Where we go from here

Posted: Sep 14, 2001 12:00 AM
"Death is not the enemy; living in constant fear of it is." - Norman Cousins (1912-1990) U.S. editor, essayist, "The Healing Heart," 1983 On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the country watched - horrified and confused - as thousands of lives came to an end in an instant. The images are staggering: A plane's sudden descent into a tower; a hellish explosion; trapped faces pressed helplessly against the windows; twisted metal and bodies littering the streets. How do we face this reality? How do we come to terms with such an unprecedented attack? Traditionally, Americans have found ways to draw strength in times of crisis. In New York, throngs of people found themselves wandering to the Red Cross to donate blood. Countless others dig through the rubble, determined to make a difference with their hands. Still, a cloud of dust and an acrid odor hangs over Manhattan. Old New York is gone. It has been destroyed before our eyes. The public, at first staggered by the breadth of the attack, is now seething. Ninety percent of the populace supports war. The nation has changed. A generation that never had to contend with an imminent threat is now forced to confront the fragility of their lives. Their security as citizens of the world's lone superpower has now crumbled like bits of plaster. The nation has changed in more tangible ways. Countless points across the country now resemble a national security state. An employee's mother, who works at Fort Meade in Maryland, writes today: "My car was pulled over this morning and, with an UZI pointed in my direction, my car was searched while I was told to stand to the side. What an atmosphere around here. Armed guards everywhere, bomb-sniffing dogs and an hour in line to get to the checkpoint at the entrance to Ft. Meade to show ID. Military and civilian police working in conjunction. A scary place with the National Security Administration (NSA) standing in the background." The search for order has led others to resort to basic tribalism. There were news reports yesterday of vandals hurling rocks through the windows of local Muslim mosques. At the grocery store, one can see citizens cutting severe expressions at Arab-Americans. Yesterday, a group of young men stalked up to a lady in the parking lot of a Safeway and hollered, "Get out of this country." "I'm from Rhode Island, my father is from Rhode Island," she pleaded. It did not matter. They looked at her dark, rum-colored skin and began to throw rocks. Perhaps things have not changed that much since 1942. How do we achieve order following an unprecedented attack? Sometimes, we make ourselves feel more secure by attacking other tribes around us. This has been the way that humans have traditionally come to terms with their resentments. For the past 200 years, America has attempted something different. Rather than kill or convert those who are different from us, we have sought to secure their basic rights, then draw strength from our common humanity. Perhaps this is the best explanation as to why these attacks must be treated not as criminal assaults, but as acts of war against humanity. Accordingly, the United States must break from recent practice and assign blame not only to the individual terrorists, but to the anti-human governments that support, train and shield these zealots. Our freedoms make America an easy target for individual terrorists. Jail a few, more will follow. As Henry Kissinger has wisely noted over the past couple of days, we must obliterate the networks that nurture these organizations. This will involve more than an isolated strike. It will necessitate a world coalition dedicated to rooting out and destroying these insidious, anti-human terrorist groups. But, at home, there will be an equally important test: to avoid peddling broad ethnic hate; to avoid hurling rocks at mosques or shouting slurs at a dark-skinned lady as she walks across a store parking lot. This can be the only reaction from a nation grounded in the Bill of Rights. Our response must be that of a unified nation. We cannot allow fear to blacken our hearts or for hate to erode our common humanity. If we separate in anger and prejudice, than the terrorists will have won. I do not wish to give them such a victory.