Monday, June 12, 2006

Written in Nov. 2001:

It has become almost passé to compare 9/11 with Pearl Harbor. While we have suffered a 2nd day of infamy, the comparison is grossly insufficient. The worst terrorist attack in history had perhaps triple the number of deaths at Pearl Harbor and twice the fatalities of Antietam, the previous bloodiest day in history, 139 years ago. There has not been a foreign attack on the US mainland in 189 years. That Pearl Harbor was a military target and was struck after long-running negotiations between Japan and the US had broken off only adds to the barbarity of the civilian massacre we have witnessed.

How shall we respond? There are 4 options in the short and medium term. There are many, especially on college campuses, who desire a path of pacifism and nonviolence oriented toward changing the perception of America in the Arab world by changing our behaviors, perhaps by withdrawing support of Israel, lifting the controls on Iraq, or giving more foreign aid. The second is to conduct limited strikes against the perpetrators and their abettors, perhaps with cruise missiles, a few “smart bombs”, and special forces. The third is to take the fight to our enemies by massive retaliation to break their networks, sympathizers, and supporters in addition to destroying the specific perpetrators. The fourth is to obliterate Afghanistan and any other opponents; some have even suggested nuclear weapons.

A quick survey of this unpalatable menu shows that there is only real choice. We tried doing nothing – after the USS Cole and Khobar Towers. We tried doing a little bit – after the embassy bombings and the 1st World Trade Center bombing. The result was Black Tuesday. Further attempts at nothing or “proportionate response” would be stupid and dangerous: our enemies are hard at work developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and would have no qualms of employing these in the service of sadism. Edmund Burke said, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Appeasement doesn’t work: it didn’t work in 1938, and it won’t work with enemies whose sworn missions are the destruction not just of Israel but of America and its way of life. The fourth option, annihilation, is both immoral and counterproductive. So we are left with carrying out a long, bloody, and messy fight. We must understand this and steel ourselves for the consequences.

The comparison with Pearl Harbor is valid in that the danger we face is as surprisingly mortal a threat as the forces of Hitler and Japan. Our circumstances require the same ferocity and resources as did World War II. We must be prepared to accept significant casualties of our own soldiers and of civilians; while both should be minimized, let us recognize that the alternative is not peace but endless terror and unimaginable death and destruction in our own country.

In addition to destroying terrorist groups and crippling their abetting regimes, we must also summon the same stamina of the Cold War to win on the battlefield of ideals in the long term. On America’s part, this will require breaking the ideology of radical Islamic fundamentalism, healing festering wounds in the Middle East through just and effective interventions, developing a Marshall Plan of economic and political change for broken and failed states in the region (after the ideologies & institutions of fundamentalism and terrorism have been broken), and safeguarding the liberties of our society. All of these require cooperation with the Muslim community. The isolated instances of xenophobic violence are contemptible and fortunately are being resisted, both at a leadership and grassroots level. At the same time, the Muslim community needs to reach out as well and not adopt a siege mentality.

Sadly, while many Muslims and even some in the US (New Jersey; Olympia, Washington) celebrated last week’s events abroad, few, if any, American Muslim groups have organized a volunteer force, blood drive, or relief fund for the victims, or assisted in tracking down the terrorists, omissions which only feed the current climate of misunderstanding. But I see great hope in the coming together of different faiths and communities across the nation, and I would like to give the people and leadership of this country great credit in resisting the temptation of bigotry – if mass murder on the scale of 9/11 happened in Russia or China or India or the Middle East, riots and pogroms would have raged.

While most Muslims have condemned the attacks and expressed sympathy for the victims, I have yet to hear Muslim leaders, either religious or community figures, state that it is the duty of Muslims to fight terrorism. It is essential that moderate Muslims who have been explaining to Americans that Islam teaches peace take that message to fanatics and radicals in their community and their inciters, followers, and would-be suicide bombers. It would be good to tell them and the whole world (by means of a rally, perhaps) that Osama bin laden and the Taliban and the like are a disgrace to Islam and Muslims everywhere. The comparison to Timothy McVeigh that some have made (to say that Christianity is not represented by McVeigh, so why should bin Laden be seen as the face of Islam?) is invalid: McVeigh did not do his deed in the name of Christ, and was not inspired by teachings saying it is a divine duty to kill Jews and Americans. As long as moderate Muslims do not directly confront the wolves in their fold, they are turning a blind eye to terrorism.

To quote Winston Churchill, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” Our situation demands unflinching resolve heretofore not required in the lifetime of most Americans. We can neither vaporize whole cities and trample on liberty, nor let terrorists and fundamentalists run unchecked. While righteousness does not flow from indiscriminate retaliation, it is served by the complete destruction of evil. Our interests, and those of justice would be served neither by blind rage nor a justification of evil, but by a disciplined display of tenacity and idealism.


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