Cry for Vengeance Gets Us Unholy War

Osama bin Laden (or some other Osama bin Laden) has pierced

the borders, entered our city and proved to all that we are mortal, that our

buildings can fall, our Pentagon split apart. Our planes can be pirated, our

steel structures melted, our sky filled with ash covering our faces, cars,

street signs. Our cell phones can be muted, our bridges closed, our

firefighters buried under tons of concrete. Pompeii

was an act of nature, impersonal, neutral, containing no political agenda. This

was a deed of men possessed of righteousness, engaged in a holy war. But it

will change no policy, shift no balance of power. It will not, whatever the

dark visionaries may assume, please their god or earn them a place in the world

to come. It will simply make us grieve for our dead and feel unsafe in our

streets.

Our generals speak of war against the United

States, but it is not war, army to army, as

we have known it. It is Gulliver tied with a million threads, lying on the

ground while the little folk pinch his skin. We want Gulliver to jump to his

feet and crush like bugs those who would harm him because they are afraid of

him. That would make us feel better, but it would accomplish nothing. Retaliation

brings immediate satisfaction, but in the long term it spreads the infection.

The terrorists have succeeded in making us hate, in defeating and ridiculing

those who want to heal the rifts between us. When we see the Palestinians on

the West Bank rejoicing at the death in New

York, dancing with each other, waving joyously to the

camera, we despair for peace. A wrenching fury boils within. Perhaps we will

cool down. It would be a terrible thing if we, in our frustration, mistreat

strangers among us, those of the Muslim faith. Let’s

not grant the terrorists the victory of pushing our minds into the mud of

ill-conceived slogans, self-righteous zealotry.

They have contempt for our culture and all its trappings,

but they are not a mighty nation. They are shabby pirates of the air. Stopping

them should not require a full-scale war. We dignify the outlaws and criminals

when we make war against them. Police actions, yes; crackdowns, yes; strong-arm

them, yes; crush them like bugs, absolutely. But remember: They are a ragtag

group boasting of bad deeds, misunderstanding their own religious teachings,

poisoned by hate.

It is dangerous to use

the word “war” when we mean something more akin to a street fight. If the

language gets overblown, we may overshoot our target; what started as a fire

may become a conflagration that consumes far more than its original cause

warranted. We should call our response what it is, a scramble against outlaws,

train robbers, kidnappers. Those are skirmishes we tend to win.