The closing of the American mind

People have viewed Sept. 11 in various ways.  Many think it awakened America to a vulnerability it did not recognize before. Others believe it made America look into itself.  I think Sept. 11 closed the American mind when it put patriotism above reason.

Nothing can be more dangerous for any nation than to place its collective will completely in the hands of a president who sees the world in terms of good and evil, who tells other countries that if they are not with America they must be against it, and who has said more than once that his country does not need the approval of anybody to launch a war.  In the modern world we know, anyone who talks like this would be called a dangerous lunatic.  The world would try to protect itself from him, instead of asking him to protect the world.  Yet the US Congress gave George W. Bush a virtually free hand to make war against another country when and if he chooses.

Whatever happened to American public opinion?  Instead of sober arguments, our friends in the US tell us: “You would never understand – you were not here on Sept. 11.” Sept. 11 has become a codeword for the survival of the American people.  As such, it takes precedence over any other value.  To ask commonsense questions about it is to risk isolation, or worse, to be accused of treason.  I used to think that paranoia produces such effects only in closed societies. Now we know that Sept. 11 did not only kill people, it also killed the critical faculties of a whole nation.

Consider this:  After Sept. 11, US investigators made the determination that the suicide hijackers of the four passenger jets received their orders from the al-Qaida, a terrorist network formed by Osama bin Laden.  Afghanistan was bombed because that was where Bin Laden was thought to be hiding, and the Taliban rulers were overthrown because they acknowledged their friendship with Bin Laden and refused to surrender him. The US found no need to prove that the Taliban government was hiding the presumed mastermind of Sept. 11.  Everyone just seemed happy to get rid of a regime that had returned its people to the medieval ages.  No one asked if that was a good enough reason to pulverize a whole country.

Just when everybody thought the US was closing in on Bin Laden and his al-Qaida, George W. Bush made an abrupt detour in August 2002 and pointed at a new target: Saddam Hussein of Iraq.  To this day no one has come up with any solid evidence linking Saddam to Osama bin Laden.  Why is he being targeted?  Saddam’s crime, says

Bush, is his failure since 1991 to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations ordering him to destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.  But what has this got to do with the events of Sept. 11?

For 11 years since the Gulf War, the US assiduously monitored Iraq’s compliance with the UN resolutions.  It bombed warehouses it suspected to be hiding places for biological and chemical weapons. Even as Iraq insists it has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction, the US pushed for UN resolution 1441 which placed the burden of proof upon Saddam himself.  Let us assume that Saddam indeed kept some of these weapons.  Does that justify deploying more than 250,000 troops and launching a massive war against the Iraqi nation?  Is the threat that Saddam poses to the US and to the rest of the world so grave and imminent that we cannot allow the UN weapons inspectors to have a bit more time to finish their work?

Bush and his war team say that Saddam has been engaged too long in a charade with the UN. Saddam is dangerous because he is the type of person, Bush says, who would not hesitate to use these weapons against his enemies or to deliver them into the waiting hands of terrorist groups.  Let us grant that that is true.  Why single out Iraq?  Many other countries are known to have weapons of mass destruction, and not all of them are above selling these to shady groups for the right price.  Are they also targets?  And there is North Korea, of course, which has not made a secret of its nuclear weapons program.  Its belligerent statements have been far more provocative than anything that has come out of Iraq.  Yet in 1995, the US government supplied the North Koreans with their energy requirements in exchange for giving up their nuclear development program.  What is the difference between Saddam and Kim Jong Il?

To ask questions like these is to risk being called a Saddamlover.  And there, I suppose, lies the whole problem.  The American people now find themselves precisely in a situation where they cannot exercise their critical faculties without inviting scorn or suspicion.

Columbia University Professor Edward Said offers a powerful description of what has happened to America since Sept. 11: “Democracy traduced and betrayed, democracy celebrated but in fact humiliated and trampled on by a tiny group of men who have simply taken charge of this republic as if it were nothing more than, what, an Arab country? It is right to ask who is in charge since clearly the people of the United States are not properly represented by the war this administration is about to loose on a world already beleaguered by too much misery and poverty to endure more. And Americans have been badly served by a media controlled essentially by a tiny group of men who edit out anything that might cause the government the slightest concern or worry.”

Is it right for a small nation like ours to follow a fully-armed superpower that cannot rise above its thirst for blood, a country that speaks of democracy even as it openly mocks the authority of the world community?


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