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
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.
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