We have long known that this day would come, the day of bitter recriminations against American sons and daughters who decided in good conscience that they could not support the war in Southeast Asia or any war, for that matter. We have known from the beginning that although dissent is touted as an essential part of this nation's creed, the deepest undercurrents in America are assimilation and groupthink.
Now, as if to prove this, we must suffer the outrages of one David Horowitz, best known as a consumer activist turned anti-African-American reactionary in his dotage, claiming that antiwar demonstrators helped to prolong the Vietnam War and cause thousands of deaths. Now, also, we must brook the shallow but ever-present shoals of radio talk show host Jason Lewis, blaming the antiwar effort for weakening the military might of the United States.
Was the military so weak during the Vietnam era that a ragtag group of students joined by a few intellectuals and pacifists brought it to its knees? Or was the Silent Majority -- by far the largest group of citizens during that era, with greater influence in business, the media and politics -- simply struck dumb by the naivete of its leaders, who led the nation into a prolonged tactical war devoid of any strategic objective?
It seems that the tenor and tone of the New Patriotism is as dogmatic as the Old Patriotism. But I persist in asking these questions: Since when must Americans allow themselves to be led by their noses toward unilateralism? Must we be classified as anti-American if, for example, we believe that the fight belongs to God and not ourselves? Can we not grieve for the tragic loss of life without demanding vengeance or pounding our fists? Is not anger more effective when its white-hot heat vaporizes hate?
Further, and deeper: Can we not appeal to the growing sense that something much larger and more complex is occurring in the world today without being labeled traitors, as Horowitz and others have done? Is there any ideal, any belief, any higher power, finally, that rightly demands greater loyalty than country and nation?
In the world as we know it today, perhaps not. The specter of treason lurks behind every unfurled flag when those who wave it with one hand beat their neighbors with the other. In times of distress, it is commonplace and even comforting to seek refuge in meaningful symbols, provided such symbols do not themselves become objects of veneration and distract us from the larger truths afoot. Idolatry may be accomplished without kneeling or burning incense or sacrificing the fatted calf on the altar of Baal. Friends, idolatry often masquerades as love, obscuring the face of pagan gods behind a mask of innocent adoration until it is too late.
Those who point blaming fingers at others for their principled stand against war, who condemn peace-loving individuals, are like the fools searching for answers to important questions in the prophecies of Nostradamus: They are willing to look everywhere except in the most obvious places, and whatever they find becomes the evidence they are seeking.
The urgent task confronting us is to sort through the avalanche of propaganda and false prophecies to find that which unites us as human beings. We can only do that by understanding the story behind the story.
The Taliban regime suppresses religious freedom, kills its people, lives off of income from the international drug trade, and nurtures terrorism. It deserves to die. But where did the Taliban come from? The word Taliban is derived from the Persian talib, which means student. Disaffected students from Afghanistan, who were studying in large numbers in madrassas throughout Pakistan in the early 1990s, found a way out of the abhorrent living conditions inside Afghanistan. Later, thousands of mujahadeen, weary and disgusted from the infighting following the defeat of the Soviets, joined with these students. Only then did they lay claim to their perverted form of Islam.
The Taliban today is a series of oppressive terror cells sustained by money from Saudi Arabia and the sale of poppy-derived drugs around the world. Chieftains who rely on money to buy the loyalty of their foot soldiers hold it together. Having come from squalor, these soldiers are loath to go back, but many are simply mercenaries looking for a better life. Far from being ideologically unified, factions, sects and power struggles within the group are too numerous to name and, if not counteracted, will almost certainly spawn nuclear and biological chaos in Central Asia.
The Taliban brain trust, Osama bin Laden included, realized as early as 1996 that unless it provoked a holy war with Christendom, it had little hope of remaining unified. The Taliban counts on war with the "infidel West" as a means of solidifying its power inside the Arab world, where its leaders will be hailed as heroes anointed by God should they succeed in subduing the West.
The Taliban and all false religion will fail, whether through military, political or spiritual upheaval. What we should be concerned with as individuals, however, is not the microcosm of evil represented by this relatively small group of desperate, godless men. A wise man once said that we should pray, "Deliver us from evil." That he did not say, "Deliver ourselves from evil" is profound.
We are not able to deliver ourselves from evil. We are in need of deliverance. Not simply from the evil within the world but from that part of ourselves that is susceptible to hubris and hatred. More deadly than anthrax, the spores of such evil drift through our culture daily, provoking us to snipe at and disembowel each other emotionally and often physically. I tremble not at the Taliban. I tremble at the evil within, mitigated only by the prayer of a wise man who was, yet is, and will soon be again.
Syl Jones, of Minnetonka, is a playwright, journalist and corporate consultant.
© Copyright 2001 Star Tribune