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Posted by gustav at 05:01PM, Saturday, December 09th, 2000

It's a frightening time to be a pacifist

Or even someone who can simply view the actions of diverse political groups through the same lens.

In an AP wire article on September 16, (see salon), Defense Secretary Rumsfeld talks about the need for Special Operations forces. The article goes on to detail the kinds of things these forces are trained for: "[they] are trained in a wide array of missions, including psychological warfare, sabotage and kidnapping, small-scale offensive strikes at discrete targets..." In contrast, of course, to the members of terrorist groups like the Taliban.

On the 700 Club, on September 13, Jerry Falwell said "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle... all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" At least he eqloquently illustrates the point that it's not only middle-eastern countries that have fanatics.

Meanwhile, good old Americans are extending the traditions of racist violence beyond the Bible Belt. So far, we have two Indian men shot in Texas and Mesa, Arizona; a Pakistani woman nearly run down in a car in the Midwest; church burnings, etc. But we've come so far since the 60s, don't you think?

The mainstream press seems remarkably quiet about the background of Bin Laden, a man who was trained by our own CIA, and funded by the US goverment, much like Saddam Hussein before him. The same goes for the Taliban, which, similarly, was also funded by the US government, albeit slightly more recently -- in 2001, to be exact.

Millions of cars on American roads this week have flags plastered all over them, and talking heads ramble on about the need to show terrorists that we will not let the American way of life be compromised. I wonder, though, what, specifically, they mean by the "American" way of life, or if they even really ever think about it, or are just making vacuous platitudes. My definition of an "American" way of life would be one with liberty and freedom for all citizens; one without racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or religious persecution, or bigotry of any form; one where "religious freedom" didn't just apply to different flavors of Christianity; one where privacy and due process of law were considered untouchable cornerstones of civilization. Idealistic, perhaps, but it's what I was brought up to believe. Instead we have a president who says that "there should be limits to freedom." We have people clamoring that we should avenge our nation quickly and brutally, even if it means killing innocent people. We have the usual chorus of people who don't quite get it, saying that it's worth sacrificing freedom for the "guarantee" that "this" will never happen again. We have a president asking an all-too-willing congress for extended, possibly unconstitutional, powers in waging a "war" against the perpetrators (even though war, by definition, is against nations, not individuals or groups). We have people who are all too willing to sell out the virtues that, theoretically, make this country great, and who see no irony in stooping to exactly the tactics of the terrorists.

We are, evidently, a bloodthirsty lot, with no memory of relatively recent events, and no ability to contextualize them. Coworkers report stories. One of them was riding on a bus and was asked by the driver whether he was willing to fight for his country. The driver went on to air his opinion that all Arabs in America should be rounded up and expelled or locked up. This driver was of Japanese descent, with no sense of the irony that his words bore, in light of the interment camps for Japanese-Americans during world war II. Another coworker overheard a conversation about arabs, when, again, the speaker talked about wanting them all "rounded up" before they did anything more -- citing events for which Arabs were responsible, such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the previous World Trade Center bombing, and the Oklahoma City bombing. Say what? To be so ignorant as to think that the official perpetrator of the Ok. City bombing was an Arab, rather than Timothy McVeigh -- this is the level of discrete thought our media foster.

Then there are the people who talk about how much better Americans are --
that Americans would never kill innocent babies (forgetting, evidently, the
US bombing on Libya, when we killed Ghadafi's young daughter). I wonder whether
these are the same people who, when polled, said they'd be in favor of killing
the "perpetrators" (aren't they already dead?), even if it meant killing
other, innocent, people. Are these the same people who go around shooting
anyone in a turban -- even when it's an American citizen of Indian descent?
And there are the people who talk about maintaining the American way of life, evidently unaware of the irony of endorsing our own terrorist strikes against our supposed enemies, endorsing curtailing freedom and due process. And we're also called upon by elected and non-elected officials to put aside our differences and come together in this time of stress. The implication is that to do otherwise is to be unpatriotic.

Well, pardon me. I'd give blood, but the Red Cross still refuses to take it from gay men. After the attacks, I might feel a little more suddenly vulnerable to violence -- if I weren't a gay man living in the time after Matthew Shepard, always aware of the possibility of murder waiting for me around the corner every time I walk home from the subway late at night. As a technologist who uses electronic communications constantly, and as a musician concerned about laws such as the DMCA that already are taking rights away from individuals and handing them to the corporations with the most cash, as an atheist and a homosexual already marginalized by hypocritical policies in this country's government, I think this is precisely the time to cry out against hypocrisy and curbings of liberty. If we wait, it will be too late.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to have been on one of those airplanes, or in one of those buildings. Most people on the east coast must know someone who knows someone who was there, who was hurt or killed. It's unspeakably awful. But I think memorializing the victims by entering into a cycle of vicious retribution that will kill ever more innocent people, or by chipping away at the rights and freedoms that I always thought symbolized the American way of life, would be terrible, and make this country no better than terrorists.

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