The Islamic civilization that produced such tolerance, knowledge, and beauty throughout history is now only able to produce terrorists. Extreme acts of violence, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, test the mettle and moral depth of societies-the society that is targeted by the violence and the society that generated it. For instance, the Japanese stealth attack on Pearl Harbor tested both the aggressor and the victim. Pearl Harbor challenged the moral integrity of Japanese normative values, but also tested us-the victim. On our part, we responded to an extreme act of aggression with another extreme act-we interned our Japanese citizens in concentration camps, all of which resulted in great damage to our constitutional and civil rights.
We do not have a very good record when responding to aggression-as a society we tend to vent our anger and hurt at our own citizens and then spend decades expressing regret and talking about lessons learned. Considering the scale of what has been called the second Pearl Harbor, unfortunately, I fear that there is already an explosion of hate crimes against Muslim and Arab-Americans, both by common citizens and police enforcement agencies. Islamophobic experts started splattering the airwaves with endless talk about the Islamic threat and “I told you so’s.” Anticipating the backlash, Muslim and Arab organizations have rushed to issue condemnations against terrorism and hate-motivated violence, and have gone to great pains to explain that terrorists who happen to be Muslim, do not represent Muslims at large, or Islam. But, ultimately, this did not matter, and several Arab-looking or Muslim-looking people have been killed or beaten in several places…
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…ric. Our foreign policy towards Muslim nations remains guided by considerations of real politic and pure self-interest. In this vein, we supported and continue to support very repressive and corrupt governments with abysmal human rights records. While touting the cause of freedom and democracy, we consistently refer to these repressive governments as our friends and allies. Even more, we arrogantly claim to be the leader of the free world-whatever that means-but have not proven to be a very benevolent or principled leader.
The claim of leadership comes with a heavy responsibility. It should be understood that the leader becomes the symbolic scapegoat for the frustrations and failures of its purported followers. Significantly, when the leader relies on the logic of unprincipled and pragmatic interest, the lesson taught to others is not a particularly moral one.
Propaganda, Patriotism, and the War on Terrorism
Propaganda, Patriotism, and the War on Terrorism
On college campuses across the nation, efforts are being made to silence professors who encourage students to probe the history of U.S. foreign policy in the effort to understand the September 11th attacks.
Recent articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education report that students have complained to deans about professors critical of U.S. foreign policy, and boards of trustees, deans, and college presidents have drafted resolutions and issued public statements condemning their views. Professors have been shouted down, received volumes of hate mail and, on some campuses, death threats. In one case, a trustee publicly invited a professor “to take a hike.”
Historically, such attacks on free speech have risen sharply in times of national crisis — precisely when a full range of views is sorely needed. They are particularly disturbing on campuses of higher education that should be strongholds of people who defend independent thinking.
The nature of the arguments offered against these dissenting voices are very troubling; so too their political effects. The arguments fall into two groups. First, professors are charged with showing no concern for the feeling of others: they lack taste and judgment; they are insensitive, self-indulgent and offend others at a time when emotions are raw. In being so inattentive to their students’ emotional sensitivities, dissenting faculty violate the trust students place in them. Now is not the time for critique, but for emotional nurturing, reassurance and national solidarity.
Second, professors are charged with offering excuses for the attacks. Their examination of the role the United States may have played in creating conditions that make terrorist acts more likely amounts to a justification of the acts themselves.
There is an emotional tyranny at play here, and its effect is to obstruct processes of understanding that alone will aid us in our ongoing debate over how to come to terms with terrorism. What do I mean by tyranny? In the first instance, we are being told that feelings alone are appropriate now. It is too early, indeed, it is tasteless, to begin to sort through our role in the complex factors that brought these people to their heinous acts.
But understanding is crucial to wise action, and action, as we see in each morning’s news, is most certainly being undertaken in our name. While we are being asked just to feel, the administration and its congressional allies hurry to pass laws that threaten our civil liberties at home, and engage in a massive war effort likely to foster greater resentment abroad.