America begins to discover its vulnerability

In response to America’s attacks in Afghanistan, peace activists, from Williamstown to Tokyo, are out in full force protesting an escalation of the cycle of violence. Their goals are admirable. They envision a world free of violence, one that is just, fair and at peace – a world that most of us dream for. Their solutions for the present crisis, though, are hazardous, as many of them seem not to be peace activists but instead come across as apologists for mass murderers.

They assert that America should just swallow the death of 6,000 people, it should not avenge thousands of deaths and it should not seek swift justice. Americans should realize that they deserved it and move on, say many of these supposed proponents of non-violence. They fail to understand that the existence of the American nation and the survival of the American people is at stake. Someone out there wants us to die because of our nationality, because of where we were born, because of who our parents are. That someone – Al Qaida, the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, whoever is ultimately responsible – has no qualm with killing 6,000 innocent people withthe intention of ending American civilization altogether if need be. That someone has indicated that they are planning to carry out more attacks against Americans. “A storm of planes” will fall on America and Britain and every American and British citizen will die, says an Al-Qaida spokesman. Tony Blair struck an accurate chord when he said, “If those responsible could have killed 60,000 instead of 6,000, they would have without blinking an eye.”

Peace? We’re expected to answer these threats with harmonious peace overtures? These people don’t speak the language of peace, they speak of killing an entire national people. They envision a new Holocaust where the victims are the Americans, that evil, Starbucks-drinking, Gap-wearing, hedonistic patchwork of diverse peoples. In the tradition of the Crusaders and the Nazis before them, these extremists practice hate at its most unimaginable level, prostituting a great faith to justify their perverted fetish for slaughtering those of us in the West.

Now that thousands of our people have been murdered, from the American point of view, this is now a fight for survival; literally, a matter of life and death as these extremists are willing to go to great lengths to inflict harm on innocent Western civilians. They don’t just hate the politics of our leaders, they hate our diversity, they hate our tolerance and they want to kill us for it. This goes beyond disagreements over Palestine/Israel or the status of women; it is a clash of modernity against barbarism, of an imperfect, but largely free and open society against a dangerously fundamentalist parochial fringe.

Granted, American policy in Palestine/Israel is wrought with hypocrisy and has much more to do with pandering towards certain domestic constituencies than with fair notions of justice. Granted, the stationing of American troops in the Gulf States is an affront to many millions of Muslims. Granted, many of the regimes in the Middle East are corrupt and illegitimate and are backed by the U.S. But, none of this excuses the horror of Sept. 11, nor does it even explain it. The people that did this are evil, pure and simple. Except in cases of legitimate self-defense, anyone, no matter their ideology, no matter the context of their plight, who is driven to murdering thousands, is evil. Slaughter as a means of political expression cannot be rationalized; it is off the charts of logical debate and reason.

Those who did this were driven by something deeper and more profound than our government’s politics: a fixated, xenophobic hate. They hate what we represent as a people and what we aspire to. They hate that we are a people who are Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, atheist, white, black, Asian, Latino, gay, straight and everything in between. They hate our ingenuity, our creativity, our rich cultural traditions, our literature, our art and most of all, our people. This tiny, but mighty, band of extremists will not be satisfied until we cease to exist. This terrorist network is bloodthirsty; it’s mad. Certainly, it has its reasons, but it does not excuse its crimes against humanity. Moreover, its qualms with American foreign policy, cultural and economic imperialism are not the issue at hand. Today’s issue – which is pressing in the here and now for us – is the safety of the American people.

Those responsible and those plotting to do more have got to be eliminated. That’s it. We must get them before they get us. If we wait around and try to placate them, we will be attacked again, Al-Qaida has already made this clear when they talk about “burning the land under [American] feet.” If we do nothing now, thousands more of our people will be violently taken from us. That’s “peace” for you.

Taking military action that results in the death of others is among the most painful decisions for a country to make, but thanks to the methods of these terrorists, we have no choice as it is now either our destruction or theirs; unfortunately, that is the political reality we find ourselves in right now. It would be nice to answer these attacks against our people with words and not bombs, but those who attacked us (and continue to plan to) aren’t interested in hearing what we have to say.

During a time like this – when our society is under threat of attack and our soldiers are in combat – many seek refuge in patriotism through public presentations of national pride.  Despite my resolve that we hunt down terrorists, patriotism still makes me nervous. Seeing people chanting “USA” at a football game conjures up images of a Nuremberg Rally. Patriotic fervor can often lead to xenophobia, nationalistic wars of conquest and in their worst form, Holocausts. From the “God Bless America” bumper stickers to the flags on cars, I constantly tell myself, “It better not go any further than this.” However, despite all of our faults – from our ludicrous gun laws to our hypocritical policies in the Middle East to our continued use of the death penalty – this is still a beautiful country with a beautiful people. America is our community, and it’s our home. Before we can address flaws in American policy abroad and the insensitivity of our leaders towards others in the past, our home must be safe and secure from those who want to destroy it at all costs.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate this place of ours – practice a constructive patriotism, if you will. We have so much to be proud of as a people. While academics and students alike apologize for American woes to excuse the crimes of mass murderers and our political leaders attempt to rally us around the flag with cheesy cliches and refrains, hopefully many of us can finally come to terms with something we have been denying for so long, that no matter what happens, America will still always be a very special place.

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