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With the "powers that be" calling for war, how can we think critically about our recent national tragedy? A collection of voices from the alternative press and local communities hold out some answers.

Against the Drumbeat 

With the "powers that be" calling for war, how can we think critically about our recent national tragedy?

This "Attack on America" has been brought to you by ... Fill in the blank. Have you stuck with a favorite anchor? Or surfed at random? Can you distinguish one news source from the other? Perhaps you can--but the distinctions are measured in nuance.

The drumbeat to war rolls steadily on. The president announces his intention to "rid the world of evil." A minister urges an early-morning TV coffee klatch to "stay angry." Voices of reasoned restraint and analysis are disturbingly few and far between.

The barrage of coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon continues, a seemingly unrelenting tape loop. Certainly, we want information. But how much of substance are we receiving?

It's a package deal, this coverage, a tidily wrapped parcel of talking-head mantra, intrusion into yet another family's deepest grief, snippets from this hour's poll. From the television, radio, Internet, newspapers, from carpool to co-worker to sales clerk to supper table, the package is transported, rearranged a bit, but remains essentially intact. We're told where we're headed, but not how we got here. We're told who the enemy is, but little of how he became so. War, we're told, is inevitable.

It's hard not to buy it. At press time, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll was telling us that "Americans are ready to alter their lifestyles, and even sacrifice some of their own liberties, for safety considerations."

Polls show that the "public supports changing the law to allow for the assassination of people in foreign countries who commit terrorist attacks."

That: "Although more than half the respondents said they did not think Arab-Americans were any more sympathetic toward terrorists than other Americans, the public is expecting a backlash against Arab-Americans, Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East."

And: "Eighty-five percent said the United States should take military action against whoever is responsible for the attacks. Seventy-five percent of those people said the action should be mounted even if innocent people were killed. Almost all of them said they would favor going to war with a nation that was harboring those responsible for the attacks."

Given the general tenor of the media coverage offered us, all of the above is understandable. But it could be different. Silenced by the commodified chorus are those voices that might lead us toward more enlightened solutions.

What follows is a forum for a dozen or so of those voices. Most probably you've heard some mention of potential peaceful resolution. You've read of attacks and threats on Arab Americans and of the darker implications of the government's curtailment of civil liberties. But such perspectives have generally been lost to the drumbeat. Here follows a sampling of sources from alternative media and, most importantly, some critical voices from within our own community.

These views--some of them juxtaposed with pronouncements of the more common, belligerent variety--underscore the message that patriotism is a good thing, if not extended to the extreme of jingoism. Unity, likewise, if not assembled to the exclusion of informed, constructive dissent. Our commitment to truth and justice carried us to the great promise of Sept. 10 and, we trust, will deliver us beyond the terrible tragedy of Sept. 11.

Marty Jezer, longtime activist, author of a biography of Abbie Hoffman and columnist for The Brattleboro Reformer in Brattleboro, Vt.
As it collapsed on office workers, police, firemen and other rescue workers, Dan Rather on CBS observed that "this is the new face of war." But it's not. Crumbling buildings, smoke, dust, rubble, fire, sirens, casualty figures in the thousands is new only for the United States. Politics aside, for the people of London and Hamburg, Hanoi and Tokyo, Belgrade, Baghdad, Beirut that's what an air-attack on civilians looks like.

Arun Gandhi, Director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, on the bombing of Iraqi cities during Operation Desert Storm
I was among the millions in the United States who sat glued to the television and watched the drama as though it was a made-for-television film. The television had desensitized us. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were being blown to bits and instead of feeling sorry for them we marveled at the efficiency of our military.

From the UNC News Services, an interview with Sarah Shields, Middle East expert and associate professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill
"No matter where it is, it is not acceptable to retaliate against innocent populations," Shields said. "That is what happened here on Tuesday. You had people retaliating against what they saw as symbols of the United States by killing innocents. Why would we want to do the same things as those people whose crimes we abhor?"

U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Iraq's Saddam Hussein after Operation Desert Storm have led to the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children in the past decade through diarrhea and other illnesses, she said. While most Americans know little or nothing about that staggering toll, it is not lost on the rest of the region. Records show the U.S. government predicted the sanctions would cause massive child deaths, but maintained them anyway.

"I think most Americans don't have adequate information," Shields said. "When I ask my students why would people in the Middle East be angry at America, they cannot begin to answer. It's been a long time, for example, since the news media reported much about our bombing Iraq, but we're doing it every week, and there are often casualties. ...

"We could not have predicted what the consequences of our engagement in this regional violence would be, and now it is coming back to haunt us," Shields said. "We don't know what engaging in massive military retaliation against civilian populations will lead to, either. We have just now begun to experience the helplessness, vulnerability and anger that other attacked people in the Middle East have felt for years."

War cry

President George W. Bush, at the National Cathedral memorial service
"This was a war started by others at a time unknown to us. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."

Leonard Peikoff, founder of the Ayn Rand Institute
We already have total certainty with regard to the governments primarily responsible for the repeated slaughter of Americans in recent years. We must now use our unsurpassed military to destroy all branches of the Iranian and Afghan governments, regardless of the suffering and death this will bring to the many innocents caught in the line of fire.

Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American writer in a letter circulated via e-mail
It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats' nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan--a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.

Peikoff:
We must wipe out the terrorist training camps or sanctuaries, and eliminate any retaliatory military capability--and thereby terrorize and paralyze all the tyrannies watching, who will now know what is in store for them if they choose in any form to attack the United States. That will be the end of the terrorists.

Ansary:
What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done," they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that, folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.

And guess what: That's bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants.

That's why he did this.

Edward Chaney, writer and nonprofit consultant in Chapel Hill
The media images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets (yes, it did happen; but no, it is not the majority sentiment) and the common association of the word "Arab" with "terrorist" have a profound effect on what we believe to be truth and how we feel about it. I have always been wary of the media's portrayal of Arabs. It is, at the very least, analogous to how the media portray African Americans, especially African-American males.

I believe that the people who so willfully and maliciously destroyed so many innocent humans and wreaked irrevocable damage to the spirits and the lives of countless others should be held accountable. All I ask is that we do everything that we can to not repeat the fallacious pattern of thought exhibited by the hijacking sociopaths by punishing those who are "guilty by association."

Attack on Arab America

Statement from the Muslim American Society Imams Consultative Body of North Carolina
The Muslim American Society Imams [religious leaders] Consultative Body of North Carolina condemns in the strongest possible terms the vicious acts of terrorism that occurred in the United States yesterday. While there is much speculation as to the identities of the perpetrators, we call on the media and the American public to exercise restraint and to await a final determination as to the identity of the people committing these heinous acts. In this matter and in all matters, we ask that American citizens recognize that Muslims worldwide cannot be treated as one undifferentiated group. While all Muslims share one faith, the practices and actions of each individual Muslim or each Islamic group vary as widely as the practices and actions of the members of any other religion.

Spiritually inclusive

Jeanette Stokes, founder and director of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South
Last Tuesday night I sat in a service of worship at First Presbyterian Church in Durham, a citywide service with Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Jews. I listened to the wisdom of Jesus, Buddha, Jeremiah and Mohammed. Representatives from each of these faiths offered an expression of shock, hurt, anger and hope. Each one prayed for peace.

It is not an easy task to bring together people of different traditions. I know because I've been working in interfaith settings for 25 years. Some of our words and practices offend one another. Too often Christian people speak of the Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in settings where not everyone understands Jesus as such. In the Memorial Service at the National Cathedral on Thursday, I thought Billy Graham did everything but an altar call. When he spoke of people gathered in houses of worship to pray and reflect on Tuesday's events, he used the word "churches." Mosques, temples, synagogues and sangas do not understand themselves to be churches. We can't just add a few people of other faiths, stir, and call it an interfaith gathering. For any gathering to be interfaith, it needs to include a deep respect for all faiths represented.

When such respect is present, interfaith gatherings can provide comfort and hope in these days. Violence is born of fear. Fear is fed by rampant fundamentalism that tries to wipe out difference. Hope lies in the direction respecting one another, honoring the wisdom in different traditions, wanting to understand rather than obliterate those with whom we disagree.

If this is the new Pearl Harbor ...

Yueh Lee, board member of Advocacy for North Carolina Asian Pacific Americans
The events of last week have brought together Americans all across the country. Many have compared the inconceivable terrorist actions to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is no question that the shock and disbelief of Americans and the senseless loss of human life in both events are similar. However, America now has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that we made during World War II, and treat our fellow Americans, regardless of race and religion, as fellow Americans.

Within days of the Dec. 7 attack, there were calls for the removal of Japanese Americans from "strategic areas." Within months, over 110,000 Japanese Americans had been interned to restricted areas, their civil rights restricted and violated. These Americans were branded as dangerous--simply because of their race and heritage, without evidence, charge or trial. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of Japanese Americans resulted in denial of their rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the very fabric of the values we hold most strongly in America. Even following the internment, the subsequent discrimination and harassment made integration back into a normal American life very difficult.

We must prevent the mistakes of decades ago from occurring again. A lack of understanding of others breeds hate and distrust similar to that of the terrorists who attacked us. We as Americans should be above the cowardly acts and inability to understand and accept another culture or race. To hate or discriminate or fear a person based on appearance is simply un-American.

The recent attacks on America were on all Americans, including the Arab Americans and South Asian Americans (often mistaken as Middle Easterners). It is now time for Americans to stand strong together and stand for what it means to be an American--"One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for All."

Gene R. Nichol, Dean and Burton Craige Professor of Law, UNC School of Law, UNC-Chapel Hill
Americans face a brutal set of choices. History, particularly recent history, proves that we must act to defend ourselves. It is impossible to pretend that the world is not a dangerous place, or that peril is not real in our own lives, on our own shores. Merely going about our business is not a sensible option. Nor is it consistent with our national character.

But as we set about defending ourselves, it is vital to act as Americans. It was once said, marvelously, that "to be an American is an ideal, to be a Frenchman is a fact."

The core of our existence, unlike most other nations, is not tribal or ethnic or racial or religious. It is, rather, a common declared commitment to the complementary notions of liberty and equality. That commitment was the basis for our statement of independence in 1776. It sustained our claim to be "conceived in liberty" and "dedicated to the proposition that all ... are created equal" 87 years later. We have a special duty, in defending Americanism, not to behave in ways that defeat Americanism. Slavery, our brutality toward Native Americans, the Japanese internment, McCarthyism, the Speaker Ban--each of these historical tragedies teaches that there is more than one way to injure a nation.

So we can understandably shudder when Trent Lott, that old friend of constitutional liberty, claims that civil rights must go by the board in times of national crisis. And we can raise a wary eye when those who have systematically depleted constitutional guarantees in the name of a war on drugs now wail that the government surely ought to have more power to track terrorists than narcotics dealers.

If we are forced to fight, it is essential that, in doing so, we hold high our defining banner of individual human dignity. Otherwise, we surrender a cause that none are sufficiently powerful to take away.

The reverends Falwell and Robertson

Jerry Falwell: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.

Pat Robertson: Well, yes.

Falwell: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

Robertson: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Soulforce, Inc., an interreligious movement using Gandhi's principles of nonviolent resistance to end spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people
When I read a transcript of the dialogue between Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, my first thought was, "they're psychotic!" With the high correlation of religious fanaticism and mental illness, this diagnosis seemed indicated. But, with more thought, I realized calling them "psychotic" only excused their cruelty and maligned those who are truly mentally ill.

By agreeing that the "Christ-haters"--that is the ACLU, NOW, People for the American Way, gay and lesbian people, feminists, people who don't have the same religious beliefs they do and people who support women's freedom of choice--must "take a lot of blame" for the horrendous acts of terrorism that happened on Sept. 11, because they "helped this happen," Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson exposed themselves for what they are: hate-mongers who will if they can capitalize on our dreadful national tragedy in order to demonize those they don't like. They intend to associate these groups of American citizens with, in their words, "these monsters --the Husseins, the bin Ladins, the Arafats." Can Falwell and Robertson be more transparent in their desire to exploit the nation's anger and incite violence against these groups?

When confronted, Falwell backed off and explained that he was making a theological statement, not shifting the blame from the terrorists. But this explanation only elevates his obscenity against humanity to an obscenity against God. What kind of god would permit the violence, death and destruction that took place in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.? Certainly not the god of traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Only a petty and capricious god invented, in their own image, by Falwell and Robertson, could permit such unimaginable horror.

The good that can come of this preposterous conversation between Falwell and Robertson is that reasonable people, who once thought them credible, will discount them now forever more. Unfortunately, their act of spiritual terrorism may persuade the less reasonable, and the national fever for revenge may result in violence against more innocent Americans.

Our glimpse of war

Tonie Lilley, Durham writer and mom
I don't really know where to draw the line with my kids--how much to tell them about these recent horrors; how much to push for discussion with a 7 year old who doesn't seem affected by this incomprehensible event, probably because he can't comprehend it. A very large part of me wants to shelter both my children from this event and from the further bloodshed that I fear will follow. At the same time, I feel obligated to let them know enough about intolerance that they will understand the need for tolerance; enough about inequality that they will understand the need for equality; enough about destruction that they will understand the need for preservation; and (hippie that I am) enough about hate and war that they will understand the need for love and peace.

I was born after JFK was shot and I was too young when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to remember it. But what I do remember from my childhood is the knowledge that children just like me were being killed in a war far away and that those children did not deserve death any more than I did. And that I did not deserve the privilege of bountiful food, books, ugly troll dolls or a Daisy bicycle from Sears, any more than the children in Vietnam did. I was just lucky and as a result I felt guilty and undeserving. I don't want my children to grow up feeling that way. It doesn't make it easier to work for social change. It just makes it harder to be happy.

On the other extreme, an old friend of mine from high school was so sheltered from the news and the world as a child that she didn't know the Vietnam War occurred during her lifetime. She pieced it together through woefully inadequate high-school history courses; leaving her feeling angry, manipulated, foolish, distrusted? I'm not sure exactly how she felt, but it wasn't good.

Where's the middle road? How can we give our children a glimpse of war that lets them know it's not a video game, without robbing them of the security they'll need to grow up and make a better world? High as the body count is, compared to what's happened in other countries, this is but our "glimpse" of war. And we're the grown-ups, and we don't know what to do.

On defeating terrorism

Jonathan Schell, in The Nation
Should further steps be taken to protect the country and the world from terrorism, including nuclear terrorism? They should. And yet even as we do these things, we must hold, as if to life itself, to a fundamental truth that has been known to all thoughtful people since the destruction of Hiroshima: There is no technical solution to the vulnerability of modern populations to weapons of mass destruction. After the attack, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld placed U.S. forces on the highest state of alert and ordered destroyers and aircraft carriers to take up positions up and down the coasts of the United States. But none of these measures can repeal the vulnerability of modern society to its own inventions, revealed by that heart-breaking gap in the New York skyline. ... The combination of the extraordinary power of modern technology, the universal and instantaneous spread of information in the information age and the mobility inherent in a globalized economy prevents it.

Burhan Ghanayem, a Durham toxicologist and a leader of the Arab-American community
A few hours after the crimes against New York and Washington, D.C., my father, who lives in the West Bank under Israeli occupation, called me and said he was worried about us and the backlash against us. He said, "Tell your friends and people in America that the Palestinian people sympathize with them." My father says he feels the American pain probably more, because he is living through this type of destruction--and we've been living under these conditions under the occupation for the last 30 years. And we don't need to find the perpetrators. We know who drives the tanks, who flies the F-16s and helicopters that are raining down on us. Our life has been this way for the last year, so we really sympathize with the American people this week.


How many times in the past week have we listened as an unctuous TV journalist has asked of the grief-stricken, "Can you even begin to explain what the past few days have been like?" "Can you describe your sorrow?" "Do you still have hope?" Cutaway to studied-empathetic nod.

Bryant Gumbel asks of Michael Kurtz, whose wife Louise survived the Pentagon attack: "You've said you were mortified and shocked. Any other adjectives you'd like to add?"

Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick is repeatedly poked and provoked by, on separate occasions, Connie Chung and Bob McKeown. His staff was housed on the 101st and 103rd to 105th floors of One World Trade Center. Seven hundred of his people remained unaccounted for. He wept uncontrollably, urged on.

Such has been the nature of this media package: encounters such as the above, and time and again, those Towers falling, when once, maybe twice was enough.

Sometimes television is best viewed muted: The sight of the collapse of those buildings spoke with its own perverse eloquence. Of the attack, one observer said that just before the first jet struck, "All the pigeons in the street flew up." Imagine the sound of that. Take in the determination on the faces of New Yorkers as they work assembly-line fashion, ferrying in food for the rescue crews, having forgotten, in this moment, the distrust and indifference life in a big city can engender. No voiceover needed there.

And sometimes the television should be shut off altogether: Only in the quiet after, can we begin to understand. EndBlock

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