Can't you see this is the land of confusion?
Less than two weeks 'til my 31st birthday, but I don't feel much like celebrating at the moment. Well, one gift I bought myself and my friend Barbara (whose birthday is just a few days after mine) seems more important and timely and urgent than ever: tickets to the "Come Together" concert for peace at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, for this Thursday night. Unfortunately, it's been postponed due to the shock waves still running through the City. :\
I was in New York Tuesday morning, as I am briefly every weekday morning and evening. I take buses to and from work, and the most convenient way to get to where I work from where I live requires that I ride to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and get on a different bus back to Jersey. Tuesday, because I was running a little bit late, and there was a water main break along the route my second bus follows, I was still at the terminal fifteen minutes before the first plane hit. Granted, I was quite aways uptown from the World Trade Center, but it's a sobering thought nonetheless.
Friday morning, as my bus drove along the Jersey side of the Hudson towards the Lincoln Tunnel and we got a view of the Manhattan skyline through the heavy rain, I was disheartened to see the smoke still rising from the ruins of the WTC. That night, thanks to the President's visit to New York, I had to get off a bus that was stuck in monstrous traffic and walk a few blocks to the bus terminal; in doing so, I passed in front of a fire station, and was moved to stop before a shrine that was growing outside. It was a somber moment, as I saw photos of firefighters lost in this tragedy.
Many people are only feeling now the dread and the horror and the shame that I felt on Tuesday morning when I realized that it was true, that an airplane (and then a second one) had actually hit the World Trade Center. I guess they needed to see the footage, and hear the numbers, to realize just how vast was the hurt to humanity. But too many people are turning to thoughts of vengeance and retaliation in their quest to assimilate and live with the shock and the pain. Look at Israel and the Palestinians and tell me that a quick response and taking some of 'their' innocents in exchange for 'our' innocents makes anyone feel better, or improves the general situation. And the terror groups operating in that area are small potatoes compared with al Qaeda, if it is in fact Osama bin Laden's organization that is behind this attack.
What if it's not bin Laden? What if his denials of responsibility are true? How petty and savage and stupid would America look if we killed him, destroyed half of already-ravaged Afghanistan in the process, and then got hit with more attacks from the real culprit? I'm not saying he didn't do it; I'm not even saying he's not a barbaric, heartless terrorist, because he is, and he's certainly guilty of other crimes, if not this one. But even Europol is questioning just how certain we can be that bin Laden is behind this attack, and we need to be damned certain before we strike. The world is mostly united behind the U.S. right now, but we would quickly lose much of that support if we bombed indiscriminately and without some sort of proof. It's too easy to pick a scapegoat, and the rest of the world isn't interested in our getting revenge, but in nipping this large-scale terrorism in the bud.
There are other issues at stake here, too. The Taliban has made clear that it will strike back, against the United States and any of Afghanistan's neighbors who help, without going into specifics. They have also asked other Muslims to consider an attack upon Afghanistan as an act of war against Muslims. The moderate and sensible Arab and Muslim nations are not going to be goaded by this, but there are nations that aren't quite so rational, and there are plenty of individuals who aren't, either. We could unleash a full jihad much worse than anything we've seen in Israel and the Middle East, or Afghanistan.
Pakistan, as the next-door neighbor and one-time ally of the Taliban, is the obvious intended recipient for their threats. Pakistan is a nuclear nation, along with nearby India. And Pakistan is home itself to a number of radical Muslim organizations. Do we dare risk either warheads being fired or reactors melting down?
The U.S. should also have been taking notes from the Russians and Israelis. Both are engaged in long-term 'wars' against radicals; both have far superior firepower and manpower; and yet both are no closer to ending the violence and restoring security and stability than they were a year ago. The Bush adminisration and the military do realize that combating terrorism is different from fighting any war we've ever fought before, but I'm not sure they realize just how difficult it may be, and how many more innocents and troops will die in the process.
The other issue people aren't thinking about is why this happened. Why do some Muslims/Arabs hate the United States so much? It didn't happen overnight, and it's not random. The fact is that our government has played so many games with other nations and peoples over the past century that we've managed to earn the ire, the scorn, and even the hatred of many. We created bin Laden, by arming Afghani and Pakistani militants against the Soviet invasion in 1979. When the Soviets finally pulled out, defeated, our aid and interest ended as well, and Afghanistan was plunged into a civil war, from which the radical fundamentalist Taliban emerged mostly a winner. We created Saddam Hussein, by arming him against Iran, and their ten-year war hurt both countries very badly. In the process, though, Saddam built up quite an arsenal, and ended up putting it to use against Kuwait and Israel. And the list goes on and on... America's policies of putting its fingers in everyone's pies were bound to antagonize others; those others have finally reached a point where they can hit us and hurt us. This doesn't justify their horrific acts, but it should force the current and future administrations to reconsider how we deal with the rest of the world. We might kill bin Laden (or whomever turns out to be the mastermind) and many of his agents, but the only way to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again is to deal fairly with all moderate and rational peoples and governments. World history (and early American history in particular) shows us that small groups of militants with strong convictions can sometimes beat back or even topple governments and empires. We dare not chance losing our society or our civilization to a fundamentalist regime along the lines of the Taliban. Read this interview with another Saudi dissident if you want to understand a little bit of radical Arab thinking.
Speaking of fundamentalist regimes, any American looking for someone on whom to take out his anger and frustration should target not Arab-Americans or Muslims but rather Jerry Falwell, who apparently feels that the root cause of this evil is not the overbearing and heavy-handed way we've dealt with other nations and peoples but the 'liberal' and open-minded way we run our own country. "Pagans, abortionists, feminists, homosexuals," and others are to blame for America losing God's 'protection.' And Pat Robertson also feels that America has 'insulted God.' Nothing like promoting unity, ye 'men of faith.'
I consider myself a pacifist, but I realize that there are times when the only defense is offense. The terrorists fired the first shots in this 'war,' and it is vital to us and to the rest of the civilized world that we prevent this kind of disaster from ever happening again. That probably means that people will be killed. But we owe it to our pride, to the world, to humanity, to make sure that we hit the right targets and keep the loss of innocent lives to the barest minimum. If we lash out in anger and attack based on our heightened emotions (and this goes for the unfortunate anti-Arab and anti-Muslim wave of intolerance that is cropping up within the U.S. these past few days, too, spurred by rumors, some true but most false, that Arabs and Muslims here have been celebrating the attacks), then we reduce ourselves to the level of terrorists. If we want to consider ourselves morally superior to the unfeeling people who did this to us, then we have to swallow our pain, act justly and sanely, and avoid killing innocents ourselves. Otherwise, there is no difference between us and them.
"An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind." - Mohandas Gandhi