Written in Nov. 2001:
It has become almost passé to compare 9/11 with
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
A quick survey of this unpalatable menu shows that there is only real choice. We tried doing nothing – after the USS Cole and
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
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.