San Francisco Chronicle – 11/30/2001
We yawned for years at news reports about the “cycle of hatred” dominating life in far corners of the Third World. The cycle’s carnage seemed impossibly remote, with hate largely depicted as a character flaw rampant among lesser peoples. Which, of course, makes it all the more bewildering to find the United States now stripped of its insulation and locked in the bloody undertow of just such a cycle.
We are unaccustomed to the new vulnerability emanating from Ground Zero. Throughout history, Americans have always had difficulty thinking of ourselves as either hated or haters, even when our hates and haters were manifest.
We have always fancied ourselves “liberators” and operated under the assumption that everyone wanted to be like us if just given half a chance and, hence, everyone welcomed our presence and influence.
It is time for a new American perspective. Rampant hatred pointed in our direction is now a fact of our national life. Henceforth, the challenge facing the United States will be less one of liberating the admiring foreign masses than confronting the distant multitudes who, at this moment, may resent and despise us.
And, as if that weren’t enough, we must manage that confrontation in a way that releases us from the cycle of blood feuds in which both we and they are now trapped.
If our national strategy fails to accomplish such a release, then, whatever its other more momentary successes, it will have failed and our newfound vulnerability will remain intact, perhaps in perpetuity.
I don’t envy us this task. There is little in the traditional Amei:ican strategic lexicon to cope with our current circumstance. To succeed, the venture we have embarked upon will have to be played by a different set of rules than those to which we are accustomed. Here are a few obvious ones:
1. Kill only the right people.
A heinous crime has been committed against us. We have every right to bring its perpetrators to justice. How precise we are in doing so will have a direct relationship to our success.
The more wrong people we kill, the greater the danger to us. The more we strike down everyday people – people trying to get through their lives, having violated no one, people like the more than 6,600 missing and dead in the World Trade Center -the more we will be seen as terrorists ourselves, making war on Islam.
The military assault halfway around the world, an operation to which most Americans seem committed, is an extraordinarily blunt instrument. Any “collateral damage” it causes is an invitation to disaster. At the very least it will send legions of faithful to sign up with Osama bin Laden. At worst, it could set off a global war.
2. Reduce the number of terrorism’s targets.
Hatred needs expression, and jihad needs opportunity for sacrifice. One way to reduce targets is through escalation of air travel security. It may amount to closing the barn door, but it could deny terrorists a repeat performance.
A way to expand terrorism’s targets is to project American military force into Pakistan. The logistical base of the enterprise would be in the midst of people who hate us most, making the home of American operations a giant bullseye for every devotee of jihad within a thousand miles.
To defend our perimeter, we will eventually have to widen the fight, risking severe violations of Rule No. 1 (see above) and perhaps touching off civil war in Pakistan, thereby sabotaging all chance of shutting down al Qaeda, let alone vanquishing terrorism.
3. Our fight is with behavior, not attitude.
We seek to bring a gang of criminals to justice. They violated us out of hatred. but their hatred in itself is not a crime. Sept 11 does not give us the right to assault whomever out there hates us or simply chooses to stay on the other side of the line our president draws in the sand.
If we widen our assault anyway, we will seriously overstep our credibility, exhaust our military resources and sabotage any chance for breaking the cycle.
Instead, we must confront that hatred with the patient exercise of American devotion to the particulars of law and justice. We should identify people who have already attacked us or are planning to do so and pursue them relentlessly;
But we must do so in a fashion that shows anyone watching that we know the difference between the innocent and the guilty, whether they hate us or not.
It is a crime to act like a terrorist. It is not a crime to look like one, live next to one or even to root for one.
4. To succeed, this effort must not only be international; it must be transnational.
As the aggrieved party, we ,are borne forward by our direct human experience of terror, something we now share with hundreds of millions of others around the world. That shared experience provides us with common cause, not just as nations, but as people.
To maximize that bond, our outrage must not simply be over the fact America was attacked. We must transcend simple national interest. All lives lost to terror must be treated as of equal value. Our outrage must be over the assault on innocents, period, wherever it takes place.
For the first time in recent memory, the United States is, by dint of our tragedy, in a position to act as legitimate champion of the world’s victims.
But to convince people in the rest of the world that we are sincere about their lives as well as our own, we must be prepared to step outside our national pride and recognize their experience of us as well as our own experience of ourselves.
There are reasons for the ways we are thought of. Listening to these reasons will be difficult but ultimately will give both America and the rest of the world a lot more in common. And this connection will trump hatred at its source.
If, on the other hand, we fail to affirm this transnational bond forged in human suffering and fail to change our own behavior to better nurture such connections, the opportunity to weld together a worldwide anti-terror consensus will devolve into the same system by which terror, and the hatred which feeds it, have prospered.