Not surprisingly, it is difficult to see much good coming out of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is suggested that the attacks "brought America together," but the image of New York police and fireman at ground zero throwing punches at one another a month after the attack might suggest otherwise. If there is any new national unity, it is certainly not the bond of common purpose and sacrifice that characterized World War II, but rather a superficial one of flags and xenophobia. Those of us who are critics of the government or are of Middle Eastern origin have experienced America coming together all right to attempt to silence or arrest us.
The wake-up call delivered to America regarding its position and vulnerability in the world was certainly a positive development, but it does not seem to have brought greater enlightenment to our foreign policies, and the secretary of defense cites the terrorist threat as yet another reason to build a missile defense shield, a curious bit of logic. At least most Americans are now vaguely aware of Islam and the existence of the rest of the planet, and it must be presumed that President Bush now knows where Pakistan and Afghanistan are on the map.
In every other regard Sept. 11 was a disaster for our nation. Some 3,000 people were murdered, two architectural marvels were destroyed (though some architects and planners suggest this is a good thing) and Rudy Giuliani became Man of the Year.
Far worse, the proclamation of the war on terrorism has provided a U.S. supported excuse to every government that wishes to suppress some group: simply declare them terrorists. Most especially, Russia, China, India and Israel now have the green light to do anything they please to Chechins, west China Muslims, Kashmiris and Palestinians on the grounds that they are all terrorists. "Terrorist" has clearly replaced "communist" as the label that every oppressive regime in the world must now affix to any one or any group it wishes to destroy with American approval.
As many are beginning to realize, however, the most appalling result of the attacks a year ago is the progressive undermining of our Constitution and civil liberties in the name of security. Hitler had to burn down the Reichstag as an excuse to curtail German liberties and assume more personal power; the Cheney administration was handed an excuse by the terrorists, who provided our befuddled president the means to an image and popularity far out of proportion to his actual talents. Aided generally by Congress and supported, sadly, by many Americans, the administration has used the terrorist threat and national security to justify a massive increase in government authority, particularly in the executive branch, and a growing assault on civil rights.
To be fair, a Democratic administration would be acting in a similar fashion, inasmuch as the defense and expansion of its power and a penchant for secrecy are after all characteristic of any government. But the Cheney administration is particularly overt and vile in this regard, breaking all previous records for keeping the American public and even Congress uniformed. The attorney general, a religious extremist who makes even John Mitchell look attractive, has openly declared that criticism of the government (or at least the executive branch) is akin to treason and is busy subverting the Constitution he is sworn to defend by circumventing due process for "enemies of the state," including American citizens and by proposing we set up concentration camps. He urges us all to spy on one another and has made it clear that Justice (or at least her breasts) is obscene.
Meanwhile, the Immigration and Naturalization Services is completely out of control, detaining and holding people without charges, denying them access to counsel and justifying its actions on the basis of "evidence" that is held secret even from the accused. The government is now debating and about to create a new super-department of Homeland Security, whose very name strikes fear into anyone familiar with 20th century history.
And the president asserts that he can wage war without reference to Congress or the American people because his lawyers told him he could! Temporary expedient measures for the war on terrorism? Hardly. Unless they are compelled by the people, governments, whatever their nature, simply do not give up powers they gain.
Particularly sad is how many Americans support this steady erosion of their freedoms, even asking for more limits, all in the name of some elusive security (and, I suspect, cheap gasoline). It has become an unheeded cliché, but Benjamin Franklin (famous government critic and traitor) was absolutely right when he stated that those who sacrifice liberty for security will end up with neither.
For all the pronouncements of self-serving politicians and a myopic media it can hardly be said that the events of Sept. 11 "changed the world." However much of an impact they may have had on us, in the great span of world or even western history the terrorist attacks are of very minor importance. Even in the course of American affairs they hardly match in importance dozens of other events in our history unless of course they mark the moment America began her slide into authoritarianism and oppression and became indistinguishable from those who would destroy her. Those of us who love the Constitution surely hope not.
by Richard M. Berthold, Daily Lobo Columnist Daily Lobo
I would like to include an article in my 9/11 section written by by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser in the Administration of President Carter.
September 1, 2002
Confronting Anti-American Grievances
By ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI
WASHINGTON - Nearly a year after the start of America's war on terrorism, that war faces the real risk of being hijacked by foreign governments with repressive agendas. Instead of leading a democratic coalition, the United States faces the risk of dangerous isolation. The Bush administration's definition of the challenge that America confronts has been cast largely in semireligious terms. The public has been told repeatedly that terrorism is "evil," which it undoubtedly is, and that "evildoers" are responsible for it, which doubtless they are. But beyond these justifiable condemnations, there is a historical void. It is as if terrorism is suspended in outer space as an abstract phenomenon, with ruthless terrorists acting under some Satanic inspiration unrelated to any specific motivation.
President Bush has wisely eschewed identifying terrorism with Islam as a whole and been careful to stress that Islam as such is not at fault. But some supporters of the administration have been less careful about such distinctions, arguing that Islamic culture in general is so hostile to the West, and especially to democracy, that it has created a fertile soil for terrorist hatred of America.
Missing from much of the public debate is discussion of the simple fact that lurking behind every terroristic act is a specific political antecedent. That does not justify either the perpetrator or his political cause. Nonetheless, the fact is that almost all terrorist activity originates from some political conflict and is sustained by it as well. . . . In the case of Sept. 11, it does not require deep analysis to note - given the identity of the perpetrators - that the Middle East's political history has something to do with the hatred of Middle Eastern terrorists for America. The specifics of the region's political history need not be dissected too closely because terrorists presumably do not delve deeply into archival research before embarking on a terrorist career. Rather, it is the emotional context of felt, observed or historically recounted political grievances that shapes the fanatical pathology of terrorists and eventually triggers their murderous actions.
American involvement in the Middle East is clearly the main impulse of the hatred that has been directed at America. There is no escaping the fact that Arab political emotions have been shaped by the region's encounter with French and British colonialism, by the defeat of the Arab effort to prevent the existence of Israel and by the subsequent American support for Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, as well as by the direct injection of American power into the region.
This last has been perceived by the more fanatical elements in the region as offensive to the sacred religious purity of Saudi Arabian custodianship of Islam's holy places and as hurtful to the welfare of the Iraqi people. The religious aspect adds fervor to their zeal, but it is worth noting that some of the Sept. 11 terrorists had non-religious lifestyles. Their attack on the World Trade Center had a definite political cast to it.
Yet there has been a remarkable reluctance in America to confront the more complex historical dimensions of this hatred. The inclination instead has been to rely on abstract assertions like terrorists "hate freedom" or that their religious background makes them despise Western culture.
To win the war on terrorism, one must therefore set two goals: first to destroy the terrorists and, second, to begin a political effort that focuses on the conditions that brought about their emergence. . . .
The rather narrow, almost one-dimensional definition of the terrorist threat favored by the Bush administration poses the special risk that foreign powers will also seize upon the word "terrorism" to promote their own agendas, as President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India and President Jiang Zemin of China are doing. For each of them the disembodied American definition of the terrorist challenge has been both expedient and convenient.
When speaking to Americans, neither Mr. Putin nor Mr. Sharon can hardly utter a sentence without the "T" word in it in order to transform America's struggle against terrorism into a joint struggle against their particular Muslim neighbors. Mr. Putin clearly sees an opportunity to deflect Islamic hostility away from Russia despite Russian crimes in Chechnya and earlier in Afghanistan. Mr. Sharon would welcome a deterioration in United States relations with Saudi Arabia and perhaps American military action against Iraq while gaining a free hand to suppress the Palestinians. Hindu fanatics in India are also quite eager to conflate Islam in general with terrorism in Kashmir in particular. Not to be outdone, the Chinese recently succeeded in persuading the Bush administration to list an obscure Uighur Muslim separatist group fighting in Xinjiang province as a terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda.
For America, the potential risk is that its nonpolitically defined war on terrorism may thus be hijacked and diverted to other ends. The consequences would be dangerous. If America comes to be viewed by its key democratic allies in Europe and Asia as morally obtuse and politically nave in failing to address terrorism in its broader and deeper dimensions - and if it is also seen by them as uncritically embracing intolerant suppression of ethnic or national aspirations - global support for America's policies will surely decline. America's ability to maintain a broadly democratic antiterrorist coalition will suffer gravely. The prospects of international support for an eventual military confrontation with Iraq will also be drastically diminished.
Such an isolated America is likely to face even more threats from vengeful terrorists who have decided to blame America for any outrages committed by its self-appointed allies. A victory in the war against terrorism can never be registered in a formal act of surrender. Instead, it will only be divined from the gradual waning of terrorist acts. Any further strikes against Americans will thus be a painful reminder that the war has not been won. Sadly, a main reason will be America's reluctance to focus on the political roots of the terrorist atrocity of Sept. 11.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company