Dealing with Terrorism: What Social Workers Should and Can Do

By Tsui, Ming-sum; Cheung, Fernando C. H. | Social Work, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Dealing with Terrorism: What Social Workers Should and Can Do


Tsui, Ming-sum, Cheung, Fernando C. H., Social Work


On September 11, 2001, we saw on television with disbelief the World Trade Center towers crumbled before our eyes. The tragedy shocked us, but it cannot shake our beliefs. As members of an international profession--social work--which has gradually developed over the past century, we are trying to review our beliefs and to recover from our grief.

We now know that there is no safe haven in this world. The hatred between nations, ethnic, and religious groups and its ramifications suddenly hit home. No longer can we pretend to stay above these deep conflicts between humans. Instead of escaping from it, we need to look straight into the eyes of terrorism.

To us, terrorist attack is the last resort: a radical and extremely harmful act done by a marginal group usually with its own religious or political beliefs. Its aim is to achieve the maximum unpredictable damage with minimum resources, to create widespread fear, and to gain recognition. However, whenever groups perform terrorist acts, they are also destroying their own ideals, because their means supersedes their ends. In suicidal attacks, terrorists not only destroy their physical lives but also betray their spiritual ideals. The most powerful weapons of terrorism are its secrecy and unpredictability. The damage is tremendous because its effects have ramifications in various media.

The acts of terrorists, then, by their very nature, are acts of self-destruction. If we aim to destroy them with might, we can never win. Use of military force will only create future violence. It is simply another form of self-destruction. At the same time, to limit the civil rights and individual freedom of people to cope with terrorism jeopardizes our liberty. Reaction is an easy and simple response to action. However, reflection, although more difficult, may be a better coping strategy. Terrorism is an international problem. The solution should be international cooperation, not international confrontation.

We witnessed the great disaster brought about by terrorism. We need to identify our own weakness in dealing with it. The greatest harm inflicted by terrorism is not death itself but the fear of death and its indirect impact on limiting our individual freedom and human rights. A terrorist attack can only target several locations. However, our own ignorance and anger can multiply its harmful effects. The smartest terrorist strategy of all is to turn its enemy into a weapon of the terrorists. When we want to pursue peace by initiating a war, the result will be another war and more violence. We cannot kill more people to stop more people from being killed.

It would be terrible if we decide to surrender our human rights and those of others. It would be dangerous if we forget to respect the diversity of the world. If we continue to live in fear and anger, the terrorists will win the war without cost. Even the most powerful military force in the world is insufficient to ensure safety and world peace. …

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