In the weeks since the horrific attacks in Washington D.C. and New York City, we have found ourselves grasping for some means of understanding what has happened, how, and especially why. We were all looking for a clear start to the new century. We got it on Sept. 11. But there is no clarity, only ravening uncertainty.
"Human kind cannot bear too much reality," said T.S. Eliot, but I no longer believe that. Sept. 11 changed that for me. We simply cannot enter this century still at each other's throats and ignoring the realities of economic exploitation, racism, and ecological abuse.
We must ask ourselves honestly, what breeds the kind of hatred which would compel men to fly airplanes loaded with dozens of innocent, unsuspecting people into buildings containing thousands?
Certainly, part of the answer lies in the uncomfortable truth that America's foreign policy has always been flawed in its inability to recognize regional realities. Its Middle East policies over the past decades are but one example.
But anger and resentment toward America has other roots, too. The United States is not only the leading economic power in the world, but it is also a major cultural exporter of Western values via its crushingly dominant media industries. To a lesser degree, these values are Western values, so in a sense America becomes the global flag-bearer for all of us in the Western world. In this instance, it has also become the sacrificial lamb. Our values are nothing short of the devil's work to Islamic fundamentalists. For them, as much as for the Christian fundamentalists, rooting out Satan becomes a holy and righteous life's mission, often worth dying for.
In the face of that implacability, where can we make our own stand, find our own certainty? Inevitably, the refuge has become that three-letter word W-A-R, vengeance simplified.
In recent days, so many people have repeated to me the truism that "an eye for an eye results in blindness." Talk of war will always terrify me. History proves there is never a winner, however much it may seem like one side walks away the victor. How much harder is it when the enemy is so ill-defined? There is no army to face down, no city to march on, no satisfying moral victory to be had.
The only alternative to war is diplomacy. Someone suggested to me an American "charm offensive" in the Middle East, isolating Osama bin Laden and the other agents of terrorism by at last showing appropriate sensitivity to the regional realities which breed such desperation. First and foremost, it would seem appropriate for the US to revisit its stance on the Palestinian issue.
Another solution may lie in long-term reconsideration of our approach to economic globalization. Manuel Castells, a professor at Berkeley, observed that the 21st century was shaped by "the excluded excluding the excluders" using terrorism as their weapon. So, perhaps, including the excluded could diffuse the situation. Inclusion, in the shape of fair
and balanced economic trade opportunity, therefore, seems a natural and hopeful opportunity. It's an idea that I have always clung to because it's the essence of trade, one of the oldest and most optimistic human activities.
Yet as much as the sabre-rattling in the West frightens me, the extremism on the other side fills me with even more fear. It seems impossible to hope that such tools -- diplomacy or economic inclusion -- could be any match against extremists who call for open-ended holy war.
I take all of this personally as I will continue to look at any proximate solution to these towering problems.
I do not envision a social paradise or utopia. I'm not that stupid. I can only do what I can to remain bold and defiant in my criticism of any form of xenophobia, as honest and candid about the need for civil responsibility, economic justice, and social accountability, and charitable about any perspective from which I might gain insight and pass it on.
I ask myself, do we have the humor, the intelligence, imagination and courage, the tolerance, love and respect to meet the challenge? Only time will tell.