Twenty-first century combattants don’t wear discernable uniforms of individual countries. They don’t fight from trenches in open fields or attack with tanks and weaponized aircraft and armadas.
They’re old, young, men, women, white, black, Latino, Indian, Russian, American, Austraiian, Asian, European, African, Christian, Muslum, Jewish, Buddhist. They want you to think like them and to subjugate yourselves to their twisted beliefs and cultures. There are no rules of engagement anymore. It’s a vulnerable time for those who embrace freedom.
The root of this modern war is different. Unlike wars of the past, the goal is not to conquer vast lands, topple governments, or put in place one economic model over another. The war we currently fight is one of disruption. It is a fight for hearts and minds. It is fought by people whose sole purpose is to spread fear, interrupt social norms, and create instability. They want to incite hatred and rage, turning societies, clans, villages, and individuals against each other, turning open, tolerant, welcoming societies against the outsiders. They crave fear and want to drag innocents away from the values that make them a civilized people and into the chaos of hatred, prejudice, bigotry, and xenophobia. This is a war to change the way you live and, more importantly, the way you think.
Yes, the enemy is ISIS. And it is the Talaban and al Qaeda, al Shabaab, and Hezbollah. But it also is the Westboro Baptist Church, disaffected white men committing mass murder in schools and shopping malls, the KKK, Boko Haram, Neo-Nazis, Skinheads, street gangs, politicians who want to build walls, governments who want to seal borders, religious leaders who decry other faiths, your neighbor who makes off-putting jokes about eliminating a black president, and your uncle who believes we ought to bomb them all and let God sort ‘em out.
Look, I’m no pushover. Punch me and I’ll crack back…and then some. And I’ll protect my family if it costs me my life. But as a general rule, I choose to give people the benefit of the doubt, because 99.99 percent of the time they’re fully deserving. There are the .01 percenters we have to guard against, and their ability to blend into our everyday lives makes this a very difficult endeavor. But I refuse to allow sub-human terrorists and war mongers to change the way I live, the way I interact with others, and the way I think.
The rules of engagement are different now. There are no easy answers or flawless strategies. There is no singular common enemy that can be decisively destroyed to restore a balance of peace and harmony. The enemy is among us, and sometimes it is us.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. But there are those who only want freedom on their terms. Every time you give into fear, hatred and prejudice, the enemy inches closer to their goal of transforming the way you live and think. It’s easy to pick sides in any conflict, but what happens when zealots on multiples sides are using eerily similar tactics?
I wish I had a full-proof solution, but if the war is one of hearts and minds it seems that the answer must lie somewhere within them.
November 16, 2015