(With apologies to Robert Frost and his poem by the same title)
When I saw the headline ‘Attitudes on Arabs, terrorism shifting‘ in today’s Morning Call, I expected to read that people here in the Lehigh Valley were finally getting over their prejudices and stereotypes about Arabs & Muslims. Instead, I learned that even as other fears have decreased, ‘wariness of “individuals of Arab origin” has actually increased.’
These attitudes have no doubt been made worse by all these years of 9-11 observances that generally focus on glorifying people’s pain and those who died, instead of on understanding what happened and why. Politicians, media, and the general public all seem to be fixated on the event itself, but missing the meaning of the original attack and the U.S. response.
I also wonder what a survey of students attending our local schools and colleges would show, because I see few public events—and almost no efforts in schools—to really explore the complexities of the issues and raise genuine awareness. There’s too great a tendency in classes to equate patriotism with war, justice with punishment, and heroism with acts in combat. How will they learn the nuances, the reasons? How will they even know about the road not taken?
Right after 9-11, the world was overflowing with sympathy for the American people and outrage at the terrorists; in Iran, for example, tens of thousands of people held a spontaneous candlelight vigil in Tehran to show their sympathy and support for us. The U.S. could have responded to and developed this sense of community; instead it chose to continue and expand the cycle of violence.
Our so-called leaders chose launched a military assault on Afghanistan and later on Iraq. Within a few months, the U.S. military had killed more innocent civilians than were killed in the terrorist attacks, and the total now is over 1 million civilians killed as a result of these actions (with millions more injured and displaced). The leaders and media are silent about this wake of death and destruction.
Almost 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us that the greatest purveyor of violence in the entire world was the United States government. Over 40 years later, the U.S. spends an even greater percentage on the military and war—as much as the rest of the world combined! (No wonder we have no money for real needs.)
Compare all this to Norway’s response to the recent terrorism there. Government leaders could easily have used this to justify curtailing civil liberties and instituting new controls. They took the opposite approach, and have sustained and enhanced Norway’s reputation for openness and tolerance. An article in Yes! Magazine quotes government advisor Jacob Bomann-Larsen:
‘It was like the politicians from all eight main political parties realized that their disagreements were of minor significance. We have a common enemy to fight—hate, revenge, and intolerance. Our answer shall be love, openness, tolerance, and democracy.’
Why do we continue on the path of death and destruction instead of peace and restoration? MLK challenged us to forgo the easy road and do what’s right:
Cowardice asks the question—is it safe?
Expediency asks the question—is it politic?
Vanity asks the question—is it popular?
But conscience asks the question—is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.
I am afraid that some people—and many of our politicians—practice their morality separately, not trying to make it part of the rest of their lives. They may go to their churches, mosques, and temples to worship; they may make wonderful pronouncements about good and evil—but then they return to business as usual, including supporting or ignoring the violence and exploitation in everyday life. Governments aren’t the only villains—greedy businesses (including the industrial food system, resource extraction industries, and Wall Street) practice sociopathic levels of exploitation and violence every day.
I wish our so-called leaders recognized this and would spend less time repeating platitudes about the victims of 9-11 while overlooking the causes. I wish more of them were willing to condemn the incredible violence and destruction of the U.S. response, the hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed. I wish more people understood how this increases terrorist threats, putting us all at greater risk. And I wish more people would show some interest in learning how to respond to violence in ways that are right and just.
I wish more people could see the road not taken, the road of peace, sustainability, and nonviolence.
- Gary Olson’s essay in our Voices of the Valley blog: ‘What Did We Learn from 9-11?‘
- Fran Korten’s article in Yes! Magazine: ‘A Truly Courageous Response to Terror’
- Ahmed Rashid’s essay in The New York Times, ‘And Hate Begat Hate‘
- Tom Engelhardt’s essay on TomDispatch: ‘Bury the War State’s Blank Check at Sea’