Editorial: Fear should not disrupt daily lives and liberties

Whether it’s Sept. 11, anthrax or Iraq, Americans have had good reason to be afraid this past year. Now, we are facing yet another lesson in terror in the form of a sniper roaming the Maryland-Northern Virginia area.

It is expected that this would cause some amount of fear. After all, about a dozen people have been killed in what appears to be a series of random attacks, allowing no one to be certain when the next bullet will be fired. Even at far-away Villanova, this fear exists for friends and family in the area.

The problem we as a nation now face is how to address this fear. Unfortunately, our response has been one similar to that of Sept. 11 – panic. We have allowed our fear to destroy our rationality, and as a result the American ideals we subscribe to – justice, freedom and democracy – face harsh consequences.

Since Sept. 11, the CIA has been granted increased authority to spy on phone conversations and airlines continue to paw through personal belongings to stop terror. The Bill of Rights suffered a serious hit, but citizens have welcomed this malady in order to obtain security. For example, a poll conducted by the Virginia-based First Amendment Center found that 49 percent of Americans feel the amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, among other rights, goes too far and that the press has been too aggressive in asking about details in the war on terrorism.

Now, with the Beltway sniper instilling fear in people, history is repeating itself. A populace has been transformed from a rational group of citizens into people who are scared to go about daily activities such as shopping and pumping gas. Ten public schools in the Richmond area were closed Tuesday, and districts shut down Monday following the latest attack, leaving about 150,000 students at home instead of receiving an education. Other school activities have been cancelled, leaving students without memories of fall football games and homecomings.

And, just as was the case in September of last year, our rights are beginning to erode. Police set up traffic checkpoints and stopped anyone driving a white van, ordered them out of the vehicle and unlawfully conducted a search. Although a system was set up to register citizens’ white vans, the message police are sending is that if you are driving a van, you are a suspect. People whose only means of transportation are such vans will be unable to travel for fear of being searched and possibly even arrested.

While it’s rational to have a sense of fear, we must make an effort to channel it in a positive way. Instead of causing a frenzy by illegally raiding vans on highways, authorities should focus their energies on just ways to track the killer – detailed examinations of military records, tracking the call the sniper allegedly made to police and so on.

Instead of putting our lives on hold while we wait for the police to catch the killer, we should atempt to live our lives as normally as possible. We may have to live in fear, as the government says, but we must not live in irrationality.