By: Ken La Rive
I remember my father in law, God rest his soul, as being a highly political activist. I think that one of his biggest disappointments in me was the fact that I cared little for it then. I wanted nothing but to look at life through Kodacolor film, and I thought it was far too difficult and ambiguous to be worthwhile. As I got older and saw the severity of the world, the realization that the only way to change something was to get involved became very apparent. And then, I see that what we are as a nation, that is, how we think, and the way we perceive the world, is filtered through a belief system that is sometimes tainted by our own bias and prejudice, and then I never understood the saying ‘America, right or wrong.’ If we are to engage with an enemy, we must think of ourselves as being right, and I know that even the minor skirmishes of high school is a testament to this. I never won a fight where I knew I was wrong. So too, if we engage our forces for the good of America only, without regard to who is hurt, those innocents who suffer is the blood on our hands.
I love America, and the idea of America and its Constitution that materialized from our founding father’s dream. It is indeed the closest to true democracy any nation has ever come to in this world. Those here in Scotland tell me that Americans are known to be a warm and generous people, confident in the knowledge that they are free citizens in the greatest nation on earth, and that America is founded on the principles of democracy and freedom of the individual. Our borders are open, our security lax, because we trust that we are perceived to be a precious jewel, and a beacon of light for the rest of the world. As I was caught on the outside looking in when this horror hit America, I saw it from a different perspective. I would like to share it with you…
Imagine a situation where terrorist action kills a large number of people, and that these terrorists are sponsored and financed by a foreign state. Most would agree that the country that has lost its citizens would be justified in treating the terrorist action as an act of war by the foreign state, and in taking reprisal action against that foreign state.
Now change the situation just slightly. Suppose that it was not a state that financed the terrorists, but individuals who, running contrary to their country’s attitude to the terrorist group, gave financial aid to that terrorist organization, who then used this money to purchase the material necessary to commit the terrorist act. What should the offended-against country do in this situation? It is debatable whether they should treat the atrocity as an act of war by the financiers’ country. Would they be justified in sending in delta force style troops to assassinate the financiers? (Brace yourself!)
Would the British government be justified in sending assassins to the US, taking out American citizens who actively raised money for the Irish Republican Army, under the various guises that this organization uses in America? Now I have heard that some Irish Americans were duped into donating money, not understanding that the funding was for the overthrow of the British Government there. But I am assured here that most there knew full well what they were doing, and then, ignorance is no excuse, even if the lie was bold-faced.
The US government could attack Afghanistan, in order to ‘get’ Osama Bin Laden, and punish the Afghan people for allowing him to spew out his hatred of America, (which amendment to the US constitution was it that protected free speech again?). But is it right for Americans to exercise their right to free speech by openly supporting a terrorist organization in the UK, with an amendment to the Constitution protecting their right to do so, but wrong for Afghans to exercise their right to free speech by listening to, and even agreeing with, Osama Bin Laden??
It could be argued that the USA’s blind support for the actions of the Israeli government has stimulated and created that government’s complete disregard for the rule of law when it comes to Palestinians individual rights and freedoms, and has allowed the moderate voices of most Muslims to be drowned out by the shout of militant terrorists. It cannot be right that Israel replies to acts of terrorism with illegal incursions into Palestine. No arraignment of suspects, no trial, no guilty verdict, just an eye for an eye, and somebody, anybody, in Palestine dies at the hand of the Israeli army acting under the orders of a legally constituted government. Every time a Palestinian farmer is peremptorily pushed off his land by the Israeli military to make room for yet another Israeli settlement (against United Nations Resolutions), another possible suicide bomber is recruited by Hamas!
No matter how we see it, the people who flew those airplanes into the World Trade Center felt completely justified in their own minds to do it. I believe that these acts were barbarous and directly against the teachings of the faith that these people profess, however, we need to understand the reasoning and the justification that drives these people. It is evident to me that we should first attempt to know the mind of our enemies, as indeed they are, before a correct reaction is formulated. At this point we should use our heads instead of our bombs, as it should be evident to all by now while looking at the actions of Israel, where each act of terrorism is followed by government sponsored reprisal, only leads to more Israelis dying from yet another suicide bomber.
America should certainly use its vast intelligence organizations to gather evidence against the organizers of these terrible acts and to bring them to justice. What would be unacceptable to the rest of the world would be for the US to use its awesome weaponry to bomb a foreign country in the hope that they ‘get’ the perpetrators, with zero risk to American personnel, and hideous risk to the innocent populous of that country. The temptation to use overwhelming force is almost irresistible, but we should beware of the consequences for the people of America. The mujahadeen of Afghanistan resisted the full might of the Russian army for many years with fanatical dedication, and would go to any length to exact revenge for an attack on their country. If America is not to become a fortress, with much greater security and limitations on personal freedom than now exist, there can be no guarantees against a recurrence of a tragedy similar to that of recent times.
There are no easy solutions to this problem of world terrorism, but lack of military action does not equate with weakness. Lack of proper investigation and police work to determine who the organizers are, and the absence of ensuing prosecution of the perpetrators, would certainly show weakness. Consideration should also be given to the idea that any guilty parties should be tried for crimes against humanity in The Hague, with the war crimes tribunal acting as the court. This would give the fanatics no cause to blame America for any convictions and would show them that the whole world condemned their actions and that it wasn’t just America acting like the school playground bully, as is thought in parts of the world. For this to happen, America would have to subscribe fully to the idea of world justice, and allow its own citizens to be tried, if guilty of crimes against humanity, in this same court. Americans have got to learn to have trust in this system of world justice, which, at the moment, can apply to all citizens of the world apart from a few rogue states – and America, who do not recognize the court. The world is now a global village, and we depend on one another. If this world is not to descend into total war and barbarism (which would suit these terrorists), we need someone to take a lead, and to act in a way that is rational and just. Jesus said, “Forgive those who offend against you”. This does not preclude the use of justice, but does preclude revenge.
The relatives of the dead are grieving. Their hurt is almost unbearable. Just like Palestinian and Israeli mothers grieving over their dead children and husbands, they must inevitably be angry, and wish for revenge. But, as we ask the Palestinian and Israeli mothers to put aside their grief, in order to try and break the dreary cycle of violence, we must also ask the grieving American relatives to take pause before embarking on a course of action, which will, as sure as the sun rises with the morning, lead to greater and greater hurt. Ask the people of Northern Ireland, whether they prefer the compromise that now exists in that country between the warring factions, to the dreadful bomb-filled days of yesteryear.