Thursday, July 21, 2005

Responding to the Terrorist attacks in London

The message from the powers that be is 'business as usual' or else 'the terrorists win'. In a positive development, Tony Blair is calling for dialogue with moderate Muslims. On the other end of the spectrum, US Representative Tom Tancredo called for retaliatory attacks on Muslim holy sites if further terrorist attacks occur, effectively calling for the deliberate murder of innocent people and destruction of militarily insignificant targets in an utterly barbaric manner.

The truth seems to be that we are in a perilous age; that while the evil of dictatorial communism is no longer the rallying cry of the right wing of Western politics (extending beyond the republican party into neo-fascist circles), the new cry of an 'evil' enemy to be defeated quickly surfaced. Read Orwell. Read Machiavelli. The fact is that while the 'left' is not perfect, the right can easily become extremely nasty and manipulative of the common man.

The message of 'business as usual' combined with the prospect of 'perpetual war' is the perfect recipe for creating a subservient populous: people who willingly dedicate themselves to this ideology, abandoning their own dreams. Dreams take time, they take independence in a safe environment and a respect for diversity. All of these are at stake now; threatened not by 'communism' not by 'drugs', but by a new amorphous threat: 'terrorism'.

The war on communism failed because people came to realize that the threat was not as real as it had been imagined. The real threat was between imbeciles in power who refused to communicate. With communication, initiated by and large by Michael Gorbechaev, the threat evaporated. But the story is never so simple: closed, dictatorial societies still exist, some espousing Communist ideals, others of a religious nature, and thus the threat continues (but again not from the ideologies themselves, but from the imbeciles in power).

The war on drugs likewise is a failure; as more people discover that drugs (especially marijuana) are not the cause of insanity and violence in our culture. But 'terrorism' might be the label that neo-fascists were dreaming of: how can anyone claim a benign or positive character to 'terrorism'? It is imperative that we as citizens seek to understand 'terrorism' for what it truly is. We must look to the social context from which it arises, the ideologies it can manipulate, and the desired results. We must not confine ourselves to recent attacks, but to take a long view, questioning whether the Boston Tea Party was not an act of 'terrorism' or the killing of the Archduke Ferdinand. How does his killing differ from US government-sanctioned assassinations?

Of course the wrong thing to do is accept terrorism, in any form, as a legitimate way of getting one's message across. It seems clear that moderate Muslims, as well as anyone else, see murder as an anathema to their religion. But it is clear also that some Muslims, as well as some Christians, Communists, and others, will find justification for murder in their beliefs.

The key to all of this is, I hope, in Mr. Blair’s move: dialogue, as opposed to the retaliatory comments of the US Republican. Freedom requires that we can think for ourselves, that we can listen to others, and that we can use reason to act consistently, fairly with everyone. We must force ourselves to hear all parties, to see murder/suicide as an act either of utter desperation or insanity. If we give voice to the desperate, a breakthrough may occur if it is done before a move to violence is taken. If we bring the insane into the light of conversation, they will be seen for what they are, and they can be dealt with before they can act to harm others.

For those for whom dialogue is no longer an option, those whose wounds of perversion have festered under our collective neglect, force may be our only option. But the mistake our leaders consistently make is to focus all of our energy on these groups, while ignoring the festering wounds of future terror: right-wing extremists, poverty-stricken children of war-torn nations, imbecile leaders in isolated countries, etc.

For my own part, the message is not 'business as usual', but rather to seek out and cultivate dialogue. I will not travel to London to see the sights of the great city as I had planned, but will instead spend that money to help organize a dialogue in Montana when I get back. I think the 'business as usual' of conspicuous spending/consumption of so many of us in the West while so many others suffer under dictatorships or dire economic conditions is a travesty that we must eliminate as quickly as possible. If you really think about the human lives that are lost when you buy a $25 or more meal, or an expensive bottle of wine, or any of the other dozens of wasteful ways we spend our money rather than using it to help end poverty - if you really spend a moment to think about that - then your stomach should really turn. I know mine does.

We are both perpetrators and victims of an ugly system, one that encourages waste while discouraging understanding of the world around us. Think about it. The more you do, the more your own stomach turns, the more nausea you feel for your own waste, the more likely you are to change - to turn off 'prime-time TV' - to put down the expensive toy in the store - to eat a modest dinner, simply grateful that you get to eat at all when over a billion people must live on less than one dollar per day.

It is up to each of us to make a difference, however small. We are culpable in so far as we refuse this responsibility. I am no saint, I too waste. I cannot point fingers, nor do I wish to. I just wish to reduce my own destructive impact and somehow to help others.

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