Ignorance Does Not Protect Us

It seems that, judging by the recent comments of world leaders, we are simply going to need to get used to terrorist attacks by individuals and groups aligned with ISIS, Al Qaeda, or whoever else decides that attacking civilians with bombs, guns, automobiles, or shoulder-fired missiles is a wonderful idea. These attacks are obviously meant to inflict horrific damage and engender fear.

We are, however, faced with a pressing question: Are we better off if we don’t know how these individuals and groups justify their actions and why many support them?

Recent attacks have led to a concerted effort by major social media companies to block messages and delete the accounts of those who post the actions of terror groups and their supporters in order to prevent the celebration or incitement of violence. A recent report on Reuters notes “Twitter, Facebook Inc. and other internet firms have ramped up their efforts over the past two years to quickly remove violent propaganda that violates their terms of service.”

This active censorship is usually justified by a desire to deny terrorists a platform to propagandize and recruit. Moreover, there is a concern that troubling details and messages may lead some to some to discriminate against innocent individuals simply because of their race, religion, or nationality. If we eliminate the messages, so the thinking goes, we can eliminate many of these problems.

I disagree. In fact, I want to hear every word of the terrorists and their supporters—and I want everyone else to hear them too. Extremism and hatred flourish when they can live in the shadows, and no one can protect themselves when they are ignorant of the extent or the nature of any threat.

Back in 1742 the English poet Thomas Gray famously wrote “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise”, and too often in the recent past we have seemed to embrace this notion—much to our own peril. Our determined ignorance of the threats that face us—economic, political, environmental, educational, and medical—have perhaps been the defining characteristic of our modern age, and it is easy to see how we are now paying a terrible price for living in a fantasy world where we believe we are immune to the inevitable consequences of irresponsibility, cupidity, and stupidity.

I fear that our readiness to be shielded from the words of those who seek to murder us because we believe some good can spring from keeping ourselves in the dark about immediate dangers and future threats is yet another sad example of allowing ourselves to be treated like children by our leaders “for our own good”, and we are simply too willing to mindlessly comply so we will not be distracted from our favorite television show or a game of Pokémon Go.

We should instead demand to hear every word of the terrorists so that can—for once—make informed judgments about how to protect ourselves and our society from what may lie ahead.

Also published in The News-Gazette (news-gazette.com) July 24, 2016

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