Monday, September 11, 2006

Terror and the Idea of America

Web posted Monday, September 17, 2001, Juneau Empire

My Turn: Amid a failure of leadership


It has been shocking and sad to hear people stating that they are willing to sacrifice civil liberties for security. Security such as they seek does not exist. The search for this chimera is a sort of mentality that leads to tyranny and fascism. And there are many people, not only Americans, who see the outcome of America's recent, failed election as a fascist takeover.

My own thoughts about the cause of the East Coast catastrophe are somewhat contrary to those who cry for vengeance, and the sabre-rattling coming out of Washington. My viewpoint is influenced by the fact that I lived in Europe for 13 years and spent time on the West Bank before the first Intifada. It is not surprising that the terrorist attack occurred nor that it came when it did.

There is terror in the world at the thought of so much power - economic, nuclear or otherwise - in the hands of what is perceived by many as such an unsuitable, unsubtle, uncomprehending and self-absorbed country as America. This terror is intensified now at the thought of how our country might strike blindly in anger after Tuesday's events to start the last war of the world.

America needs to look at her attitudes and her policies, especially her foreign and economic policies. She needs to try to understand other cultural points of view at a deep level. She needs to learn to reflect before she acts. She needs to examine not only how she has forced changes on others over the last quarter century, but how she herself has changed, indulging in the glorification of illiteracy, isolationism, violence, drugs, alcohol and arrogance - for Americans are perceived abroad, however stereotypically, as arrogant, insensitive, narrow-minded, unthinking and utterly selfish.

I returned to Europe in April for six weeks, and the question on everyone's lips was this: How could America possibly have allowed our educational, electoral and governmental systems to fail so completely as to allow the present incumbent into the White House? There is a direct correlation between the announcement from the Supreme Court that Bush was to occupy the office of president and the steepening slide of the stock market, not to mention Tuesday's attack on New York and Washington.

Bush's trip to Europe did nothing to change European perceptions. He was and remains an embarrassment to us and to the office he holds. Each of his warlike pronouncements raises the level of alarm worldwide and increases the possibility that we will be attacked again. He has done untold damage to international relations and to America's economy.

Most important of all, he is perceived as weak and inept, an empty house, and his weakness has made the United States seem laughably and grimly vulnerable.

It is no surprise that the terrorist attack has come at this particular moment in America's history. We are in the midst of a failure of leadership and a failure of the institutions that lie at the foundation of the idea of America.


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