsman. About 10 to 12 people examined the novel for 45 minutes, scratching out notes the entire time. They also questioned Godfrey about the purpose of his trip to Phoenix."

A spokesman for the Philadelphia security company that United Airlines contracts with to man its checkpoints in Philadelphia told City Paper that the situation wasn't her company's responsibility and that airline personnel are the ones who ultimately decide who can and cannot board their flights. A spokesman for Philadelphia International Airport confirmed that, telling local media, "‘When a passenger passes through security, it is under the jurisdiction of the airline. We don't get involved,'" ... adding that stories like Godfrey's are likely to become increasingly common.

I don't have an update on Godfrey, but I hope that he (somehow and by whatever means ) eventually arrived at his destination.. Now while I pray that situations like his don't become "increasingly common," I fear that may end up being the case, because the fear monster has gotten out of its cage.

Let me explain. The front cover of a recent edition of a national news magazine was headlined "The Fear Factor," and read "Anthrax letters. FBI warnings. Bin Laden's videotapes. Bombarded by threats real and imagined, a nation on edge asks, ‘What's next?'"

That same news magazine succinctly summarized our country's current situation, writing "We come to realize that something sinister has been planted in our midst, not just the threat but also the fear of the threat."

From everything I've observed the last few weeks, it's the fear of the threat more than the threat itself that's beginning to increasingly dominate our lives and eat us up emotionally. First there was the never-to-forgotten horror of September 11th. For seemingly endless days after the tragic event, we stared at our television screens watching mind-numbing replay after replay of those planes crashing into the World Trade Center and thought "This can't be in America. Things like this just don't happen here." But it was, and they did, and we feared--that it would happen again.

Our nation's collective initial anguish was quickly partnered with anger followed by action. Airlines were grounded for a few days and then security was beefed up at the country's airports. We were all warned to be at the airport at least three hours ahead of our scheduled departure to go through vastly increased security checks. (The National Guard was even enlisted to show everyone that the government meant business). But for some of us who continued flying it was sometimes quicker than before getting through the metal detectors because while the security checks were more intensive the people weren't. Americans were staying away in droves from airports– paralyzed by what they thought might happen – the fear of the threat.

We should have been reassured by all this extra security, shouldn't we? But while all of these precautions were being put into place, and even after they were implemented, we still feared. We couldn't help it; no matter how much we tried. It was almost as if someone had opened up our brain and dropped in pure fear.

Many people making an attempt to return to a normal daily routine wondered if the plane they saw up in the sky would suddenly make an about turn and end up ploughing into a building close to them. They didn't always say anything but the fear was still there like a dark cloud–lurking ominously in the back of their heads. Then as if all of that wasn't enough, our children started having nightmares and some of the adults who had been living close to the mental edge before September 11th couldn't handle the increased pressure and they tumbled off into mental and emotional oblivion.

And then just as we saw the dim light of normalcy beginning to emerge at the end of what had initially seemed to be a tunnel without end, anthrax reared its ugly head. And with a nation still emotionally traumatized from the terrorizing events of September 11th, major media are reporting that the public is ready to think the worst; even if the facts don't necessarily back up their fears.

But is there cause for concern? How safe are we? A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control told WebMD, "Pretty darn safe -- so far." In addition, the CDC's acting deputy director told WebMD, "We are not experiencing a national outbreak of anthrax ... The cases are limited to specific exposures. Most people have nothing to be concerned about." WebMD pointed out , "There's no denying that the U.S. remains a target of terrorists. Also beyond doubt is that one of the most feared terror scenarios has come to pass -- the intentional unleashing of a deadly disease. Lost in the media furor over recent anthrax attacks is the fact that relatively few people actually have been exposed to the germ. And very few people have been infected."

However, the fear of the threat has taken center stage over the threat itself. For example. A recent news report featured a story about worried parents, who fearful that bioterrorists are planning to target their children, are deluging pediatricians with (among other things)requests for Cipro, the antibiotic used to treat anthrax. However, Dr. Steve Berman, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told media that while he understands parents' concerns, he isn't prescribing the drug "just in case" a child might contract the disease.

And not surprisingly, there's a good reason for Berman's caution. Berman told USA Today that Cipro should only be used by children if they're afflicted with life threatening conditions. He says that's because animal research suggests it can damage the growth of both joints and bones. Berman added that the overuse of antibiotics for "prevention" therapy or minor bugs can end up making youngsters more vulnerable to the serious bacteria that cause pneumonia and ear infections.

Unfortunately, it sounds like Berman is a lone voice spitting in the proverbial wind. In the same newspaper that featured the small article with the caution-advising quote from Berman was a full page advertisement from the Bayer Corporation; the makers of Cipro.

Headlined "Our Commitment to You," the Bayer advertisement read, "In response to the attacks on America and as part of the fight against bioterrorism, the people of Bayer are substantially increasing production of Cipro ... In the last few weeks we have shipped tens of millions of Cipro tablets, have tripled production and have committed to shipping 200 million tablets over the next three months ... We take seriously our responsibility to help protect and improve your welfare. We will face this latest challenge together ... and we will succeed."

While anthrax is obviously a serious problem, isn't an action like this by Bayer just helping to fuel the fires of fear that seem to be running rampant around our nation? And I have to question whether this desire by Bayer to "protect and improve (my) welfare" is quite as philanthropic as it sounds. According to one source, prescribing Cipro for three kids for 60 days runs up a tab of $1,800.

I'm not suggesting you pay no attention to the terrible events that have been plaguing our nation? Such an approach would be totally unrealistic and would not, I believe, be how you should react. But neither should you live your life worrying about all the bad things that could possibly happen to you today.

The over-zealous inspection of books at airports by fearful security personnel, the sharply stepped up production of antibiotics to satisfy the fears of parents over a possible epidemic that might never happen, and a lot of other over reactionary measures exemplify as Time Magazine put it , "The fear of the threat."

There may never again be another terrorist assault of the magnitude experienced on September 11th. Sadly, multiplied hundreds of thousands (and maybe millions) of Americans are now struggling daily through an interminable terrorist assault on their minds–from which they see no light at the end of the tunnel: they're fearing what might happen.

Unless we can help our fellow countrymen overcome this nightmare, regardless of what happens with Afghanistan, the terrorists will have won.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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