Let's get something straight.
The events of Sept. 11 did not happen because we did something wrong. Or because we somehow ``deserved'' them.
In recent days, I've heard that argument or variations thereof from several friends and dozens of e-mail correspondents. This must be what ``they'' feel like when we bomb ``them,'' says one. Perhaps they acted out of deep hurt, says another. Maybe this is necessary payback for American arrogance, says yet another. And then, of course, there's the ever-reliable Jerry Falwell, who said on The 700 Club last week that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represent God's verdict on gay rights, feminism, abortion and the ACLU.
In a word, no. To all of the above, to all the tortured reflection and moral distress: no. Hell no.
I'm not naive. I understand that my government has sometimes dirtied its hands in foreign affairs. For that matter, it has done the same in domestic affairs. So I recognize and accept that some people might have legitimate reason for animosity toward this country.
But guess what? For all our faults, we don't drive planeloads of noncombatants into buildings filled with same. We don't willfully rain carnage upon civilians. And we don't dance in the street when innocents die.
When forced to take up arms, we attempt to limit our military actions to military targets. Yes, innocents sometimes die regardless of our best intentions. But for all our transgressions, we don't sanction the murder of those who have neither the capacity nor the intention to harm us.
That's what our enemies just did. And no matter how righteous your cause might be, when you support it by means of wanton slaughter, you forfeit any claim to the moral high ground. Last Monday morning, I suspect that most thinking Americans would have been willing to at least listen to the grievances of those in the Middle East who feel wronged by us. Last Tuesday morning, that became impossible.
DEMOCRACY AT WORK
So the claim that there might be some sort of moral equivalency between us and them is misguided at best, offensive at worst. Not that I don't understand where it's coming from. Our willingness to engage in unsparing self-examination and ruthless self-criticism is one of our finest traits. Our natural inclination is to try to take ownership of the problem, in order that we can take ownership of its solution. But that reflex is useless here. I mean, what are we to think? That if we outlawed the ACLU and sanctioned the oppression of gay people, if we felt our enemy's pain or tried to be less ``arrogant,'' we could ensure that no one will ever steer a plane into one of our buildings again?
This is, of course, foolishness. What happened last week did not happen because of any social movement in this country. It did not happen because of any failure of sensitivity. And with all due respect to the Rev. Falwell, it did not happen because God hijacked a plane.
Last week happened, pure and simple, because certain religious extremists hate us. They hate us because our foreign policy has been supportive of Israel. They hate us because we helped repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. But in the larger sense, they hate us because their children want blue jeans, Britney Spears videos and the chance to be like Mike. They hate us because we consume bacon and beer. They hate us because American women wear bikinis and speak their minds. They hate us because we are the biggest, the wealthiest, the most influential, the most powerful. They hate us because we are not them and, moreover, because they are not us. They hate us because they think the deity requires it. They hate us because.
RESPONSE TO HATRED
So the only question worth asking is: What should we do in response to their hatred? Should we let it change who and what we are? Should we be infused with wondering and self-doubt?
You already know my answer. From where I sit, there's nothing about our enemies that deserves to be dignified by our moral distress.
We are right and they are evil. End of story.