Thursday, September 11, 2003

Fear And 9/11

We must never surrender to fear. Ever. On 9/11, an act of war was committed against the United States. We were caught sleeping, and thousands of Americans died. The airline security problems that allowed that attack to occur have been addressed. Yet the nation still lives in fear. Our leadership, and especially President Bush, is largely to blame for this.

In the atmosphere of fear our leadership has cultivated, calls for security seem to be trumping the protections of liberty. I call this the fear quotient. The more fear, the more one seeks to alleviate it, to feel secure, and to sacrifice some personal freedom. The less fear, the more the demands for freedom seem the preeminent concern. In the civil rights struggles of our history, it has always been the conquest of fear, and the consequent enlargement of consciousness and courage, that has given the oppressed peoples the fortitude to demand freedom before all else. Liberty or death.

In a larger sense, this fear quotient works around the world. The more we are feared, the less secure those who fear us will feel, and the more we will be vulnerable to attack from them. This seems paradoxical, but only because we are so used to playing with a stacked deck. The need to alleviate fear, through one means or another, is paramount in our human experience. Thus, this will be the same for an oppressed people who fear their oppressor. Our only recourse for this is to believe we are too strong, too powerful, to be touched, or to be harmed. In other words, invulnerable. After 9/11, we know all too well this is not true.

Regardless of our state of vulnerability, this is not the mission or moral basis of our great nation. To be invulnerable. To be an untouchable superpower. We are about freedom and opportunity first, and security and power second. Any nation may choose security and power as their highest goal, their most esteemed aspiration, but this has nothing to do with freedom, justice, equality, opportunity, or capitalism. Any number of means may be chosen to reach this end, and none has been proven infallible through history.

What makes us different in America is that we are about something greater than these mundane political power concerns, and this something is not solely about us as a nation. About America. Rather, we focus on means, not ends. Freedom is our highest value, our most cherished dream, and freedom is owned and deserved by all, not by a chosen few. Whoever they are. Wherever they are. In America, we were the first to declare independence, and we will not be the last. We are certainly not alone.

As for security against the oppressor, against those who would frustrate our national mission from the outside, we need to be vigilant. Against the criminal who would inflict harm, a certain level of security is essential. At the same time, to downplay and surrender our most cherished values and aspirations, in an effort to gain greater security and power, needs to be passionately justified. Clearly and definitively. Also, these new powers, if granted, need to be wielded openly and transparently.

In this, we can have no confidence in our current leadership. They who ask for these expanded powers, and who make little effort to alleviate the irrational fears of Americans, have done little in the way of sharing information. The information they have trumped, for the most part, itself has been found wanting. Instead, the trend has been to conceal or avoid information, like the costs of a war with Iraq, and to deny access to information sought by other branches of government, or concerned citizens, in regards to their procedures and deliberations.

Base foolishness it would be to deed more power to a team which hoards everything it gets. Information is power. Our current leadership, and administration, share virtually nothing but messages of anxiety, fear, and disguised ideology. When their statements are examined for veracity, they are found fanciful and, in many cases, no longer even being defended. Thousands have died by our hands, yet we have no consistent, singular motive for it. To say it's a war against evil, against terrorism, is not good enough. There must be some legitimacy. Around the world, we've lost that, and in the process created a violent and terrorist-drawing cesspool in Iraq that we were supposed to be fighting elsewhere.

Indeed, it is we who have brought the terrorists to Iraq, most gallingly of all claiming to do so for the benefit of the Iraqi people. Though Saddam was no angel, I fail to see how drawing terrorists to Iraq is going to help the Iraqi people. To liberate them. To relieve their suffering. All of these have been trumped as justifications for the war.

I also don't see how these actions will serve the legacy of 9/11. Instead, I feel only shame, and remorse at the loss of global solidarity and compassion that rode in the wake of our great national tragedy. To lose that, to completely reverse it, to move from love and compassion to fear and loathing, is the greatest tragedy of all.