"The machineries of governments stand between and hide the hearts of
one people from those of another." -Mohandas Gandhi
"All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could
be appealed to whenever it was necessary..." -George
They say it's a different world now, since the terrorist attacks.
Indeed, we have all sensed a shift in our country from a feeling of security
and contentment to one of malaise, and with it has come an apparent shift
to the political right. Flag sales are up. Gun sales are up.
Actor Richard Gere was booed off the stage at a fund raiser when he advocated
human compassion. Columnist Richard Cohen wrote a piece praising--yes,
praising--hate. President Bush, who won (almost) office by the narrowest
margin in history is now one of the most popular presidents ever.
Of course the political pendulum will swing back, as it always has,
given enough time. Already the unqualified support for Bush is beginning
to dim, the national anger beginning to abate. Many of the flags,
I notice, were put away with the Christmas decorations. While we
will undoubtedly have greater hassles at our airports far into the
future, the need for the government to tap phones and monitor e-mail will,
with luck, expire, at which time the eavesdroppers can go back to spying
on labor organizers in Honduras.
While I am confident that things will eventually return to normal, I
am disturbed by the normalcy to which we are headed, because I believe
that the old order of things wasn't working well for the world and in fact
led to the terrorist attacks. I am not one of those who believes
that the terrorist attacks had no cause, as though the principle of cause
and effect, just this once, was suspended. I believe that the attacks
were caused by a set of conditions acting on a set of desperate men.
I think that our crusade to eradicate these men by means of blunt force
should at least be combined with an investigation of the economic, political
and social conditions that drove them to their inhuman (or human) extremes.
It is not enlightening or practical to merely dismiss them as "the evildoers."
This dismissal is more than simple, chauvinistic name calling.
It is a tactic, employed consciously or unconsciously, to dehumanize the
adversary, thereby dehumanizing us by supplanting our thoughts with
a sort of numbing, Orwellian hatred.
President Bush said that we are hated in other countries because
"They hate our freedoms...our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote..."
Gosh. He thinks that bin Laden hates the United States because we
have the right to vote? Does that mean he also hates Switzerland,
Denmark and New Zealand? Some say that Bush is not very worldly,
but I don't think he really believes that we were attacked because a group
of Islamic fundamentalists hated our Bill of Rights.
Why did the president's team invent such a daring and spectacularly
absurd explanation for the attacks? I believe that by posing something
as simple and alluring as a foreign attack on our democratic institutions,
they were able to direct our attention where they wanted it, which was
as far away as possible from the obvious question, "Why were we attacked?"
By answering this question so attractively, even before it was publicly
asked, they were able to harness our national pride and focus our anger,
part of what George Bush Sr. used to call "preparing public opinion."
Anger and pride are very powerful substitutes for thought.
So why were we attacked, anyway? I think there were several reasons.
Foremost, or course, was the existence and mental state of Osama bin Laden,
who apparently is (was?) a very ambitious, bitterly political, religious
conservative with access to money. As for what motivated bin Laden
to act against us, I simply believe what he himself said: He violently
objected to the presence of an "infidel army" in his homeland (the United
States forces stationed in Saudi Arabia), he was appalled by our bombing
of Iraq, and he was bitterly opposed to what he perceived as the United
States' support for Israel over the Palestinians.
I see no evidence that should make us reject bin Laden's own explanation
of his motives, and there is no evidence that I know of that would suggest
that bin Laden or Arabs in general hate freedom. As for the Taliban,
giving safe haven to an essentially Arabic terrorist network does not imply
that they hate our democratic institutions, even given their well known
penchant for repressing their own people. Isn't it far more plausible
that the terrorists were reacting against American bombing and economic
The United States has intervened militarily in the Middle East (the
Gulf War) and maintains troops on the ground there. We are continuing
to police a no-fly zone over parts of Iraq and still bomb Iraq on occasion
when we feel it is warranted. Despite our government's claims that
we do these things to promote self determination in the region, the real
reason is obvious to all but the most gullible Americans: We are
protecting our economic interests.
Whether we are justified in our policies or not is an important question,
ripe for debate, but one thing is certain: Our government does not
want us to think about it.
David Davis, of Hygeine, Colorado, is a writer, photographer and videographer.