|By A.D. Freudenheim||
28 October 2001
Many Americans these days are angry and scared. Angry because they feel, quite justifiably, that they have been violated: they have been attacked and brutalized, and have suffered the loss of several thousand lives, only to have this initial series of attacks come with an extended, silent coda with the distribution of anthrax spores via the unwitting U.S. Postal Service. Scared because when the terrorists used civilians and civilian mechanisms to carry out their plan, American freedoms were revealed to come at a cost that many find incalculable: how can you calculate the cost of what you cannot know?
Yet people can make such calculations, however painful; the entire insurance industry is built on precisely this premise, and by most practical measures is quite successful at it. Insurance companies calculate how much "coverage" an individual should take out in the event of untimely death, to meet family expenses and ensure future security; they estimate the likelihood of buildings being destroyed by fire, water, earthquake, or storm, and they concern themselves not just with the nitty-gritty details of what the building itself is worth, but the value of its inanimate and human contents. Similarly, Americans can make an estimate of the value of our freedoms and other aspects of our lifestyles, and then make careful decisions about what kinds of liberties can or should be sacrificed for safety - and which ones definitely should not. What the insurance industry cannot do, and what is equally difficult for the rest of us, is gauge the emotions that will be associated with loss, such as anger, fear, or even a sense of opportunity.
For now, the anger seems to come first. Since the attacks of 11 September, the United States has declared a war (of sorts) against an enemy that is elusive and disparate, and the American people must trust their government both to protect them at home and to be successful in war abroad. The results so far have been extremely mixed. The U.S. has laid siege to large parts of Afghanistan, specifically aiming to bring down the Taliban leadership and root out the Al Quaeda terrorist networks - and there is no better indication of the potential for failure than the aggressive information management of the Pentagon, as seen by the cycle of denial-and-acceptance. Example one: first, we lost a helicopter, but it was an accident, the Taliban did not shoot it down; then, we lost a helicopter, it was involved in the attack near the Afghan border, but still the Taliban had nothing to do with it; finally, we lost a helicopter, and yes, the Taliban probably shot it down. Example two: first, we cannot confirm that a hospital was bombed, and in any case, it was not us; then, we did not bomb a hospital, though we were attacking targets in the vicinity; finally, we were probably responsible for bombing the civilian hospital, although it was an accident, of course.
If the headline from today's The New York Times is any indication, this war effort is not happening quite as the U.S. had hoped: "ALLIES PREPARING FOR LONG FIGHT AS TALIBAN DIG IN - Optimism of Early October Fades - Eventual Victory Is Seen". The United States (and some of its European allies) are also now dealing with a further anger backlash from the bombings, evidenced by small but increasingly noticeable tears in our international coalition. On Saturday, an advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that in Egypt's view, the U.S. should have sought United Nations approval for its bombing campaign against the Taliban, that it needs to try harder to avoid civilian casualties, and that it really must cease the bombings during the holy month of Ramadan. Criticism of this kind, coming from the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, may indicate that in attacking Afghanistan out of anger the U.S. will only generate more enmity than anything else - to say nothing of whether the mission will ultimately be successful.
The fight at home is wholly different, motivated as much by fear as by anger. The anti-terrorism bill enacted by Congress was swiftly signed by President Bush on Friday, who said "This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war." The bill makes it possible for police departments and federal security services like the F.B.I., to conduct wiretapping, electronic eavesdropping, detentions, and a variety of other defensive measures with much less judicial oversight than normal, and with only a nod to the notion of due process. If anyone wondered where the executive and legislative branches of the United States government place civil liberties on the scale of values, this is the answer; they have made their calculations. The President, Congress, Attorney General Ashcroft, and others seem to clearly view this troubled time as providing an opportunity to reevaluate how free American citizens and visitors deserve to be, and to capitalize on the opportunity to curtail some of these freedoms.
To call these steps reactionary almost misses the point; functionally, they will only address the easy parts of the problem, while the real opportunities elude us, left and right. For example, compared to nationalizing airport security, the decision to give police departments more opportunities to wiretap America's phone lines is simple - it does not require tangling with the many lobbyists working on behalf of the businesses that run airport security operations. Passing a bill that allows resident aliens to be detained indefinitely for security reasons is a breeze when contrasted with what might be involved in a critical review of U.S. efforts to prop up the royalist regime in Saudi Arabia over the last few decades - a government allegedly riddled with corruption and mismanagement, and which seems to have been helping the terrorist networks at the same time as it so vehemently denied doing so. Why bother acknowledging a legitimate connection between U.S. support for the Saudi royalty, or our nearly-unconditional support for the state of Israel (and the related Israeli oppression of Palestinians and control of Muslim holy sites), and Muslim hatred of the U.S. and its alleged values? Why take one second to concede that there may be some legitimate Muslim anger directed at the United States, even if that anger does not legitimize terrorism? It is so much easier just to squash those who ask questions, like Aaron McGruder, the artist whose daily comic strip "The Boondocks" has been dropped by many newspapers because of his willingness to hold a mirror up to our own complicity in these events.
It is not that the U.S. is not justified in attacking Afghanistan if (as claimed) the Taliban truly has harbored and supported Osama bin Laden and his network, and if (as claimed) bin Laden's terrorist network is really behind the attacks, and perhaps the spread of anthrax as well. It is that by itself this war is not likely to solve anything, to bring a true resolution to the problems Americans now face; the U.S. seems to be (re)acting out of anger alone. Going to war with Afghanistan is not the same as articulating a plan to examine the political causes of terrorism; in examining the role of U.S. foreign policy as a trigger for fanatical hatred, perhaps the U.S. might discover something of value other than self-satisfaction. Depending on where you live, the bombing of Afghanistan may seem like the justifiable action of a victimized nation. But America and its citizens not merely victims - we may be, in some cases and in some nations' eyes, the victimizer as well. This seems like it might be a good time to analyze exactly how true both views of the world might be. As Yusuf Islam recently said, "it is important that retaliation does not become a representation of Christian wrath. What we need now is for the whole world to rally for justice for everybody, and not just revenge."
 The New York Times, Sunday,
28 October 2001, front page.
 "Egypt Critical of U.S. Airstrikes," Associated Press Wire Service,
Saturday, 27 October 2001
 "Bush Signs Anti-Terrorism Bill," by Sonya Ross, Associated Press
Wire Service, Friday, 26 October 2001
 "King's Ransom," by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker,
22 October 2001
 See for example "Cartoonists' Quandry," by Bryan Robinson,
ABCNews.com, 9 October 2001, or "Some Comic Strips Take an
Unpopular Look at U.S.," by Jayson Blair, The New York Times,
22 October 2001. To be fair, publications that drop a comic strip
because of its political unpopularity among its readers are well within
their rights do so; it is only that in doing so they give credence to the
notion that the only ideas people should encounter are the ones which
reinforce - and not challenge - their existing viewpoints.
 "They have hijacked my religion," by Yusuf Islam, The Independent,
London, Friday, 26 October 2001. Yusuf Islam was previously known
as Cat Stevens.
Copyright 2001, by A.D.
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Click here for Anger, Part 1: Dangers