For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
On a recent visit to San Jose State University I picked up a brochure for what promises to be a complicated and disturbing art installation set to open in San Jose this week. The X-RAY Project is a collection of x-ray and MRI images gathered from hospitals in Jerusalem and arranged for display by an artist named Dianne Covert. The diagnostic images are of the injuries sustained by victims of terrorism, and they show with clinical sterility what pain and suffering is endured when terrorists strike.
According to The X-RAY Project’s website, the traveling exhibit’s aim is to “explore the most important social issue of our time: the effects of terrorism on a civilian population.” The project was born of the artist’s desire to push back against those who might condone terrorism.
On the one hand, it always is good to honor the victims of violence by remembering their suffering and naming the evil by which they were harmed, and, if the actual installation turns out to be as powerful as the online rendering of the exhibit’s images, The X-RAY Project certainly does this. On the other hand, I fear The X-RAY Project will remember the victims of terrorism in a way that does more to stoke American hysteria than to honor the memory of the victims.
When it comes to terrorism, the American people are perilously close to a meltdown of rationality. Presidential candidates are speaking of the terrorist menace with increasingly apocalyptic language. Pundits and politicians are in a panic. And a growing number of Americans appear to agree with The X-RAY Project’s assertion that terrorism is “the most important social issue of our time.”
Which, of course, it is not. Terrorism is bad enough to be sure, but as social issues go, terrorism doesn’t hold a candle to HIV/AIDS or malaria or genocide or the grinding poverty that wilts the human spirit in large swaths of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The violence afflicted upon women and the neglect shown to children, the cruelty of military dictatorships and the callous concupiscence of multinational corporations all pose a greater threat to the human family than does terrorism.
When fear becomes unhinged from the doorpost of reality it has the capability of causing great harm. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, it seems likely that many visitors to The X-RAY Project will be burdened with harmful fear. The exhibit makes no pretence of balance. The disturbing images all come as a result of Palestinian terrorism. Absent are any images culled from Palestinian hospitals in the wake of Israeli aggression. The power of the exhibit almost certainly will move some visitors to fear all Palestinians, to hate Arabs in every land, and to dread Islam. Such fear, which already courses through the American body politic, impedes the cause of peace in the Holy Land and stands as an offense to common decency.
In a bygone era, when the United States was enduring the dual threats of Imperial Japan and the Third Reich, the members of what we now call America’s greatest generation believed the words of a president who said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It was understood that a people living in fear already is defeated; a people acting on fear never will be victorious.
I will stop by The X-RAY Project exhibit sometime in the coming week, and when I do, I hope I’m wrong about the installation’s capacity to foster irrational and harmful fear. I expect to reverence the memory those who have been harmed by the crime of terrorism, but I will not be afraid.