Loosely translated, this is a Spanish word meaning “sucker.” A fashionably dressed man waves a big red cape, pissing off a 1200 pound bull at the other end of the arena. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the bull charges. That’s the plan. And when it does and subsequently blows by the matador and through the red cape into nothing but daylight, everyone shouts “ole.” The bull falls for it every time, and at the subsequent bar-b-q, it’s the matador who is smiling in between bites of sirloin.
Lebanon. Paris. Mali. Like almost everyone in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a reluctant junkie for the news, caught up in the 24 x 7 multiscreen frenzy of tracking every evolving second. I power-clicked from remote to iPad to smartphone, lured by the false hope that with enough information, my rage, fear, sorrow and disbelief would somehow dissipate. That tactic ultimately proved more flawed than treating an insomniac with crystal meth.
Accentuate the horror, brand every segment some derivative of TERROR IN PARIS, parade pundits, fuel fears, fan the flames of that 24 x 7 news cycle. Mainstream media is as predictable in its coverage of the carnage as the atrocities were horrific. And the attackers revel in it. The rising tide of sensationalism lifts all lunatics. We’ve awarded them celebrity status and a perverse sense of legitimacy. They couldn’t produce and place more effective propaganda if they tried, and they reap the rewards without spending a Syrian pound on advertising.
If we can’t harness the blather, let’s at least set the media stage differently and refer to their actions more accurately. Scrap “terrorism” and “terrorist.” Those banners empower them and set visions of virgins dancing in the heads of potential misguided recruits. Frame these atrocities instead as acts of cowardice. If we are going to splatter images of their violence on our screens, let’s parse them through that filter. From world leaders to every local news anchor, refer to the attackers as cowards and highlight the fact that there is no courage or honor in leaping out of the shadows brandishing weapons and killing unarmed and unsuspecting women, students, children and men. While we are at it, let’s underscore the fact that no scripture sanctions such spineless brutality.
Along the same lines, stop labelling the leaders of the aforementioned cowards as “masterminds.” We may as well just cut to the chase and offer them an achievement award during primetime. “Mastermind” elevates the status of the planner to some noteworthy intellectual plane. One network pundit, while placing an online order for a white flag, went so far as to add (with a bizarre sense of admiration) that “the sophistication of these terrorist attacks were <sic> staggering.”
On the contrary, the lack of sophistication stands out as one of the most frightening elements of these particular nightmares. While planning and executing the Paris attacks may have required staggering degrees of sadism, they required little more than a double digit IQ: 1: acquire lethal weapons (level of difficulty – beginner). 2: Recruit sadistic zealots and give them lethal weapons (level of difficulty – intermediate). 3: Select public places in Paris where large numbers of unarmed people gather (no level of difficulty). 4: Assign armed zealots an address, pick a day, and agree on a time to start shooting. There is no mastery in that equation.
And now, predictably, we storm from blather to bluster. Outraged by the senseless violence, murders, hatred, and religious fanaticism, we naturally respond decisively with violence, hatred, and condemnation of all things Islam. Bomb the crap out of the Middle East. Succumb to the incendiary rhetoric of presidential hopefuls and tea party pundits who espouse slamming the doors on oppressed Syrian refugees. Decry all things Islamic. Restrict civil liberties for our own protection. We will teach those bastards that violence and extremism have no place in a civilized world.
We draw this strategy from Sun Tzu’s lesser known work, The Art of Defeat, and its guiding principles of “lead with your jaw,” and “take the bait.” The only lesson we teach with our bluster is that we are predictable. They plan for and hope for primetime retaliation in as many forms as the world can dish out. Conflict and polarization strengthen them, magnify their significance, and swell their ranks. They publically and loudly twist their cowardly murders into a rallying cry and sound alarms that all of Islam is at risk. They preach and then point with great zealotry at the infidel bulls bearing down on all Muslims.
When we compromise our values, we concede defeat. When we shut the doors on the oppressed, we become complicit in the oppression and diminish our humanity. As soon as we demonize an entire religion, we have joined the ranks of fanatics and bigots. When we charge, these cowards aren’t dropping the cape and running, dismayed that the bull is pissed. They’re waving the cape with gusto and shouting “ole.”
More Cowardly thoughts at Cowards Revisited