Editorial: The meaning of helplessness and terrorism

We’ve spent more than 15 years trying to define what terrorism means in this country. The word terrorism has been politicized and racialized beyond the point of usefulness as we attempt to respond to tragedies. Perhaps before we rush to catalogue this most recent horror, we can spend some time reflecting on the helplessness that we all feel as a society in these moments.

Whether it’s staring down the barrel of a gun, in the thrust of a storm or at the hands of the police, moments like these reflect the fragile nature of humanity and our limits as individuals. I don’t wish this sort of helplessness on anyone living in America.

We place our faith in our democracy with the expectation that our legislators and executives will act to defend the interests of the public and protect the weakest among us. Yet, when confronted by life or death moments that demand action, these leaders fail to create progress.

It can be disappointing when our elected leaders, the people who have the power to enact change in all of these situations, often fail to take action, let alone help solve these problems.

Terrorism becomes successful when members of a civil society live in constant fear of violence without recourse. The people in the crowds outside of Mandalay Bay were thrown into a life or death situation in which they had essentially no means to defend themselves. Regardless of the shooter’s motivations, the act instilled the sort of mass fear that has become ubiquitous with terror since the 9/11 attacks. Regardless of the shooter’s motivations, he was able to legally obtain the weapons that put all of those lives at risk and perpetuated America’s fear of mass shootings.

While it may seem difficult to compare the violence we saw in Las Vegas to the sweeping damage of a hurricane, the loss of life is no less significant. There are still many people who have been left without the means to survive in Puerto Rico. Helplessness is still there, as people struggle to consider why they have been left so vulnerable by the government that claims the island.

This helplessness is what NFL players are protesting as they take a knee during the anthem. Their silent protest reflects the lack of voice that minorities feel as they protest police violence. They are protesting a country that has left them vulnerable to violence in their own communities without legal recourse.

In these moments where we recognize our common humanity and call for courage in the face of helplessness, we must also consider how our government is complicit in this violence. To those who would criticize “a growing culture of victimhood,” within the United States, consider how people become victims, and examine where those feelings of helplessness originate. Perhaps then we can work towards preventing this violence in the future and restoring public faith in our government.

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