At “Época” magazine´s special edition on the future of terrorism after Bin Laden´s death – issued on May 9th, 2011 and which I´ve just read a few days ago –, there is an interesting interview with Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who was sworn to death by the Islam after drawing a caricature of prophet Mohamed with a turban filled with bombs.
Two aspects drew my attention on the interview: the “panic room” he had in his home, which saved him from death, and the interviewee´s apparently unshakeable conviction that “We need to accept that there are people in this world who neither like nor accept our values”. Evidently he was referring to the Muslims, specifically the fanatical/extreme ones — since there are, of course, followers of Mohammed who are capable of hearing objections without resorting to violence. And as every idea usually suggests another idea, I immediately thought of the use of such a “panic room” as a means of defense against common crimes, which have been increasing nonstop lately.
I´m assuming everyone knows the concept of a “panic room”. These “domestic bunkers” have already shown up in some fictional movies and have surely arisen some curiosity. Wealthy people, worried about their own safety, have probably asked themselves: “Wouldn´t this be a good idea for my house or apartment? I don´t feel safe anywhere!”
But what is in essence a “panic room”? It is a place in the house - preferably with a bathroom, considering it is impossible to predict exactly how long someone will have to stay in there – in which the people who live in such a house shall remain refuged.
Bandits usually cannot penetrate homes which are protected by high walls, locks, fences and similar defenses. However, when they manage to overcome such obstacles and get inside the house – and before they are able to take over the house´s dwellers – where can one hide and call the police for help?
Such refuges represent strong protection to the residents – i.e., when there is enough time to run and lock the usually steel-made door. In order to knock over the door and break into the “room”, it would be necessary for the intruders to cause an explosion so strong that the whole house would probably be destroyed in the process, something that wouldn´t serve the purposes of the thieves – who usually try their best not to draw attention from neighbors or anyone else. Also, inside the “panic room” there are cell phones, landline phones, televisions, monitors connected to internal cameras which show what is going on in the other parts of the house as well as outside. Besides, food and beverages are also stored in there, to help ease an eventual long wait for help from the police. Finally, every comfort necessary to the residents must be found within the “human vault”, while at the same time, on the outside, the feeling of danger must increase to the invaders, who will fear whoever´s inside the “panic room” has already called the police. Obviously, the better the security and comfort of the “bunker”, the higher its cost.
Considering that in terms of Brazilian public safety it is more probable that things get worse instead of better — since government always have their hands tied so that they don´t seem “too tough” — it is foreseeable that firms specialized in installing “panic rooms” start spreading around, the same way that happened with the spread of the armored-cars, which are more and more used by people who are convinced of the inefficiency of the authorities when attempting to guarantee safety on the streets.
It is easy to notice the advancement of general crime. Not too long ago, in small towns in the countryside, people still left their front doors unlocked at night. But then everybody started having to lock doors and windows, day and night. Then, when locking proved to be not enough, rails were installed on windows and gates, finally turning cities into eccentric prisons in which their residents are almost like “recluses”.
Notwithstanding all this, security firms started answering to some market demands, installing alarms against intrusions in homes and companies in general. But that wasn´t enough. Cars began being stolen while the driver stopped at the traffic lights. What could be done to avoid the risk of being robbed every time we stopped at a red light?
And so there came the age of the armored-car, which started mainly because the biggest danger was not in the extraction of the vehicle itself – since the car is usually insured – but in the possibility of it being taken with people inside – especially if the people inside are women and children. After all, the fear of rape is always lurking, not to mention the fact that a simple robbery can easily turn into kidnapping, which can range from a “lightning” mode, which focuses mainly on withdrawals from ATMs, to a long-term mode, involving captivity and big ransom demands.
A good friend of mine, nowadays an elderly man, once told me – when I asked him about the subject – that he had been the victim of an attempted robbery in his very impressive car. He was in the backseat of the car and his driver was waiting for the red lights to turn green. The thief knocked on the driver´s window with his gun, asking him to open it. The driver kept his cool and said he wouldn´t open the window. The robber then said “Is this car armored?”, to which the driver replied affirmatively. The scoundrel simply walked away, without attempting anything else nor shooting his gun. What happened was that he probably noticed that the car was armored from the sound his gun made when hitting the window. He knew at that moment a bullet from his gun would never penetrate the armored glass – and even worse, any attempted shots might even ricochet and perhaps hurt the thief himself, considering that kind of glass is bulletproof. In the end the robber was probably an expert and had experience in the subject of “armored-cars”.
The next step now is an upgrade to the “panic room”, at least for people with a high purchasing power. Not that the middle class will not desire such “domestic bunkers” as well, but in this case the high cost and the smaller probability of them ever actually needing a “panic room” shall be impending and important factors.
In the interview I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the cartoonist says that because of the death sentence pronounced against him by the Islam, the Danish government installed a police post in front of his house in the suburbs of Aarhus, Denmark. In addition to that, he has two bodyguards who are always close every time he leaves his house. But even all that apparatus was not enough to prevent a terrorist from once invading his house in the exact moment the cartoonist had left his five-year-old granddaughter alone in the living room in order to go to the bathroom – which in turn became an “improvised panic room”. He had barely stepped inside the bathroom when he heard the noise of a broken window and immediately realized it was a killer ready to execute him. So, the cartoonist closed the steel-door right away, only to think of his granddaughter all alone in the living room, and got worried about her fate. He then remembered that the Danish security had told him that “terrorists only harm their intended targets”, which made him calmer and in the end proved to be true, since the terrorist even told the child not to be afraid. Frustrated and unable to enter the “panic room” – in that case the bathroom – the terrorist destroyed a computer, a television and some pictures which were hanging on the living room. When he finally quit and left the house, the police was waiting for him, shooting him in his hands and knees, probably so that they could interrogate the man lately – he was more useful alive than dead.
From the interview we can see that Kurt Westergaard is a brave man. An artist with a strong spirit/character. So much so that, according to himself, he considered fighting the terrorist with an axe and a knife, and the only thing that stopped him was the thought of his granddaughter witnessing a blood bath. Besides, as a 75-year-old man it would probably be suicide to face an opponent such as the terrorist, who was young and very determined to kill him, even if that meant his own death in the process – we can´t forget that many of these terrorist missions are suicidal.
The only objection I can make to the tenacious cartoonist – who was willing to never concede his convictions in the name of the freedom of expression/criticism — is that he doesn´t have a complete understanding of the power of a religious and biased education, impregnated with fanaticism, which is thrust upon the Muslim children from an early age by some Islamic governments.
If there was a device similar to those we use to measure blood pressure which we could use to measure the level of sincere, even if fanatical, conviction of a person, make no mistake, dear reader, that such a device would reveal that the young terrorist willing to kill the cartoonist was convinced he was morally right. He wasn´t doing that for money, sex or any other earthly interest; no, he believed he was following the desire of his god, according to what was written in a book that is as holy to him as the Bible is to Christians: the Coram. He was a deeply religious man – and the proof of that is how he left the Danish man´s granddaughter unharmed.
Westergaard, who in the interview admits to being an Atheist and was opposed to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, in no moment shows any optimism regarding any change of mentality in the Muslim world and its renowned intolerance. Judging by what he expressed in the interview he doesn´t believe such intolerance — in a world with more than a billion Muslims — shall disappear. In this matter he seems to me to be completely wrong; the intolerance can and will disappear if the Western world acts in the right way.
Fanaticism and intolerance are psychological phenomena stimulated by a group of very influential people in the geographical spaces they occupy and dominate. Very few religions have escaped the grasp of induced fanaticism. Even Christianity itself has been through something similar when it used to burn heretics and alleged witches in a bonfire. But as the governments are transferred, via elections, to the hands of laymen/secular men – who have a smaller control of thought —, communication among people, the exchange of ideas and the spread of scientific information start to strengthen a spirit which is critical, comparative and inquisitive, and that undermines the continuance of ideas that are intolerant and usually wrong. It´s been said that the Jesuits were convinced that if they were able to doctrinate a child from an early age, keeping her under their guidance up to the age of seven or eight, that child would be a Christian for the rest of her life. That´s what happens in the Islamic countries, which explains the temerity of having so many young people willing to surround their bodies with explosive devices and sacrifice themselves for a cause that most of them consider just and even divine.
What the Western powers need to do — and have already been doing, even if in a slow pace— is to adopt some policy which facilitates the access of the Muslim populations to cell phones, tablets and other similar forms of social communication, something that has been considered the main cause of the “Arab Spring”. If this is done for at least an entire generation, the predominance of fanaticism shall disappear. If Westergaard takes care of his health and is alive at 95 years old, he will certainly realize that the mere passing of the years combined with an easier access to information technology and communication will weaken fanaticism because every people, even the Arab ones, have a very similar human nature.
It is not through arrogance, threats, murders and occupations that the intolerant slice of current Islam shall be annulled. Young terrorists are a kind of victim of their religious preceptors, who molded their spirits to a blind obedience to behaviors which are absurd nowadays. Let us remember, as an example, of the stoning to death of adulterous women, something that was considered a just and correct punishment in the Old Testament and was obeyed by Jewish people. Let us remember Jesus´ famous quotation/saying: “He who has no sin shall throw the first stone...”.
With the Diaspora, Jewish people all over the world suffered persecutions and humiliations. However, having to adapt to new and harsh realities, new languages and customs, this involuntary “shower” of comparisons ended up improving their world view, giving them an intellectual advantage that they would never have should they have remained in the Palestinian territory caring for goats and olive trees.
The right solution to the “clash of civilizations” lies in the spread of information, in the separation between religion and government and in the immediate and prompt correction of some flagrant injustices committed against the Palestinians. The disappearance of religion-based terrorism will not happen through threats and truculence. People, groups of people and even entire nations feel for the Palestinians and the final result of the process shall be a generalized conflict in the Middle East, involving Israel which, afterwards, may expand, diminish or even disappear.
The big and unmentioned “problem” is that if a more intelligent and tolerant policy regarding the Muslim mentality is adopted by the Western world, the decrease in the number of new armed conflicts will bring great losses to the weapons industry, an industry which subsists and prospers on fear and suspicion. The more peace there is in the world, the greater the risk of bankruptcies in the weapons industry, which may lead to increases in unemployment and decreases in the collection of taxes. And is there any head of state nowadays in a developed country who wants more problems in his/her own economy?
The planet has been morally sick for centuries and hasn´t realized it yet. Or else some people have realized it, but the remedy is too bitter for their tastes.
(February 3rd, 2013)