Ray, 12-12-2015

My Word: On ISIS: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’

robert ray(Orlando Sentinel, December 12, 2015)

By Robert Ray

FDR is right about ISIS: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

I’ve watched with deepening concern the responses to the ISIS-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, Calif. The rhetoric is truly alarming.

By profession, I’m a risk-management consultant. I identify risks. Then I analyze them. Then I double-check to ensure that other risks aren’t lurking in the shadows. Then I look for the most effective ways to manage all the risks involved.

The preceding exercise must be undertaken in an emotionally detached, analytical manner. It must be as fact-based and objective as possible. Hearsay, rumor, feelings — these aren’t a solid basis for risk management.

Since terrorists brought down New York’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, fewer than 50 people have been killed on U.S. soil by jihadist-motivated terrorists. During that same period, more than half a million people have died on our nation’s roads.

Yet we get into our cars with scarcely a thought of danger. Why the difference — when both types of risk have to do with the loss of human life? The explanation: Fear.

Fear goes far beyond mere thoughts; it affects actions. Because of fear we cancel vacations, we withdraw investments, we hunker down and we propose solutions that violate our nation’s most cherished values. Fear creates a chain reaction that’s far-reaching.

Car crashes are deadly-but-daily events, whereas jihadist-motivated acts of terrorism are a relative rarity in the United States. Remember, we call it terrorism because of its ability to evoke terror. It’s the inordinate fear that makes the difference.

In his first inaugural address (1933), with our nation at perhaps the lowest point of the worst economic crisis in its history, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt intoned in his inimitable style: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt grasped a crucial reality of which we risk losing sight. Certainly, it’s hyperbole to say that fear itself is the only thing we have to fear as we confront terrorism both at home and abroad.

ISIS is a real and lethal threat that, unchecked, will grow. Guaranteed. So we must work unflaggingly to combat it. But in the process, we must address all risk factors. And at a practical level, fear is the most significant risk we face.

From a risk-management perspective, fear is far more likely to lead to our undoing than the actual bullets and bombs of terrorists.

Robert Ray, a risk-management consultant, is a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.