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What Kind of War?

Posted 9/12/2001

New York City--attacked. The Pentagon--attacked. America--attacked. Who is the enemy? What do they want? Even the most brutal military figures from Ghengis Khan to Hitler to Saddam Hussein had clear political, territorial, economic, or military goals--something leading to control, possession, and power. But the goal here seems to be more cruel: "We don't want anything from you, we want you dead. We want your ideas dead. We want your children dead."

This is not something new, and at the same time it is something unusually new. The Tutsis in Rwanda, Armenians in Turkey, Jews and Gypsies under Nazi rule, the Serbs, Croats, and Albanians in the Balkans, and many others have endured ethnic hate and genocide. Examples of religious and political persecutions from China to Moscow to Belfast to Chile are innumerable. But for 200 years the melting pot of race, religion, and politics that is America has never really experienced this kind of focused hatred. We've been resented; we've been the ugly American, the obnoxious American, the greedy American. Now someone wants us to be the dead American--whether you are Irish, Italian, African, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, makes no difference.

Hundreds of brave souls died trying to rescue possibly thousands of innocent victims yesterday. Policemen, firemen, EMS workers charged into a burning building to meet their deaths. Were these bad people who deserved to die? Not likely. So what is it that's under attack? It's our culture, our way of life, our approach to the world. To some people we are the great Satan. In Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, women are not allowed to have jobs and they are not allowed to be educated; all men must have beards. Entertainment is forbidden, and commitment to Islamic religion is law. Atheism is punishible by death, and the Taliban hold public executions. To preach Christianity, Buddhism, or anything other than Islam means immediate arrest, as mission aid workers recently discovered--and there is all the ancient Buddhist statuary that the Taliban destroyed a few months ago.

This is not an indictment of the Taliban for Tuesday's attack. It may be proved they are responsible. But it may not. But the point is, compare their culture with America. How are we preceived by this stringent, religiously fanatic culture? Purveyors of pornography, exporters of Hollywood films, fast food, sex, rock 'n' roll, and guns. We consume more energy than anyone; we pollute more than anyone; we exploit workers in other countries and use our military might to manipulate other governments; we continue to grow ever larger multinational business conglomerates whose revenues are larger than the gross national product of some countries. We are the devil.

We are not the devil, though America is certainly not without guilt. Those who attacked us on Tuesday have committed an unforgivable crime against innocent people. TV newscasters keep predicting the United States will make a strike against Afghanistan. The United Nations has evacuated all its personnel from Afghanistan in anticipation of that strike. Yet it would be just as unforgivable for us to carry out an indiscriminate attack on Kabul. The women of Afghanistan certainly had no part in any decision-making process which led to Tuesday's attack--they are victims too. Without a doubt, the United States should respond to this attack on our country by identifying the terrorists and exacting just retribution. But in the big picture, America also needs to begin listening and responding to other peoples before world events are driven to such violent consequences.

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