Editor of the Tocquevillian Magazine, is also newspaper columnist
and police sergeant on Long Island.
August 30th, 2002
In a few short days we will be emerging on the other side of a year since cowards toppled towers one and two of the World Trade Center. Their intolerant and hate-filled act of mass-murder was an attempt to strike at the heart of what makes America great - its freedom.
In the days since I worked amid the mounds of rubble that once stood along with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the abandoned parachute jump at Coney Island and the Statue of Liberty as a recognizable welcome to a free America, the debate has raged: Should we be engaged in the action we're taking in the Middle East?
The "voices of reason" bleat that we're only extracting revenge, that, instead, we should be attempting to understand why America is so hated in the Arab world. One problem with this view is it ignores the immediate need to remove the ongoing threat to our lives and way of life. There is no question that, as horrendous as the WTC attacks were, they were not the final strike. Evidence mounts for additional and continued assaults on America.
But there is more to dispute the belief that we must be tolerant of those who would bury us in the dust of our structures. America, more than any other nation on earth, exercises tolerance toward other cultures and beliefs. Indeed, America was built on a foundation of tolerance. In an editorial to the NY Times (August 26, 2002), Shafeeq Ghabra, a native Kuwaiti, said of the America to which he emigrated in 1971, "It represented a spirit of openness unseen elsewhere. Americans accepted, with a unique charm, newcomers, visitors and foreigners. In America, no one was foreign, not even Omar Abdel Rahman, who directed the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Americans rarely ask foreign visitors their country of origin. To them, everyone is American one way or another."
In spite of this, the "voices of reason" insist we seek to understand our enemies, to divine the underlying cancer that causes them to despise us and to attempt to commend us to the compost pile of history. Yet, they make no attempt to assign to these enemies the same task.
When we step into Third World nations in an attempt to quell a civil war or remove a despotic and savage regime, we are condemned by the "voices of reason" as meddling in foreign affairs in violation of their sovereignty. Yet, if we did not impose our might in these instances, these same voices would rail against our "indifference" toward the plight of these impoverished and oppressed nations. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.
The position of understanding one's enemy, as presented by the "voices of reason," is one-sided and, therefore, in itself, flawed. Linda Chavez, in Jewish World Review (August 22, 2002) writes about the efforts of the NEA, with assistance from the American Red Cross and the Johnson and Johnson Company to distribute free lesson plans to help teachers incorporate instruction on the terrorist attacks on the WTC in their regular curriculum. These plans go out of their way to avoid the placement of blame against any group or country other than the United States. The guides attempt to encourage teachers to highlight American intolerance, citing the "obvious example" of the Japanese internment camps of World War II.
In fact it is the Western world, and America in particular, that exhibits tolerance. This, in the face of the distinctively intolerant doctrines of the Islamic world, doctrines that encourage fanaticism and terrorist attacks launched against those who adhere to different belief systems.
Why do the "voices of reason" not decry the intolerance and refusal by our enemies to attempt to understand our way of life? What lesson are we teaching our children when we cover ourselves with sackcloth and ashes in response to the intolerant viciousness of terrorism? Are they to resign themselves to believe, like beaten wives, that they are to blame for any and all hatred visited upon them by religious zealots or others bent on their destruction? Would it not be more reasonable to raise our children to believe in the goodness of the foundations of this great country and that they have every right to defend it against all who would impose their own rule? Should they not be taught to believe that the deliberate killing of innocents is never an appropriate act and that those innocents are never to blame?
This is not yet the time for introspection. Quite simply, we must first shore up our defenses against future attack and restore our security. A chorus of mea culpas will not accomplish this. We must remove the threat to our way of life and we must do so permanently. To accomplish this, it is necessary to convince those who would harbor terrorists that it is not in their best national interest to do so. We must neutralize governments with the power, wherewithal and inclination to launch further attacks against America or its allies. We must do this immediately and we must do this with steely resolve.
Our military response in Afghanistan is an appropriate beginning. It must not end there. No country that encourages the spread of terrorism should be allowed to stand among the civilized nations of the world. No nation that launches attacks on America or its allies should be ignored or allowed to do so with impunity. It is America's right to exist on its own terms. It is her responsibility to defend that right.
One year ago, I engaged in the grizzly task of sifting through the debris of the WTC. I and others will never forget those horrible days. I am still visited by the smell of the ashes and am no longer able to glance at the New York skyline when driving nearby without feeling the tears well up. I know I speak for all who were there when I say, "never again!"
"... What lesson are we teaching our children when we cover ourselves with sackcloth and ashes in response to the intolerant viciousness of terrorism?..."