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Orlando's Aftermath: A Look at the Risks of Our Way of Life

by on June 16, 2016 6:00 AM

Once again we as a nation find ourselves looking into the dark abyss of hatred and evil that caused an inexplicable loss of life. It’s a story replayed time and time again whether it’s politically motivated or for unknown reasons.

While law enforcement looks for answers, we focus on the perpetrators and their hatred of us. We can talk about carpet-bombing and ground wars and Muslim bans. But most of our mass-shootings have nothing to do with war.

Violence belongs to no one religion. It is found in the perverse minds of violent individuals, but violence resides in a part of all of us. The difference is in how we handle and react to our angriest urges.

Last Friday was the funeral of Muhammad Ali, a peaceful Muslim man admired by many people. The service included religious figures and celebrities from many faiths. Roughly 36 hours later a Muslim man walked into a nightclub and opened fire; same religion different outcome. But that is a sign of our times.

Our worldview is always painted in the hues of our most recent events. An army of lone-wolf radical Islamic terrorists is the specter that most haunts our fears — fears played up and exploited by divisive political figures for their own gain.

We have to understand this truth: we’re a nation ripe for this violence because of several factors. We have freedom, we have the internet and we have guns. This is not a lecture on guns. It is not a call to limit our freedom or access to information.

Personal liberty is a cornerstone of our nation’s foundations, but no good thing ever comes without a price. Freedom of movement, of thought, of access to information increases vulnerability in today’s world.

Freedom means soft targets, access to violent ideas and certain rights we believe we have upon which no one can infringe without just cause.

The risk in our way of life is a series of asymmetrical threats that can come from anywhere. It is a Muslim man born and living our country filled with hatred who can buy guns. But it can also be a Christian man who walks into a Charleston Church and opens fire.

To the issue of the war on terror, history shows that technology can drive wars and revolutions. The printing press increased a flow of information that fueled the Protestant Reformation. It allowed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The Federalist Papers to be widely read. The telegraph wire, the telephone, radio and television enabled vital information to be spread from the time of the Civil War through the age of the internet.

Perhaps no change has been as dramatic as the internet.

It created an information jungle that knows no borders. Even countries that wish to limit it, often struggle to contain its power to inform, or spread inaccurate information to incite violent anger. Hate-filled lectures originating in one lawless nation can radicalize someone half a world away. The internet allows ISIS to create a “virtual” nation and army with no borders.

There is no way to hold all of the world’s evils and hatred at bay. They cross borders and oceans with ease. Consequently, we as Americans face questions about what we are willing to change to become safer.

There are ways to lessen the threats but they require action and sacrifice. Do we harden targets? Do we allow the government greater surveillance of our citizens? Do we allow ourselves to detain people on suspicion of future terrorism? Do we tighten gun laws? Do we cocoon ourselves in an isolationist mindset?

Or we make another choice — to do nothing. As President Obama said “to do nothing is also a choice”. That doesn’t make it an invalid choice. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is the wrong choice but it is indeed a choice.

If we wish to remain in the status quo there’s a risk that we’ll continue to pay a price for our freedom.

In the past our military fought our wars. Today, while our military still wages war in other parts of the world our civilians at home have become targets. Our enemies or even our own citizens who hate our way of life will continue to spread violence through cowardly acts of terror.

In 2016 and beyond, any one of us could find ourselves in the wrong place and become “soldiers” under attack because we choose to live in an open society. The front lines are everywhere.

This is not to take a defeatist tone. Certainly our government will do all it can to insure our safety and will always look to improve. But a murderer or terrorist only has to be right once. Any one of us could find ourselves on the front lines of the assault on our society’s values of freedom, inclusiveness and unity.

The question that we must face as we look at ourselves is what price and risks are we all willing to pay to insure our way of life? Then as adults in a tough world we must stand for what we believe to be our best way forward.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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