Since yesterday's horrific events in New York and Washington, D.C., I have been asked many times how I feel about the terrorist attacks, the safety of Americans, and the impending actions on the part of the U.S. against the perpetrators of the attacks. Of course, I feel what many other people feel-shock and horror at the devastation, and grief and sympathy for the victims and their families. The devastating attacks on the World Trade Center were examples of the worst kind of disregard for human life and should be condemned.
Yet I also feel outrage at the hypocrisy of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and all of the politicians and pundits who last night rushed to declare war on the still-unidentified perpetrators of this tragedy. Targeting civilians is despicable. But it is worth pointing out that the United States military has, in recent years, been the most effective and constant killer of civilians around the world. The 1991 Persian Gulf War left more than two hundred thousand civilians dead as a direct consequence of the war. Ongoing economic sanctions in Iraq have killed more than 1.5 million more, including hundreds of thousands of children. In a chilling 1995 interview, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright justified these children's deaths, saying, "the cost, we think, is worth it."
Furthermore, many Americans don't stop to think about why Palestinians and others in the Middle East have cause to be extremely angry with the United States for its support of Israel in its decades-long campaign of terror against Palestinian civilians. Few people I have spoken with have thought about the role that the U.S.'s refusal to participate in the U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa (where questions of Iraeli racism against Palestinians arose)may have played in intensifying Arab anger at the United States.
Of course, legitimate anger is no justification for terrorism against civilians. My heart goes out to the attack's survivors, victims, and their families. However, the scapegoating of Arabs and the hasty and predictable attempt to blame the attacks on Osama bin Laden and his supporters will not ease their suffering. The scapegoating of Arabs can only result in an upsurge in irrational anti-Arab sentiment and violence.
Likewise, I fear the curtailing of our civil liberties in the wake of this crisis. Already we are hearing about tightening airport security. Those of us who are regular participants in progressive political debate and activism also worry that there will be a crackdown on those kinds of activities and organizations in the name of protecting American lives.
Beyond asking each other how we feel, I believe we should also talk together about what we think about this crisis. We need to look beyond the emotional calls to war and ask ourselves, is quick and violent retaliation the proper response? Why would someone target the U.S.? Why would people feel so desperate that they would want to kill themselves and innocent civilians in these kinds of attacks? We need to address these questions if we are to prevent the kind of devastation that happened yesterday from happening ever again.
Dana L. Cloud is Associate Professor Communication Studies, a University of Texas Humanities Institute Fellow, and a member of the International Socialist Organization.
Dana Cloud Associate Professor Department of Communication Studies CMA 7.114/mail code A1105 The University of Texas, Austin Austin, TX 78712
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