Another response to Terrorism: "Good" vs. "Evil":
Let me know if you've seen this stuff, but I thought it so good it was worth forwarding.
By Salman Rushdie
Tuesday, October 2, 2001; Page A25
NEW YORK — In January 2000 I wrote in a newspaper column that "the defining struggle of the new age would be between Terrorism and Security," and fretted that to live by the security experts' worst-case scenarios might be to surrender too many of our liberties to the invisible shadow-warriors of the secret world. Democracy requires visibility, I argued, and in the struggle between security and freedom we must always err on the side of freedom. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, however, the worst-case scenario came true.
They broke our city. I'm among the newest of New Yorkers, but even people who have never set foot in Manhattan have felt its wounds deeply, because New York is the beating heart of the visible world, tough-talking, spirit-dazzling, Walt Whitman's "city of orgies, walks and joys," his "proud and passionate city — mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!" To this bright capital of the visible, the forces of invisibility have dealt a dreadful blow. No need to say how dreadful; we all saw it, are all changed by it. Now we must ensure that the wound is not mortal, that the world of what is seen triumphs over what is cloaked, what is perceptible only through the effects of its awful deeds.
In making free societies safe — safer — from terrorism, our civil liberties will inevitably be compromised. But in return for freedom's partial erosion, we have a right to expect that our cities, water, planes and children really will be better protected than they have been. The West's response to the Sept. 11 attacks will be judged in large measure by whether people begin to feel safe once again in their homes, their workplaces, their daily lives. This is the confidence we have lost, and must regain.
Next: the question of the counterattack. Yes, we must send our shadow-warriors against theirs, and hope that ours prevail. But this secret war alone cannot bring victory. We will also need a public, political and diplomatic offensive whose aim must be the early resolution of some of the world's thorniest problems: above all the battle between Israel and the Palestinian people for space, dignity, recognition and survival. Better judgment will be required on all sides in future. No more Sudanese aspirin factories to be bombed, please. And now that wise American heads appear to have understood that it would be wrong to bomb the impoverished, oppressed Afghan people in retaliation for their tyrannous masters' misdeeds, they might apply that wisdom, retrospectively, to what was done to the impoverished, oppressed people of Iraq. It's time to stop making enemies and start making friends.
To say this is in no way to join in the savaging of America by sections of the left that has been among the most unpleasant consequences of the terrorists' attacks on the United States. "The problem with Americans is . . . " — "What America needs to understand . . . " There has been a lot of sanctimonious moral relativism around lately, usually prefaced by such phrases as these. A country which has just suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in history, a country in a state of deep mourning and horrible grief, is being told, heartlessly, that it is to blame for its own citizens' deaths. ("Did we deserve this, sir?" a bewildered worker at "ground zero" asked a visiting British journalist recently. I find the grave courtesy of that "sir" quite astonishing.)
Let's be clear about why this bien-pensant anti-American onslaught is such appalling rubbish. Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions. Furthermore, terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate complaints by illegitimate means. The terrorist wraps himself in the world's grievances to cloak his true motives. Whatever the killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it.
The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. These are tyrants, not Muslims. (Islam is tough on suicides, who are doomed to repeat their deaths through all eternity. However, there needs to be a thorough examination, by Muslims everywhere, of why it is that the faith they love breeds so many violent mutant strains. If the West needs to understand its Unabombers and McVeighs, Islam needs to face up to its bin Ladens.) United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no-brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the above list — yes, even the short skirts and dancing — are worth dying for?
The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.
How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.
Salman Rushdie is a British novelist and essayist.
One person's response
I agree with Rushdie that the terrorists were 100 percent responsible for the bombing and that the U.S. did not deserve this. Innocent people don't deserve to die—whether in war or in peace. I think it is advisable that before we talk about what the U.S. could have done differently in the past, or (more recently) what the Bush administration could have done since coming into office, we should state clearly that the terrorists are indeed 100 percent responsible for the bombing. We should also point out how truly bad the Taliban is and that discussing previous mistakes and miscalculations by the U.S. is not an attempt to let the Taliban off the hook for it's many sins.
That being said, let me reiterate that there were a number of unwise decisions and miscalculations that the U.S. made in the past that helped create the environment in which this kind of evil emerged. Let me say again that the U.S. did not create this evil. I am saying that the U.S. unwittingly (and perhaps with some lack of concern) helped create the hatred and did not act in ways that would decrease that hatred. In other words, we have a certain amount of power to alter the environment/context/culture in which this kind of terrorism is born. The question is whether we are interested in using that power or whether we are only concerned with seeing only part of the picture (i.e. catching the evil people who did this).
I completely agree with Rushdie that the Islamic world must take a hard look at themselves and their cultures to understand why terrorism seems to emerge from it with greater frequency than other cultures.
The U.S. can lead from example. We can be strong enough to admit our mistakes. Democratic tolerance and egalitarianism go hand in hand with acknowledging when we have erred and when we need help to resolve a situation. We can act in ways that show genuine concern for other countries—not just after disasters but a concern for populations that are suffering due to their lack of resources or an effective government. We can show the world that we are not only concerned with our national interests exclusively but of the interests of the world community. This would require the Bush administration and many Americans to fundamentally change their world view.
And lastly, I am sick of the phrase, "We're not in the business of nation-building." My response is, "Judging from our history, I guess we HAVE been in that business." The challenge today, is to be open about our past meddling; open about our past "nation-building by default" (i.e. destabilizing the country); and engage in an effort to enlist the support of a struggling nation's friends to help that country form a more effective government that represents the people's needs and values. This should be done openly and with multilateral support. We must understand that some governments are made up of thugs and that the time for action must be chosen wisely.
Rob's reply to Rushdie
>> To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions. <<
Blaming US policies isn't excusing the atrocity. "Blaming," a sadly misunderstood word, means identifying cause and effect.
If criminals are 100% responsible for their actions, that denies that societal forces have any relevance to crime. If a starving person steals an apple, do we really want to say he's 100% responsible for his crime, act like a fundamentalist country, and chop off his hand? Because that's what this kind of absolutism leads to.
For anyone who says the terrorists are 100% responsible, I've got a simple question: What the hell are we doing bombing Taliban soldiers to death? They were zero percent responsible since the now-deceased individuals who piloted the planes into their targets were 100% responsible. So why are we killing people who have no responsibility for the attacks, according to this logic?
If you answer that the Taliban aided and abetted the terrorists, you're repudiating the claim that the people who pull the trigger are 100% responsible. If the Taliban aided the terrorists, the United States aided the Taliban. So apparently the people who pulled the trigger aren't 100% responsible. Apparently the Taliban and the US share some of the responsibility.
If you ask me, I'd say the terrorists are primarily responsible for their actions, just as criminals anywhere are primarily responsible for their actions. But 100% responsible? Nope, I won't go that far.
Here's an interesting thought experiment on the "whether the US deserved it" question. Let's take the innocent Americans, who clearly didn't deserve anything, out of the equation. Suppose the suicide terrorists destroyed the WTC when it was completely empty of people, and not a single person was injured. Could we say that was just retribution for past US policies?
If you think destroying billion-dollar buildings is overkill, what level of property damage would you consider just retribution? If the terrorists blew up a hot dog stand, could we say America had it coming then? Or are we so noble and righteous that we deserve no inconvenience whatsoever for our many transgressions?
Anyway, Rushdie's solutions to the attacks aren't much different from mine. Send in "shadow warriors" to capture or kill Bin Laden. A political and diplomatic offensive to resolve the world's thorniest problems—most created or facilitated by the US. And "it would be wrong to bomb the impoverished, oppressed Afghan people in retaliation for their tyrannous masters' misdeeds." I agree 100% with that.
Rushdie says he isn't joining the left's savaging of America. He isn't blaming US policies. But his analysis of the situation and his proposed solutions are almost identical to the left's. If it makes him feel good to think he's not part of the left, even though he denounces the bombing and proposes that America change its policies, so be it. Whatever helps him sleep at night.
>> a country in a state of deep mourning and horrible grief, is being told, heartlessly, that it is to blame for its own citizens' deaths. <<
Is Rushdie complaining about the timing or the content? Critics have told the US it's killed its own people many times: at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, in Vietnam and at Kent State, in innumerable assaults against union strikes and racial protests. Does Rushdie think we should never blame the US, or we should blame it only after it's done grieving? How long a grieving period does a nation need before we can start criticizing it again?
As for the comment about America's unwitting policies, I don't buy that at all. Countless critics around the world have told the US its policies are wrong. America isn't unintentionally globalizing the world's people, it's intentionally doing so.
Again, consider the point about 100% responsibility. Let's not make excuses for US behavior; let's put the blame where it belongs. Terrorists didn't force the US to exploit the planet's people and resources, the US chose to do so. It's 100% responsible for the hatred it's fomented around the globe.
>> Terrorism is the murder of the innocent <<
By that simpleminded definition, the US is guilty of multiple counts of terrorism: in Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and elsewhere. While two wrongs don't make a right, a prior wrong is often an explanation for a subsequent wrong. Similarly, when the police investigate a murder, they have to establish a motive before closing the crime. The motive is often a prior wrong, either real or perceived.
The prior wrong doesn't justify the crime, but it explains it. That's what motivation is: an explanation, not a justification. The analogy holds whether the crime is stealing an apple or killing 3,000 innocent people.
>> Whatever the killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it. <<
If Rushdie doesn't know the killers' motivation—as he apparently doesn't—the rest of his speculation is worthless. Maybe the terrorists wanted to punish us for short skirts and dancing, and maybe they wanted to punish us for Iraq and Israel. We'll get further by pursuing diplomacy, which means understanding the motives, than by playing guessing games.
>> We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. <<
Since Rushdie foolishly included "a more equitable distribution of the world's resources," his cause is doomed. Americans don't believe in redistributing resources because that would cut into their sybaritic indulgences. Oops. Looks like the terrorists will win this war after all.
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