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We Must Never Surrender the Right of Open Discussion

We Must Never Surrender the Right of Open Discussion

As a nation, we need thoughtful discussion concerning the September 11 attacks. In a time when open discussion is more necessary than ever, it is discouraging to see simple questions about our nations interests, posed in these forums, branded as anti-American, inappropriate, or as enemies within. Now more than ever, careful and respectful debate can grant us the informational dexterity needed to maintain an open and neutral perspective as events unfold. I am an American. This country’s social infrastructure, built with tremendous difficulty on the backs of many who sacrificed their lives for their country as well as those who sometimes unwittingly found themselves in the path of the nation’s maturation, is unique and valuable. It grants its citizens the opportunity for growth, unparalleled freedoms, and the means to remedy injustice. We are truly a great nation. Times of duress call to our minds the patriotic respect and admiration we have for our country, and bring us to realize just how fortunate we are to live in such a nation.

As an American, I refuse to surrender the ability and willingness to think openly, critically, and analytically about issues in our society and in our world. I will not allow the privileges of freedom and opportunity crafted so carefully in the course of the last two hundred-plus years to blind me to mistakes we’ve made and mistakes we continue to make. I will not surrender to the demands for unity and compliance in the pursuit of vengeance. We owe it both to ourselves and to those who have come before us to maintain a reasoned, simple honesty in assessing the state of the world. Those who bring nothing more to the public forum than reactionary and manipulative accusations of anti-Americanism do disservice to themselves, their country, and to reasonable thought.

It is hard, though, to keep thoughts clear-headed and words well-conceived during a storm as confusing as we face now. A sharp exchange of writings between Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for The Nation, was a visible sign of the heightened tensions that try tempers and better judgment. David Talbot and Andrew Sullivan, both respected political writers, engaged in a similar exchange. There is reason for anxiety. The initial highly-visible strikes against our country have yielded to an anonymous, growing swarm of threats and attacks, currently in the form of anthrax-laced mailings, that lack the visibility and impact of traditional acts of war but nonetheless foster a sense of fear and vulnerability.

Did September 11 Kill Democracy?

Did September 11 Kill Democracy?

The September 11 terrorist attack on America has provoked a strong response. Americans are at war. On television, from the mouths of politicians, in newspapers, this response is portrayed as unequivocal. As with Pearl Harbor, war has been declared on America. We have no choice but to respond with unpresidented military force. Other considerations might give us a pause, if they were not being quietly swept under the rug by those eagerly pressing for war. Isn’t war and violence precisely what terrorists are after? Rather than pitting ourselves against the Arab-Muslim world and lumping every Muslim in with the terrorists, shouldn’t we draw closer to those elements in the Arab world that reject terrorism? Most importantly, shouldn’t we attempt to fully understand why America was targeted? Do Americans truly appreciate the role of the United States in the Middle East? Are our politicians and news media attempting to increase our understanding of events in the Middle East before we plunge headlong into war? None of these questions are being addressed.

This is why the past few days have been so terrifying. A catastrophe can happen to any nation, but a democracy requires thoughtful debate and exposure to the necessary information before a democratic decision can be made. To quote Representative Lee of California, “We’ve got to bring these perpetrators to justice. But I’m saying that I have not yet seen the evidence. And until then, in Congress, we must show restraint.” Representative Lee was the only Representative who voted against authorizing military force on Friday. This fact alone is shocking and should be worrisome. Where is the democratic debate when, a scant 4 days after the events, all of Congress decides for the nation that there is no alternative to military action?

Without full knowledge of who was involved in the events, and careful consideration of all possible alternatives, what are they basing their decision on?

The messages from network television has been similarly alarming in its uniformity. Already on Tuesday, newscasters were not presenting democratic alternatives, but speculating about military targets. Is that the best that we can do as a nation, reach for our guns, striking out in anger rather than justice? If CNN starts an article with “The questions are only when and where,” isn’t CNN is deliberately encouraging its audience not to ask other questions?

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