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Beyond Good and Evil

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  • Beyond Good and Evil

    QUOTE
    Beyond Good and Evil
    What Bush could have learned after 9/11 and should learn after Katrina

    By Christopher Dickey
    Newsweek
    Updated: 12:07 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2005

    Sept. 13, 2005 - Four years ago, when President George W. Bush first learned of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he flew directly to Louisiana. In the chaos of the moment, the nation’s capital was deemed too dangerous for the commander in chief. So Air Force One took off from Florida, where Bush had been raising money and reading books with schoolchildren, and rushed him to Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport. Hindsight has Bush rising quickly to the occasion after the nation was attacked. But if you remember those first few hours, you’ll recall the president still had that caught-in-the-headlights look in his first brief television appearances. Not until he got back to the Oval Office that night did he find the word —“evil”—that would tap the nation’s “unyielding anger” and rally the country behind him.

    Bush used “evil” four times in his first brief address from the White House the night of 9/11. Three days later, at Washington’s National Cathedral, Bush declared that the mission of the United States was now to “to rid the world of evil,” which, it has been pointed out, is more than God Almighty ever did. Never mind. The president had discovered the Manichean incantation to carry him through the rest of his first term and get him elected to a second. It would never be enough just to defeat Osama bin Laden. America had to go after the forces of evil wherever the president identified them, and until they were defeated we had to fear not only new attacks, but the apocalypse.

    If President Bush looks lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and the rest of us feel that way), it’s because he has no one to blame for this catastrophe. The apocalypse was brought on not by the forces of evil, but of nature, aided and abetted by the incompetence of Bush’s own administration. As a bitter reader from Fairview, N.J. wrote to us this week: “If we are to believe that President Bush and the Christian Right have been talking directly to God these past six years, then it follows that this is God's answer to their agenda.”

    That’s a cheap shot, to be sure, but it’s also a natural question given the righteous pose of a presidency that’s suspicious of science and utterly intolerant of dissent. The fact is, we may draw on our faith for moral and spiritual strength, but there should never be a place in American policymaking for those who claim they’ve got a direct line to God. Such lunatic certainties are the preserve of the enemy—the Osama bin Ladens, the Eric Rudolphs, the Baruch Goldsteins—who want to replace our freethinking societies with ones ordered by their own narrow-minded righteousness.

    Back in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, exactly four years ago, I wrote a long memo to my editors at NEWSWEEK that tried to put in perspective the threat that loomed before us. I had written a lot about Osama on the Web and in the magazine before the attacks, and I’ve written much more since. But I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that put the danger in clearer perspective than these unpublished suggestions for my colleagues. The only part I’d change today would be the misguided note of optimism at the end.


    September 2001

    The question of "why they hate us," which we are addressing in worthy detail, is essentially different from the question of "why they kill us." Islamic culture is one thing, anger at America another, and terrorism something else again. We are making a mistake if we look for the so-called root causes of anti-American terror among the flag-burning rabble on the streets of Cairo or Jakarta, or imagine that a sheikh preaching above a Hamburg green-grocer speaks for more than a few creeps in his minuscule congregation.

    Yes, there is widespread anger against America, and for all sorts of reasons. That anger provides the setting for these dramas concocted by the impresario Osama bin Laden and his motley troupe of suicidal players. But everything we know about these guys suggests the forces that drive them to rationalize the slaughter of innocents, then carry out their mad schemes, are much more personal than social, political, economi— or religious.

    Where did we get this notion that only Muslims have a penchant for suicidal slaughter? Timothy McVeigh went to his grave proud of what he'd done for his God and his Constitution. Baruch Goldstein massacred scores of unarmed Muslims at prayer in Hebron before he was killed, and he was sure he was defending his faith. (So were his neighbors, who built him a monument.) How about the flower-bearing Tamil girl who blew herself to smithereens in order to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi? What was her story? It wasn't about Islam.

    No. To paraphrase the N.R.A.: gods don't kill people, terrorists kill people. And if we want to learn about the kind of terrorists who are likely to carry out horrific attacks on the United States, it won't help us much to examine the scripture—whether the Torah, the Gospel, the Qur’an, or the Constitution. The terrorist's mind is its own place, and like Milton's Satan, can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.

    The actual threat to Americans lies with individuals or very small groups of people who become convinced that they are the personal agents of a Greater Power. And let's emphasize the word "personal." To miss that central fact, and to take the actions of a handful of people and use them to suggest that billions— literally billions—of people are implicated by their acts does very little to explain their vainglorious crimes. For their point of view, it vindicates them.

    Imagine the ego! I, Mohammed Atta, son of an overbearing father, deeply uncomfortable with girls, alien and alienated in the beer-swilling student society of Hamburg - I am now the personal agent of God Almighty! I am humble but proud, and I'm going to heaven today with blood on my hands and a shine on my shoes.

    The fact is, the actual terrorists we're looking at are mostly loners and losers, much like the assassins who took pot shots at politicians and celebrities in America from the 1960s to the 1980s. Eventually, of course, presidents and the rest of the Beatles got better protection. So the Lee Oswalds and the Squeaky Fromms of today target innocents, because innocents are easy targets. As nauseatingly spectacular as the atrocities of September 11 proved to be, and as devastated as we all feel by what happened, we should never forget that those attacks were a coordinated collection of cheap shots. Twenty-four-hour press coverage and the popular imagination maximize the sense of threat so we think we see a clash of civilizations. But such talk obscures the real workings of the small constellations of self-important murderers and natural born killers that have been drawn into orbit around Osama bin Laden and the group called Al-Qaeda.

    The specific threat to Americans in America does not come from huddled Muslim masses in remote refugee camps who long to obliterate the infidel Yankee. Most of them just want to go home. Everything we know about the networks in Europe and North America shows the danger comes from people who have a certain level of education, who may speak English, who—get this— may even be white! The French investigations of Jihadist networks (inevitably described as "linked" to bin Laden) keep turning up Europeans who are self-proclaimed converts to their own self-taught and self-important version of Islam, and they may be the most dangerous operatives. It's not just their fresh zeal that scares French authorities, it's the penchant for mayhem these guys bring with them from their very non-Muslim upbringing. And, oh yeah, the French cops are only too aware that racial profiling will miss these guys completely.

    But [what about the argument that] there seem to be so many Muslim terrorists in the world.

    Well, that's true compared to, say, Episcopalian terrorists. But not because of the faith. Partly the impression of violent anger is the result of the television camera's narrow reticle. A dozen protesters burning an American flag become the image we have of the redoubtable "Muslim street," so furious that at any second it may erupt in apocalyptic violence. What those of us who are there on the ground are likely to see is a canned performance for the TV crews, who work hard to keep the small, rather indifferent crowd out of the picture, and ignore the fact that a few yards away normal life, normal business, goes on as if nothing were happening. Because nothing is happening. Just the usual demo by the usual demonstrators. One of the great untold stories of the new Intifada [begun in 2000] is how weirdly controlled and limited the violence is on both sides of those street battles. You can almost set your watch by the protests, the rocks, the rubber bullets, the snipers, the retreat, the ambulances.

    But, again, what of the terrorists?

    The Muslim world, sad to say, does have more than its share of losers looking for a fight. Billions? No. Nor millions. But many thousands in many places who, for different reasons, are alone, adrift, angry and desperate for ways to prove they are men. Those who have battles in their own neighborhood find their sense of purpose close to home, and it's these "nationalist" Muslims — branded as terrorists by their adversaries — who give numerical heft to the perceived threat. Yet the Palestinians, Chechens and Pakistanis in Kashmir are not waging war on the forces of globalization, they're attacking soldiers and settlers occupying what they see as their land. Many are not even religious. Those who are and who get used as suicide bombers in Tel Aviv and Srinigar, as human weapons of war, may shock us with their peculiar zeal. But the conflicts are basically territorial, and the intelligence operatives who exploit the zealots are often as secular as they are cynical. In Southwest Asia, especially, the religious coloring of Islam should never obscure the ancient rites of irredentism.

    The flight manifests of September 11, and the hundreds of arrests of supposed "bin Laden operatives" before and since the attacks, show these people may have spent some time in camps in Afghanistan, but they had nothing to do with the benighted students of the Peshawar religious schools. The "Muslim terrorists" most likely to target the United States are not illiterate Pashtuns from fly-blown madrassas. The killers of September came from the ranks of the semi-Westernized in countries that are not at war and lands that are not occupied. They've had at least a taste of the promises and betrayals that America proffers first hand, and they may have found themselves wanting. They're not fighting for land, these "internationalists" of Islam. They're fighting for something much harder to define, a need that they wind up calling their faith. They identify with holy warriors in Afghanistan or Bosnia, or Palestine, or Chechnya, or Kashmir. They may even train alongside them. But those fights are not really theirs. Those struggles feed their anger with a sense of collective persecution, but the more deeply rooted sense of siege they feel is most likely exclusive to them. As such, it is not negotiable. Nor can they be cured. The only solution is to incarcerate them, or eliminate them.

    In another age, such volatile losers might have lead solitary lives in Tripolitan villages, the souks of Aleppo, or the drawing rooms of Alexandria. They might have formed small local groups to assassinate supposed despots and to toss an occasional bomb. But cheap international phone calls, cobbled-together websites, Yahoo, and Hotmail have given the violently alienated a chance never before imagined to find each other and make common cause. It's satellite broadcasting, not a sign from heaven, that has helped Osama bin Laden pull them together.

    In the mid-1990s, bin Laden was cornered in Afghanistan along with a few other outcast firebrands. Even Sudan didn't want him around any more. The glorious jihad against the Soviets was long over, and Kabul was reduced to rubble by the Afghans fighting each other. Efforts to take the jihad home to Arab countries and wage revolution against the regimes there— in Egypt, in Algeria, in Jordan — had failed. The Bosnian slaughter was over after Dayton, and the Bosnians didn't want holy warriors from other countries hanging around. Peace was in the air between Israel and Palestine.

    In 1996, Osama and his fellow exiles seemed—and were— beside the point. So he issued a "declaration of war" without an army to wage it. The "mysterious Saudi billionaire" gave interviews to American journalists. CNN and ABC kept him alive in the public mind when he was all but forgotten by the rest of the world. Al-Jazeera television in Qatar, the most open and controversial source of news in Arabic, became his house organ. Bin Laden could sit back and wait for recruits to come to his makeshift Foreign Legion. And they did. Many grew beards. Many read the Qur’an, and there's no doubt they focused on the passages about righteous battles just as some Christians or Jews might focus on the incredible carnage of the Old Testament. But as much as any freebooters and filibusterers in history, the internationalists who found their way to bin Laden's half-way houses for fanatics were outcasts looking for a fight to give them a sense of purpose that was otherwise missing from their lives.

    So what does this tell us? Among other things, the more we vilify bin Laden himself, the more we play his game. But perhaps that's inevitable. He is a villain. There's no way around that. What is not inevitable is a linkage between his self-proclaimed vision of Islam, so conveniently vague and so widely applicable for the directionless losers who've found their way to his side, and the mainstream confessions and cultures of the Islamic world, with all their marvelous variety, texture and depth.

    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Bush administration policy so far has been its insistence on keeping the fight against terrorism focused. The enemy is now identified. It has a face. It has an organization. It has a place. It will be found and it will be eradicated, precisely, because it has no "root causes" outside the minds of the men who participate in it.



    What I missed, of course, was the decision by the Bush administration to make its first priority fighting evil in an endless war, rather than fighting men and ending the war.[/b][/quote]
    From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

    For more than 20 years I have endeavored-indeed, I have struggled-along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural & substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor.


    I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed.

    The path the Court has chosen lessens us all. I dissent.

  • #2
    This column makes no sense to me.

    Comment


    • #3
      QUOTE(Reggie Cleveland @ Sep 14 2005, 09:34 AM) Quoted post

      This column makes no sense to me.
      [/b][/quote]
      ++

      Comment


      • #4
        I think the column (at least the first part of it) means something like this:

        Since Bush couldnt "go after" a hurricane, it didnt stir up the same passion to respond as 911 did.
        “I’ve always stated, ‘I’m a Missouri Tiger,’” Anderson said March 13 after Arkansas fired John Pelphrey, adding, “I’m excited about what’s taking place here.”

        Asked then if he would talk to his players about the situation, he said, “They know me, and that’s where the trust comes in.

        Comment


        • #5
          QUOTE(pgrote @ Sep 14 2005, 09:49 AM) Quoted post

          QUOTE(Reggie Cleveland @ Sep 14 2005, 09:34 AM) Quoted post

          This column makes no sense to me.
          [/b][/quote]
          ++
          [/b][/quote]

          QUOTE
          you’ll recall the president still had that caught-in-the-headlights look in his first brief television appearances[/b][/quote]

          [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/laugh.gif[/img]
          Damn these electric sex pants!

          26+31+34+42+44+46+64+67+82+06 = 10

          Bring back the death penalty for corporations!

          Comment


          • #6
            You don't make any sense to me either, asswipe.

            Comment


            • #7
              Any reporter that cribs a title from Nietzsche is destined to write the undecipherable.

              Moon

              Comment


              • #8
                QUOTE(Reggie Cleveland @ Sep 14 2005, 09:57 AM) Quoted post

                You don't make any sense to me either, asswipe.
                [/b][/quote]

                Good man!

                You won't be detracted from the war on concepts.
                Damn these electric sex pants!

                26+31+34+42+44+46+64+67+82+06 = 10

                Bring back the death penalty for corporations!

                Comment


                • #9
                  QUOTE(Moon Man @ Sep 14 2005, 11:36 AM) Quoted post

                  Any reporter that cribs a title from Nietzsche is destined to write the undecipherable.

                  Moon
                  [/b][/quote]
                  [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/laugh.gif[/img]

                  Comment

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