America was not targeted because it's a beacon of freedom in the world, despite President Bush's words to that effect. But the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, universally recognized symbols of American financial influence and military might, are seen by some as staging grounds for invasive and often oppressive practices carried out half a world away.
Our blindness to the destruction carried out in the name of freedom and opportunity has now brought that destruction home. The horrible thing we fail to remember by living in the greatest, richest, most powerful and most opportune country in the world is that power, riches, opportunity and greatness usually come at the expense of someone else.
The opportunity for riches is dependent upon preservation and utilization of poverty. Strength and influence are maintained by the imposition of weakness and vulnerability. That, unfortunately, is the way the world works.
This is neither an indictment of America nor an endorsement of our enemies. I'm as outraged as anyone else by the savage acts we all witnessed Sept. 11, but none of us should let patriotism or retaliatory fervor express itself in such a way as to bring about our own destruction. And I refuse to relinquish my right to dissent because my homeland has been attacked. Liberty sacrificed in the name of patriotism is despotism.
Yes, we must unite as a nation, and we have. But the action taken by our nation must reflect the ideals of our nation and not the brutality of our enemy. A solution to the crises we face will require more than our military muscle as well as an introspection of our nation's heart and mind.
We cannot engage ourselves in a total war against terrorism worldwide. Such a war can't be won -- not just because it would never end, but because it can't even be defined. "Terrorism" is an epithet used by those in power to deny the validity of tactics used by those who would take power
Today's terrorist is tomorrow's statesman, as we see in the examples of Israel's Menachem Begin, Palestine's Yassir Arafat, Mexico's Subcommander Marcos or Northern Ireland's Jerry Adams. To declare a war upon such an unspecified foe will inevitably lead us into a series of confrontations with states whose definitions vary from our own.
It's clear that those who attacked our nation are not interested in statesmanship, but there should be no doubt that the attack is reaction to the effects of American policy toward certain states, policies toward governments and often at the expense of civilian populations.
Osama bin Laden, identified as the prime suspect by our government, whose name has become a mantra for retaliatory resolve in our media, rose to prominence by using his tremendous wealth to help drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, something he had in common with America. His wealth was inherited, his father having founded the largest construction business in the Middle East, undoubtedly aided by the flow of American dollars to his native Saudi Arabia.
Bin Laden built his following by giving his wealth away to widows and children of the mujahedin and turned against America because of its unflagging support for the Saudi regime, an authoritarian monarchy installed by the British at the end of their colonial era which, by any standard, falls short of our own ideals of freedom and democracy.
America's myopic view of the region further extends to our unconditional support for Israel, which operates without a constitution, where participation in society is determined by religious laws and individual racial background. Palestinians, whose families have lived on lands for generations, routinely have their land confiscated and handed over to Jews. Palestinians have no civil rights in their own homeland and aren't even tried for crimes in the same courts as Jews but are subject to military courts, even for civilian offenses.
Now Israel's government engages in the assassination of Palestinian civilian leaders and activists in the name of fighting "terrorism."
America's continued blind faith in Israel will prove in the coming years to be an immense mistake. Within 20 years, as the demographics have shown, the slim majority of Jews over Palestinians in the country will be reversed, resulting in another case of racial minority rule, and America will find itself on the wrong side of history. Israel must face up to this eventuality and guarantee the liberty of all her peoples or she will guarantee her own end.
Of course we should work with our allies in the region and with those who share our values, but we must demand that they uphold those values and not base our relationships on religious ties or outdated sympathies from a half-century ago.
Unfortunately, the progress that had been made in the region through the peace process came to an abrupt halt when the Bush Administration settled on a course of non-engagement in the conflict. Furthermore, voices of multinational cooperation, such as Colin Powell, were stifled by others in the administration intent on unilateral action in foreign affairs and on U.S. rejection of a series of treaties negotiated with our allies over many years.
It should be clear to all Americans by now that we can no longer pretend to be isolated from the effects of economic, environmental and political upheavals overseas. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the current crisis will be the re-emergence of Powell and other multinationalists to build the coalitions necessary for America's future security. We can only hope that such a reassessment of policy won't come too late and won't be obscured by the clouds of impending war.
The paradox of American policy is that we have always treated terrorist acts as crimes and sought justice for them in courts. To define them as war lowers the evidentiary threshold and allows the subordination of justice to the rage of revenge. ©