Where is the outrage? Where is the popular American outrage at the treatment of fellow Americans and innocent civilians around the world? One would think that in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of September 11, we could surely understand the sheer evil of attacking and killing innocent human beings in acts of terrorism or war. But, unfortunately, last Tuesday’s horrific attack has only served to increase the hatred and bloodlust of average American citizens and their irresponsible leaders.
It seems Arabs and Muslims are two of the very few groups of people it is still okay to hate in the U.S. of A. In fact, since September 11, it has become almost politically correct to do so. This in a country that prides itself on its tolerance. This in a country that prides itself on its commitment to diversity and understanding. This in a country that seems to quickly forget (or conveniently ignore) its own history in the treatment of innocent others based on the actions of a guilty few.
My disgust while viewing the footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was only compounded when, in subsequent days, I read about the vigilante attacks of “patriotic” American citizens on Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans, and the vandalizing of mosques, Islamic centers, and various businesses owned and operated by people of Middle Eastern descent. The individuals involved in the harassment and violence directed against innocent American citizens are just as cowardly and despicable as the terrorists who attacked New York and Washington, DC. There’s nothing like a grand tragedy to flash the signal allowing haters, race-baiters, warmongers, and murderous cowards to raise their heads, secure in the fact that it’s okay to do so just as long as they direct their vehemence at those who perpetrated the act, and the members ethnic or religious group to which they belonged. There was some but not overwhelming condemnation when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made the assertion last week that homosexuals, “pagans”, feminists, abortionists, and liberal civil-rights groups were in part responsible for the terrorist attacks. In the eyes of these Christian fundamentalists, God has turned the world’s wrath against America because of these “sinners”; and we deserve it.
We must be outraged at the perpetrators of Tuesday’s heinous attack as well as outraged against the bigots, haters, warmongers and terrorists at home — those who would attack fellow Americans of Arab descent, those who would attack Americans who practice Islam, those whose would urge and support bombing innocent civilians in foreign countries whose governments are antagonistic to ours, and those who would cheer upon hearing the news that we wiped out the entire population of a foreign city that may have harbored individuals who were plotting violence against Americans. Any Americans who would participate in such actions are as vile as those who plotted the attack and those who cheered its results.
Members of other minority groups should especially be ashamed of themselves if they blame or seek to take out their rage and hostility on an entire race, or ethnic group, or members of a religious community, in retaliation for the horrendous and inexcusable acts perpetrated by a few. Are black Americans forgetting that they were once, and at times still are, painted as untamable “savages” who should be harshly dealt with when two or a few of their own were accused of committing some unspeakable crime? Are blacks forgetting their own history of being unjustly treated and unfairly subjected to widespread hostility? Are Jews? Are most Americans forgetting what was done to innocent Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor? Or are they comforting themselves with the following thought: “That was different. This is a new day with new challenges. We can’t afford to be too rational or practice restraint.” It is always a new day. And we do indeed have new challenges.
In the fervent cries for justice to be done, we must also remember, and keep it foremost in our minds, to do justice to our fellow innocent American citizens and those innocent individuals abroad who have done nothing to us or anyone else. The 50 or 100 individuals involved in this massacre of American citizens at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon should be hunted down and severely punished. But we must take great care to not let our hearts rule our heads and push us into a dangerous cycle that will lead to more bloodshed on American soil.
Very few of the commentators and politicians screaming for war have mentioned anything or thought seriously about the terrorists’ motives. Of course almost everyone by now has heard the nonsense about them being “envious” of America and its inhabitants. They were infuriated, we are told, by the fact that we are virtuous, free and wealthy. Their blind hatred for our freedoms and our “democracy” inspired these horrific attacks by unrepentant barbarians. In short, they came after us because we’re overall better human beings than they are; or so we think. Good versus evil. How about evil versus evil? Is that not an option?
If anything, it is we Americans who are blind. And we will play the role of the barbarians if we, as some are suggesting, fly off half-cocked and bomb “back into the Stone Age” whatever country or cities we believe to be harboring co-conspirators or sympathizers of last Tuesday’s terrorists. Tens of thousands of innocents will be victims of our arrogance. “We are Americans, the best people living in the greatest country. We’ll do what we want, when we want, and take care of whoever doesn’t like it.” That is today’s patriotism. And it is that hubris that will inevitably lead to more tragedies on American soil in the future.
Most Americans are abysmally ignorant of what happens in their own backyards, lets alone outside of their nation’s borders or in countries half a world away. How many non-blacks, or even upper middle class black Americans, know the horrors of day-to-day living in the ghettoes and inner cities of America? Few know, and fewer care; that is, until something happens to affect them directly (e.g., a riot or “uprising” or rampant gang warfare). Only then do they wring their hands, shake their heads, and ask “why?” Ironically, even when they are told the true answer to that question, they do little or nothing to address the problem, as long as the problem has ceased to affect them personally.
No one cares for the deaths the United States is directly or indirectly responsible for in Iraq, Israel/Palestine and dozens of other countries most Americans couldn’t locate on a world map. Few know or care that the United States is financially and militarily supporting a murderous and repressive apartheid regime in Israel under which Palestinians have suffered far worse than black South Africans ever did under white rule.
According to the countless biographies of Osama bin Laden now proliferating on the Internet and in print, it was the United States’ actions in and leading up to the Persian Gulf War that turned bin Laden (a former CIA ally) against America. Never mind that Iraq hadn’t done anything to us, and the war and the sanctions and the bombings in the subsequent years contributed to the death of nearly a million Iraqis, most of them children or the elderly. Again, most Americans don’t know or care. The United States’ continued meddling, to the detriment of hundred of thousands of innocent human beings in the Middle East, fuels the hatred of bin Laden and thousands like him. Can we not put two and two together? How many more bin Laden’s are we intent on creating?
What we witnessed on September 11, and what we see in Israel/Palestine as suicide bombers, are the desperate acts of people who live in war-torn and poverty-stricken countries or territories, desperate individuals who have little hope in a bright future for themselves or their families, but seek to bring a fleeting moment of happiness into their lives by taking brutal revenge against the country and its citizens whom they believe, rightly or wrongly, are the ultimate source of all their woes. This is not an excuse for terrorism. Again, I absolutely abhor the despicable acts carried out on September 11. But this is a call for us to act, finally, with justice for as many as possible.
Too many of us suffer from myopia and long-term memory loss. In almost all our pursuits, we are fueled by the promise of immediate gratification and the thirst for some sort of revenge against someone or something, against either individuals or institutions we believe have wronged us in the past. All of this, made worse by social and political immaturity, is having disastrous effects on the souls and bodies of those who possess these traits as well as those who don’t. When tragedy hits and confusion reigns, the clearheaded among us have to make an extra special effort to exhibit reason and compassion and exhort those around us to do so as well. This is not the time for emotionalism and bloodlust. Now is the best time to show how truly virtuous we can be as a united people in a nation that seeks to be an example of all that is “good” to the world. We have this duty not because we’re Americans, but because we’re decent human beings with good moral sense. Let us find, round up, and punish the guilty, but take care not to go beyond that.
Whether Osama bin Laden was indirectly involved or not, I have the awful feeling that the atrocities of September 11 were committed in retaliation for something that the policies or agents of America did or were perceived to have done in some foreign country. Killing in the name of God, ethnic pride, or revenge is no better or worse than murdering in the name of patriotism, “the good and the true”, or retaliation. Whatever actions our leaders decide to take, we, as responsible citizens, must keep this in mind, lest, in our zealotry to punish the perceived wrongdoers, we end up killing and hurting even more innocents, and breeding even more hatred for the United States and its citizens among the peoples of the world.
Mr. Kelvin B. Reese is a freelance writer who resides in Northern Virginia.