Friday, January 27, 2006

Terror and the Idea of America

My Turn

Amid a Failure of Leadership

[Six days after 9/11 this Op-Ed piece appeared in the Juneau Empire. At the time of publication the article was considered extreme. The tragedy is that five years after the fact the article seems just as relevant as it was in 2001. The hope is that every day more and more articles appear expressing similar views. This one has been slightly modified from the original for style.]

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 similar to the 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 causes of the East Coast catastrophe are somewhat contrary to the thoughts of those who cry for vengeance, and the thoughts behind the saber-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 either that the terrorist attack occurred, or 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 people to be such an unsuitable, unsubtle, uncomprehending and self-absorbed country as America. This terror is now intensified 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 also 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, wasteful, 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 steep 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. He has done untold damage to international relations and to America's economy. Each of his warlike pronouncements raises the level of alarm worldwide and increases the possibility that we will be attached again.

Most important of all, he is perceived and 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.
[To these observations may now be added lies, deceit, corruption and law-breaking on an unprecedented scale. As others have observed, the Bush administration is making war on the American people just as Charles I of England made war on his people. The impeachment of Bush and his cronies cannot come too soon. Let us hope it is not already too late.]


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