There’s an old Italian saying: Temi Solo Dio that means “I fear only God”. Italians use that phrase on anyone trying to intimidate or bully them, and saying “I fear only God” lets whomever is doing the intimidating know that his or her efforts are a failure and that the intended victim isn’t afraid of them. It’s a low-key, classy way to say “You don’t scare me,” and puts troublemakers in their place.
So it was with some swelling pride of heritage that I saw a banner hoisted over India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy on September 11, 2001 in the hours following the attack on the WTC. I thought that those who lifted that banner did exactly the right thing. They, unlike so many millions of others at every level of society had the right perspective. We were hit, but not humbled. Attacked but not broken. Sure, we had been caught by surprise and lost thousands of people in a matter of hours. And it was a direct attack on United States; the first in generations. But unlike the doomsayers in the immediate aftermath—and for too long afterward—who pointed fingers at each other and swore that the US was crippled and might be destroyed by terrorism, at least a few people in a San Diego nieghborhood issued the right kind of message to any opponent who may have been looking for a response.
“You don’t scare me,” should have been the American response to 911. We should have realized that even as bad as the attack was life went on and the country we had on September 10 was still there. We should have been smart enough to realize that our freedom wasn’t the cause of the disaster, too.
Had we been smarter—or had we leaders fit to lead, we wouldn’t have been forced to weather the dismal assault on freedom that government has inflicted on us ever since.
Americans had to adapt to a new, less free way of being; imposed by a suddenly “security” minded government that thought it wise to grope old women and children before they boarded airline flights. We made it difficult for foreign born students to continue their education here, hoping to thwart terrorists, though the box-cutter brigade that led the raid on 911 were anything but geniuses enrolled in top schools. All we got from that move was a brain drain that impeded growth in the technology we’re addicted to. We made it harder to cross the border legally with goods—and cut the heart out of billions in US – Mexican trade which has added to the impoverishment of both nations and netted not one single “terrorist” in a decade. We hobbled financial transactions and banking and slowed the economy that ultimately fed the crash we suffer from now. And worst of all, we imposed a level of fear on our people that is now a kind of norm; one of knuckling under to unelected authority and even a willingness to spy on neighbors and associates that is completely at odds with American values and individualism. Privacy is out and the odious Patriot Act is in. Americans were led astray from their heritage after a single attack. Hardly the populace of land of the free—or home of the brave.
Obviously, it takes less to scare us than some of us thought.
That legacy of 911 needs to go. We need to cure ourselves of the ten year long addiction to fear that government has run on and the second class citizenship and way of life its imposed on the American people. We need to stop attacking ourselves and each other and giving credence to the degenerate warhawks who stand to gain power and make a killing off the fear industry.
September 11 began a fiasco that we’re still paying for and that is bankrupting us. We should have learned that the United States cannot function without freedoms we’ve traditionally enjoyed—the economy and nation isn’t built to be a police state and if we impose one, we’ll wreck what its taken two and half centuries to build. The last ten years ought to be a lesson to us all that security is not only a bad trade for freedom, it breaks the bank, impoverishes the people and cripples democracy to boot.
The politics of fear have debased politics since 911, too. From rambling nutcases ranting in public about Obama being some sort of muslim/terrorist/socialist/Kenyan spy—when he’s merely incompetent, weak and clueless—to the rise of the Tea Party; nothing brings out the tinfoil hat brigade like letting fear run free. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul all owe their unworthy rise to the wingnut fearmongers who gained ground after the WTC attack. In a less crazed decade, these candidates would be referred to the outpatient clinics where they belong.
We deserve better. And those of us not blinded by the hysteria, blaming, xenophobic grandstanding by vile politicians and odious media hacks who spun vast fortunes out of spinning fear must become a vanguard in the years—or decades—to come, working for an America that does not cower on its knees no matter what our enemies may do. The kind of fear nurtured in high places for the rest of us to swallow is beneath our dignity and if it takes a louder handful to shout down the panic stricken and the cynical speculators in chaos, then those voices ought to rise and be heard. The sane have had enough of terrorists—both foreign and domestic—and must push back against those willing to make us less than what our heritage and history taught us to be.
And that is why every American ought to learn those Italian words. Every American ought to know that fear is the deadly enemy of freedom and that acting from fear gives our enemies an unearned victory—from our own American hands. Temi Solo Dio offers a perspective that says we can fear God and the uncontrollable if we want to—the rest we can deal with on the terms we devise with our wits about us. We have faced many enemies before—Indian, German, Japanese, Fascist, Communist, Confederate—and we didn’t defeat them by fearfully going off half-cocked and selling American freedom short. We beat them with superior strength brought about by superior thinking. Those who champion fear need a quick lesson in Italian; maybe it will improve their American sensibility if they get it.