“There is something wrong with the official version of events . . . There is something dangerously wrong . . . something that ultimately could kill us and kill people whom we love.”
-- Laura Flanders, FAIR 15th Anniversary Speech, January 2002
Physical security in the face of suicide bombers is, admittedly, a serious problem. Unfortunately, however, it is not the central problem but a diversionary issue that obscures a much deeper reason for alarm.
Our ultimate problem is not our leaders’ failure to protect us against terrorists but our inability or unwillingness to stop the terrorism they practice against people throughout the world. Until a solution for U.S. terrorism is found, we may or may not manage to topple additional “rogue states” and kill more Al Qaeda operatives, but we certainly won't solve the overarching problems of Zionism gone mad, imperialism running amok, and a political system utterly unresponsive to the people it claims to serve. In giving these long neglected topics some attention, it wouldn’t hurt to keep in mind that Islamic militants never did us any harm until Washington backed Jewish supremacy over Arab lands, imposed and harbored the fallen Shah, planted military bases near the holiest shrines of Islam, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians via bombing, economic sanctions, and occupation.
The U.S. is a country of skillfully falsified impressions and manufactured enemies. In such a culture pursuing security without also pursuing the capacity to separate truth from falsehood, fabrication from fact, merely invites a pyrrhic victory of impregnable fortresses in a land of moral drought. Think Jewish settlers in Palestine.
Growing up in liberal Northern California I never heard a word of sympathy for Muslims or Arabs. When Israel swept to victory in the Six Day War, I was attending a Montessori school regularly featured on national TV in honor of its innovative architecture and learn-at-your-own-pace curriculum. With great amusement my teachers made fun of what they regarded as hapless Bedouins fleeing fake bombs dropped by the Israeli Air Force, which were no more than cartons of breaking glass, they said. Years later in a nationally televised tribute to Jonathan Winters, I watched Robin Williams do a mocking imitation of the presumed incompetence of Egyptian soldiers by repeatedly dropping an imaginary rifle. By my teen years the mass media were habitually depicting Arabs as medieval, bloodthirsty, and corrupt. To this day no American video shop is without a large stock of terrorist films portraying them as wild-eyed mass murderers, especially of children.
So much for objective media and value-neutral education. Obviously, a neutral Empire has never existed, nor will we now have neutral “homeland security.” We can continue bloodying Afghanistan and Iraq, enabling Israel’s murderous depredations, and sustaining reactionary regimes in the Islamic world, or we can renounce the false security of domination and sleep the sleep of the just. There is no third option.
Those recently in shock at the confirmed presence of “evil” in the midst of British decency hope imperialist policy can continue delivering the physical security to which they feel permanently entitled. They consider it quite irrelevant and perhaps even treasonous to probe for the critical consciousness needed to understand the enemies we face, even more to develop an ethical sensibility with which we might come to terms with them. In the current phase of intellectual corruption coming to terms with our enemies is defined not as an act of intelligence but as simple appeasement. Permanent war thus masquerades as a regrettable necessity.
In the wake of Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and decades of torture of the Palestinian people, this renunciation of reason promises nothing but endless disaster.
Many years ago educator Jonathan Kozol related a story about J. Robert Oppenheimer that illustrates perfectly the dilemma we now face. Pressed by his fellow Manhattan Project scientists about the moral implications of their efforts to produce the world’s first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi answered that they were “without special competence on the moral question.”
Oppenheimer failed to reveal the basis for his insinuation that proper moral judgment requires a specialized competence. But precisely because he presumed -- and we presume -- a lack of moral authority (not expertise) by which we might assume control of our destiny, we are in the pathetic position of helplessly watching our leaders commit a succession of hideous war crimes while waiting for the next terrorist shoe to drop -- a radiation bomb, aerosolized smallpox, an exploded chemical plant. Kozol calls such inertia “Nagasaki of the Soul.”
Pundits go on bemoaning, politicians denouncing, the alleged horror of Islamic “infiltration” of the West. If we must continue to endure such un-illuminating self-absorption, at least it would be a refreshing change to hear someone address the real horror.
There is no Islamic infiltration of Anglo-American ruling circles, but there is a total absence of moral competence to consider the implications of the ongoing rape of Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq. It is this, not physical security against retaliatory violence, but the fundamental humanity to honestly probe the roots of terror -- theirs and ours -- that is most dangerously lacking among our leaders today.
When the huge fireball exploded against the south tower on the morning of 911, James Baldwin’s biblical prophecy about the consequences of failing to heal the racial divide returned to me: No more water, the fire next time! Baldwin was well acquainted with the West’s relationship to the Arab world and would not have been surprised to witness Arab hijackers targeting the United States.
In the wake of the London bombings, it seems Baldwin’s prophecy is fulfilling itself in installments. As President Bush and Prime Minister Blair continue to affect abhorrence of terror while drenching Muslims and Arabs in blood, we are all increasingly in danger of sharing the fate of the doomed passengers of 911: Hostages on a voyage to catastrophe.
Other Articles by Michael Smith
Message From The IWW: Rebel, and Mean It!