Ira Chernus  


"This is no time to mince words," a local columnist and longtime Boulder resident wrote, the day after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. OK, no mincing words.

There is a rush to judgment sweeping the nation. Many are ready to name the perpetrators, identify their "safe harbors," and send U.S. forces on the attack. "The punishment first, then the verdict," is no longer heard only in Wonderland.

Some rush to judgment because they have been taught to dislike foreigners, especially Muslims, especially Arab Muslims. But for some, the rush is more calculated. They urge precipitous military action because they see advantages, regardless of who really carried out the terrible deed,

Some list the nations to be attacked. It may be no coincidence that they are all so-called "enemies of Israel." People who think that Israel can gain security by overwhelming military might are often eager to have the U.S. help do the job.

Nor is it coincidence that these are nations with rich oil reserves, or near places with rich oil reserves, nations that sometimes refuse to bow to U.S. policies and multinational corporate interests. Therefore they are called "unstable." The call goes out to bring "order" to these nations, by any means necessary.

All this, of course, before we know a single fact about the true identity of the September 11 attackers. Any military action undertaken now would surely kill and harm many innocent people. In fact, we would not even know which nations are innocent and which, in any sense, guilty. So all those who suffer would be victims of draconian "justice," abrogating the basic rights of whole peoples. It is surely curious to hear a local champion of civil liberties urging such uncivil action.

And what would be gained? Yes, the U.S. government would once again demonstrate that it can destroy people and places anywhere, at will. Of course, we already know that.

But who can believe that Israel would be more secure? The retaliatory strikes against Israel would be depressingly predictable. Israel would be caught up in this chain of events, even though the original perpetrators may hardly have been thinking about Israel when they chose to die. Peace and security for Israel would recede even further into the distant future.

Would we, the people of the United States, benefit from a quick military response? It might feel good for a minute. But then we would have to stop and think. We say we are at war. But who is the enemy? Again, we have no facts. So anyone we attack is simply an enemy of our own manufacture. This is the new kind of war. During his presidential campaign, George W. Bush said, "We have enemies. We don't know who they are, but we know they are out there." That is the first principle of this new kind of war.

Shall we, then, take on the whole world, or even the whole Middle East? Shall we become a global police state, punishing the innocent along with the guilty in the name of national security? Or shall we simply choose any country that serves our purposes and name it as the enemy?

This kind of vigilante justice will not bring "order" to the Middle East, or anywhere else. It is foolish to think that governments can control the actions of every one of their citizens, no matter how lethal and reprehensible those actions may be. Is the United States government responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing because it did not prevent the bombers from carrying out their plan?

Once we start dropping bombs, we weaken the governments beneath those bombs. We increase the anti-U.S. anger that created the tragedy in the first place. We make that anger more uncontrollable. We insure that somewhere, some day, more people will die on our own soil.

Yes, as the local columnist concludes, we must become more engaged in the world. But if our engagement is merely to play global enforcer, we will not enhance security for ourselves, for Israel, or for anyone else, Let us instead go out to the world to fulfill the precepts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We are tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Let us preserve our rights and our security by scrupulously respecting the rights and security of every person, everywhere.