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Struggle for the Soul of a Nation
15 September 2001
A couple of articles I wrote recently, condemning the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, but also opposing the growing drive toward indiscriminate retaliation, have generated a flurry of responses.
Many are of the condescending "realistic" kind -- you donít understand, you have to be tough with bullies. The considerable majority agrees with me and expresses hope that peace will prevail.
The most disturbing by far are from self-identified "left-leaning" people calling for genocide. "I used to think like you before this happened. Now, I for one can't wait to see the Arabs get what they deserve - to be turned into charred, bloody corpses...If we can't find them we can just follow their smell or listen for the sounds of wife-beating."
"I grew up as a hippie and anti-war protester during the 60's ... but this is different. The war in Vietnam was immoral and the USA should never have been involved ... but when you have butchers from Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq attacking the United States, it is time to obliterate the entire region then when the dust settles and ALL the murderous Muslims are dead, open the area up for immigration by all the homeless civilized people in the world."
A bizarre reincarnation of Hitlerís plans for Slavic eastern Europe and Russia.
How could people who favored and worked for peace and social justice so dehumanize an entire people? If this is what the "left" is saying, what is the right saying?
Many have been disquieted by the footage of a few Palestinians, mostly children, laughing and dancing when they heard of Americaís misfortune. Every time there is danger of people working through their anger and trying to think beyond it, one of the networks runs the clip again. Many are no doubt thinking in the back of their minds that Palestinians are subhuman.
Instead, they should reflect on the phenomenal outpouring of racist virulence we have seen in the past few days in our own country. The minuscule percentage of Palestinians who exulted at the tragedy is probably far smaller than the percentage of Americans who would call for massive terror bombing in the Arab world.
And that, of course, is what we mean by all this talk of going after those who "harbored" the terrorists -- note that the resolution passed by Congress authorizes the president to use any force he chooses against these "harborers."
What does this mean? By living in the same country as the people quoted above, am I harboring potential genocidists? Are all Americans harboring the war criminal Henry Kissinger, butcher of Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and East Timor? How fine a line is it between killing people based on their geographic proximity to terrorists and killing them because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background?
Exterminism is the besetting vice of our country. Most know of the incredibly thorough genocide of the native population, with up to 98% of the original population lost. Far fewer know that a Gallup poll in 1944 found 13% of Americans calling for the annihilation of every single Japanese person after the war was over. To see this crop up again after all the progress we had made in eliminating extreme forms of racism is disheartening and frightening.
It is becoming clear that the emerging struggle in the public sphere is not only about our foreign policy, about whether we will abandon military aggression and domination in order to work for the security that can only come from peace.
It is also about how we will define ourselves as a society, both internally and externally. It is a struggle for the soul of America.
People opposing massive "retaliation" and calling for international cooperation and the use of legal channels to fight terrorism, and calling also for our country to rethink its policy of military aggression and domination, are being called un-American. We are not.
Instead, we are holding out our own vision of America. It is the America of those who spontaneously organized to defend their brothers and sisters of Middle Eastern descent against racist violence here. It is the America of those who can see past their pain and grief to understand the pain and grief of others around the world, who can disentangle the few who committed this act from the 1 billion people of the Islamic world who only want peace with justice.
We counterpose it to the America of hatred and genocide, to the vision being put forth of a militarized garrison state fighting an unending "war on terrorism" that constantly creates more enemies, blights and destroy more lives, and endangers all of us on the planet. As Senator Carl Schurz said long ago, "My country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be put right."