Friday, July 15, 2005

Not a Helpful Solution

The Literary Correspondent recently forwarded to The Home Office a disturbing e-mail she had received. It should be pointed out that the Literary Correspondent and I have a tendency to look at events from different sides of the political spectrum.

A friend of hers (fortunately for me, I don’t know that I have any “friends” of this ilk, and don’t want to find out) is soliciting support for an anti-terrorist letter to be sent to “Senators, Congressmen and all political figures who need to act now to protect us from the Muslim terrorists.” The accompanying letter is better described as a screed. It begins:

To date, and to the best of my knowledge, we have not heard from any Muslim leaders in our country denouncing the Muslim attacks on us and on our allies. Why do we not expect these people, in our country, to stand with us and loudly denounce the insurgent terrorists?

And concludes:

What can we do about the Muslim invasion in our country?

Some ideas:

Do not allow Muslim schools in this country.
Do not allow Muslim mosques in this country.
Stop all Muslims from entering this country.
Do not support Muslim owned businesses; many are fundraisers for the insurgents.
Do not believe that any Muslims are peaceful, read their doctrines and beliefs.
AND, the ACLU be damned!

First, the personal note. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I have issues with her presumption of the authority to damn anyone, let alone me. Based on her letter, she’s in way over her head in making those kinds of judgments. She should stick to things more in line with her talents. Coloring between the lines. Not stepping on sidewalk cracks.

You’d think Americans would have learned their lessons from the forced internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II, or the McCarthy-era blacklistings. As much as some Americans claim to love freedom, and are willing to see every Iraqi citizen blown to tiny bits so those tiny bits can be free, we’re willing to deny that freedom to others at the drop of a casualty.

The event that must have triggered this outburst (based on its date) didn’t even happen here. We could learn a lot from the British response to last week’s bombings. The affected areas were cordoned off as crime scenes for a few days; it was business as usual elsewhere. London lost as many as 500 people a night during the Blitz and basically told Hitler to go fuck himself. A lot Brits who grew up then are still around. I don't think half a dozen backpack charges placed at the behest of a guy who lives in a cave is going to faze them much.

The mayor made a speech to that effect the other day. “London has been the target of a cowardly terrorist attack…This was indiscriminate slaughter irrespective of age, class, religion, whatever…That isn’t an ideology. It isn’t even a perverted faith. It is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder…I urge Londoners from all of this city’s diverse communities and faiths to support one another and stand together against terrorism…Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.” (Emphasis not in original.)

That about sums it up, somewhat more eloquently than I would have. I looked through the speech, “and the camel you rode in on” isn’t in the text. It doesn’t have to be; it sits between the lines, holding the speech together like the mortar between bricks.

What might be the most important aspect of his speech is his appeal to all faiths to support each other and stand together. Any overt attempts to marginalize an entire religion even more than it is will only increase the alienation and rancor. Our best way out of this is to establish better rapport with mainstream Muslims. They are best suited to communicate rationally with anyone on the fence about the long-term benefits of working peacefully, and best positioned to provide information on who might be prepared to do us wrong.

Before we do anything we can’t undo and could be ashamed to explain to our children, let’s make sure we aren’t panicking over this. Among my first memories as I became aware of the world around me were the annual summer race riots during the mid to late sixties. I was surprised when they stopped; I assumed black people routinely burned down cities every summer. Time passed, conditions changed, and discontent over civil rights (or the lack thereof) became expressed differently.

Terrorism as we see it now may well be a phase that will pass. That’s not to say we should sit back and do nothing and take our casualties; that's wrong-headed and will only delay the end of the phase. Let’s treat the perpetrators as they criminals they are, and treat law-abiding citizens as the fully functional members of a free society that they are until proven otherwise. If we don't believe the system we claim to have loved so much for 229 years can handle this, then we're even more hypocritical than I have been suspecting.

Walking away from what we are supposed to stand for in the name of nominally increased security is handing the terrorists a greater victory than they could ever hope to achieve by blowing up every building in the country. Their supposed purpose is to undermine our freedoms and way of life. They can’t do that unless we let them. The sentiments in our anonymous letter do exactly that.

The terrorists who blew up London and the World Trade Center are no more Muslims than Timothy McVeigh was a good Christian boy. I doubt the writer of the above letter ever contemplated rounding up all the Christians (or even just the Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, whatever McVeigh was) and shipping them off somewhere. What’s that? They’re citizens, and were already here? So are a lot of Muslims, some of whom probably have a much better understanding of the Bill of Rights than does our letter writer.

Terrorists are an abomination in the sight of decent people everywhere, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or national origin. If we want to stop them, let’s make it easier for their unwilling “peers” to speak out against their atrocities. The terrorist mantra is that they’re being ignored, their convictions trampled by a Western world intent on destroying them. Iraq is their greatest recruiting poster. Maybe it’s time to invest in making friends in addition to killing enemies. Just killing enemies doesn’t seem to be making us any safer.

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