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The Blinding Gauze of Sentimentality

9 September 2002

Time passes with such stealth; anniversaries usually sneak up on us. Not so Sept. 11. We've been hyped to anticipate this acrid anniversary for the last two months at least.

But we are unlikely to reap much understanding from these displays of grief and patriotism. In fact, the haze of gauzy sentimentality could help blind us to the illegal international activities our national leadership is plotting.

A year following the most horrific act of terrorism in U.S. history, the Bush administration is preparing to launch a war of aggression that could set the stage for global anarchy.

The "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive self-defense is in direct violation of the UN Charter, which states in its sole provision authorizing the unilateral use of force that countries can act only in self-defense against "armed attack."

That's the same law that justified the Gulf War more than a decade ago; Iraq broke it by aggressively attacking Kuwait.

Two of the original four indictments at the Nuremberg trials charged Germany with "waging aggressive war or `crimes against peace'" and "conspiracy to wage aggressive war." Modern international law evolved precisely to limit the kind of first-strike arrogance now on display among the muscle-flexing Bushites.

Just as important is the precedent this policy will have on the rest of the world. If the U.S. can justify invading Iraq because of threats it predicts will materialize, what is to stop India from invading Pakistan, or China from invading Taiwan, Russia from invading Georgia, and so on?

A small cadre of neoconservative war hawks and a group of lawyers from the ultraconservative Federalist Society are trying to push the U.S. into an act of unilateral stupidity. No nation except Britain is with us, nor are any international laws.

Yet polls say most of us continue to support this outlaw endeavor. Since Americans are reputed to be law-abiding and frequently express alarm about the lack of law and order domestically (especially in the inner cities), their support must be based on ignorance of the law.

Media could play a pivotal role in educating the public about the enormous stakes involved in an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation. But that is unlikely to happen.

Rather than providing mature analysis of the meaning of Sept. 11, for example, we're likely to be swathed in emotional images and patriotic symbols. But symbolic patriotism sells. After all, the president himself urged us to shop to do our part against terrorism. Merchandizing patriotism kills two birds with one flag.

But when news media take up that practice citizens lose; the press is afforded specific constitutional protection because quality information is necessary for effective citizenship. When that information is transformed into a commodity for consumers, democracy can't help but suffer.

Our media corporations, for the most part, are failing to ask the essential questions, or challenge conventional wisdom.

And when The New York Times actually published information that challenged conventional wisdom , it precipitated an avalanche of conservative ire. Well-placed commentators like Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal and George Will of The Washington Post, weighed in with unusual criticism that focused on Howell Raines, the Times' executive editor. A host of right-leaning Web "bloggers" also has been sniping at Raines. Seldom has the pressure for media conformity to right-wing goals been greater.

Despite the fact that an invasion of Iraq has been denounced from every corner of the globe, the war talk continues. Doubts are coming from even within the president's own party. Most Democrats have been silent.

American lovers of law and order are mute about the outlaw activity being planned in their names--in all of our names.

The upcoming anniversary of last year's terror attacks is likely to make it even more difficult to get in a discouraging word about an Iraq attack.

Salim Muwakkil
Published in the Chicago Tribune © 2002, Chicago Tribune

'War on terrorism' index     Stop killing the people of Iraq


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