WE SHINE FOR ALL
Your magazine remains a beacon of hope for all of us, even those who revile you for your progressive values--because we all lose when mindless, precipitate actions are taken that end up costing more lives and wasting more resources. You are a refreshing alternative voice to the jingoism overtaking this nation. Thank you for remaining true to the cause of justice.
LEE--FULBRIGHT OF HER TIME
Thank you for the interview with Representative Lee ["Barbara Lee's Stand," Oct. 8]. I was reminded of Senator William Fulbright's comment (in an interview not long before his death in 1995) responding to the question of how he would vote on the Tonkin Gulf Resolution given the benefit of hindsight. Fulbright was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1965. The resolution, passed with about the same degree of consideration given the House Use of Force resolution, gave President Johnson a similar blank check to escalate the Vietnam War. Fulbright said if he had another chance he would do his best to stop the 1965 resolution. Barbara Lee is in good company.
GREG STARKEBAUM (Vietnam vet)
MAD PROF--'VOICE OF REASON'
Patricia Williams--finally a voice of reason rather than mere reaction ["Diary of a Mad Law Professor," Oct. 1]. No sane person would condone the terrible acts in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. But what's missing from our reaction is self-reflection and self-criticism. America has drawn increasingly inward with George W. Bush and his isolationist policies. The walking out of US delegates at the Durban Conference on Racism is the most recent sad proof that America does not want to hear or deal with what it does not like. This nation's skewed foreign policy puts us all in peril. The American people and our leaders must become more knowledgeable about the rest of the world and how US actions and polices are perceived. Professor Williams is absolutely correct. This is no time for ignoring the causes of the deep hatred for the United States among many people and cultures around the world.
FLY YOUR FLAGS
It is rare for me to disagree with Katha Pollitt, but in "Put Out No Flags" she spoke too quickly ["Subject to Debate," Oct. 8]. She should listen to her daughter. The flag cannot be allowed to stand for "jingoism and vengeance and war." We must take it back. It must again stand for the best we can dream.
As a child during World War II, I knew that our flag represented freedom. Most homes, including ours, proudly flew the flag. Our nation fought a war, paid a high price and helped win a fight that saved future generations from a terrible fate. Now, to protect our grandchildren from a life of terror, we must again take up a just cause and fight for freedom--freedom that even allows for the expression of unrealistic and offensive thoughts.
JOHN C. BOOTH
Katha Pollitt says that what is needed is solidarity. Right now, that is what the Stars and Stripes does for this country. It shows that we citizens of this Republic are united against the perpetrators of these barbarous acts. The fact that right-wingers used the flag to support that monstrosity known as the Vietnam War doesn't mean those on the left must cede this psychic territory of the Stars and Stripes to the Ann Coulters and Jerry Falwells of the world. To use the flag when engaged in activities that it stands for--freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition the government for the redress of grievances--what a radical idea! What a nonviolent rebuff to those who have injured us!
White Salmon, Wash.
I agree with Katha Pollitt's opinion of what our flag stands for. I also agree with her daughter, who wants to fly it in a show of solidarity with the victims and survivors and rescue workers, families and loved ones who have been touched by this horrendous act against humanity. The country needs to become united with the rest of the world, Muslims, Arabs, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, everyone.
I have agonized over how to show my solidarity without appearing to be pro-war. So I have hung Buddhist prayer flags against my house and my boyfriend's house next to his US flag. We feel that this represents what we feel--support for our country's losses and a wish for worldwide peace, US restraint and acceptance of everyone, regardless of race or religion. The prayer flags carry our prayers (for peace) with the wind, around the globe.
Virginia Beach, Va.
Thank you, Katha Pollitt. Now I know I'm not alone. I refuse to fly our flag as long as we kill people and don't negotiate. I received an e-mail saying that we should all wear a purple ribbon for those who have died in this terrible tragedy, as we did the yellow ribbon during Desert Storm. I feel that this is much more appropriate.
I'm against flag-waving for the same reason as Katha Pollitt, but I've been jonesin' for a flag I could believe in. I'd like to see a flag with a globe on it, as she mentions, so I could wave it proudly to say, I belong to the Earth and I take a stand for protecting it.
MICHELLE Y. R'MY
It's a painful time for those of us who have lived through the bad choices our government made in the twentieth century. As one who has survived all those choices (I was born in 1909), I fly the Earth flag--a blue banner with the beautiful photo of our planet taken from outer space, used for the first Earth Day. Our small organization has distributed these flags to schools and municipalities for many years to help people realize that, in the words of the Earth Charter (which all governments must subscribe to if our planet is to survive), we must "bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace."
Save Our World
I went to the AAA flag store here last week and passed the forty or so people standing in line to buy American flags and asked loudly, "Where are the flags with the picture of planet Earth on them?" I took one home, and it now flies proudly next to my American flag--which I fly with some ambivalence but also with a determination to redefine this symbol of jingoism for myself.
I have not joined the patriotic fervor by displaying a US flag even though I deeply mourn the loss of innocent lives, not just American lives but lives from at least eighty other countries ruthlessly sacrificed in a perverted interpretation of Islam. The first impulse I had was to fly the flag with a picture of the Earth to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the world. But since I don't own such a flag, I have tied a black ribbon to my car antenna in memory of those who died and as a symbol of the period of darkness that must now be overcome if we as a global people wish to survive. Patriotism serves only to further separate us from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters throughout the world in a time when we need more than ever a sense of unity and global community.
Katha Pollitt addresses the flag conundrum quite well. There is an alternative symbol--the peace symbol--which could show empathy with the victims and their families as well as expressing the desire for alternative responses.
There is a global flag. See www.oneworldflag.org.
Thanks to Katha Pollitt for her ideas for alternatives to the American battle flag. Here in Asheville, we've made posters of the peace dove. They're hanging in the windows of homes and businesses, a symbolic alternative to the Stars and Stripes and the march to war.
Santa Monica, Calif.
We need American peace flags and not blank checks! Check us out to see what we're about: www.peaceflags.org (click on info).
BILL RUSSELL, JOHN LANDRUM
Santa Cruz, Calif.
It is important to know our enemies. Listening to newscasters and politicians would lead one to believe that our enemies are Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Afghanistan or some fuzzily defined worldwide network of brown-skinned lunatics with names like Mohammed and Ahmed who take flying lessons in Florida.
Listening to the Rev. Jerry Falwell would lead one to believe that our enemies are gays, Jews, abortion providers, feminists, the ACLU and (though he neglected to mention them this time) Teletubbies. Watching the actions of large numbers of Americans would lead one to believe that our enemies are the 6 million Muslims living in the United States, the mosques they pray at, the businesses they run and the schools their children attend.
All are mistaken.
I hope Americans will look beyond these easy targets and scapegoats and recognize their true enemies as ignorance, intolerance and fanaticism. I fear we have already fallen prey to all three. We have seen a man in Seattle drive his truck through a mosque and begin shooting in the name of patriotism. And we may soon see our military kill innocent people in the pursuit of one man and his followers, also in the name of patriotism. As we indulge these acts, I can only hope that we will not be surprised when their eventual and inevitable responses follow, once again in the name of patriotism.
We need to make the choice between a patriotism we can buy at Wal-Mart for $3 and a greater cause than patriotism--humanity. We must identify and make war on our own tendencies toward fanaticism and intolerance. Otherwise, we ourselves become the enemy, and the terrorists win.
UNCLE SAM WANTS THEM
Given all the pro-war and American Empire rhetoric, I guess people like William Kristol, David Brooks, Jonah Goldberg, Bill O'Reilly, Zell Miller, Ann Coulter and the entire staff of National Review, among others, will be stepping down from their jobs to go sign up at the nearest armed services recruiting office. It will be a shame not to hear their articulate opinions on everything from Monica Lewinsky to the Taliban, but I believe it is a sacrifice America will have to make. Such patriotic pundits, banging their war drums, surely will lead America to victory.
Why don't we trade Henry Kissinger for Osama bin Laden? Then we each can hold war crimes tribunals and let justice prevail. It's a curious contrast: The Taliban won't surrender bin Laden without presentation of evidence, whereas the United States won't surrender Kissinger even with mountains of evidence.
OUR GLASS HOUSE
On September 11 America experienced a true faith-based initiative. Then, hearing the remarks of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who purport to be Christians, made it clear that we have fundamentalists in our own society no better than those we say we must fight. Our forefathers tried to protect us from intolerance by making our government secular, with the imperative to protect all beliefs. We have just experienced the result of deep intolerance and become the victims of religious fanatics. It is heartbreaking to begin this new century with "holy wars," and we must not let our leaders put us on those terms. We must stop those right here in our own country who preach intolerance. As much as we condemn Muslim extremists, it is difficult to cast stones when you live in a glass house.
DOROTHY I. MUNDY
A 'HYPENATED PERSPECTIVE'
New York City
Can I be at war with myself? Watching the World Trade Center collapse, then living through the aftermath, I ask that absurd question. I'm American with a Muslim name but nondescript appearance. No one takes me for Middle Eastern--I was born in West Virginia, and I'm only a quarter Arab. But thanks to the peculiarities of history, and naming, I have an Arab-American identity.
The attack on the World Trade Center puts me in an awful place. Like everyone else, I am horrified and angered. I could have been there, munching a bagel on the observation deck. I can't imagine how someone could have planned such an attack, and my shock is turning into anger and mourning. At the same time, I feel excluded from the national unity. Why? As an Arab-American, I'm subject to reprisals. I'm nervous, wondering if I will somehow share the blame. Slurs, threats and even violence have been leveled against anyone associated with Islam, and I wonder what will happen to me. I'm looking for work--will I be denied a job? What if a wider war breaks out? Will I lose my liberty?
Some friends have said I should go to Egypt. They meant well, but their comments betrayed a misunderstanding that verges on racism. Hard as it is for the safely white to comprehend, there is only one place for me and other hyphenated Americans: the United States. America produced me. My grandparents hail from four different countries. Where else could they have created a family? If I'm out of place here thanks to my name, I'm certainly out of place in the Middle East, where I stick out as an American. What is left for me? Do we have to pick sides in the end? And what can I do if neither side will have me, if both treat me as the enemy?
Some of my fellow citizens are striking out at American Muslims. Some are even calling for a firestorm to be rained upon Islamic nations. Don't they see that the terrorists had the same inspiration? The Afghans were caught between the Soviet Union and the United States for decades. Their country has been reduced to rubble. They have no hope. Violence occurs in cycles, and, if we respond senselessly, striking innocent people in our search for criminals, we'll create more radicals, more suicide bombers who embody the despair of poverty and war. The monopoly on violence is broken, and I shudder to think what comes next.
My situation brings a special clarity, one that opposes choosing sides. What do I see from my hyphenated perspective? The absurdity of labels, indeed, of the whole idea that race, religion or flags divide humanity. I have a Muslim name, but my grandfather was Serbian. How would that fly in the Balkans? Is the world becoming a vast Balkan state?
I've wondered if I will have to choose a side. If I do, here is my choice: pacifism and dialogue. I choose love, I choose humanity. I may symbolize Islam to some and America to others, but I transcend these distinctions. I am proof that love conquers hate. My grandparents conquered tradition to found my family, and I stand tall as an American born from a unique and tolerant soil. What race produced me? The human race. I plead for understanding and compassion. Chase the criminals, but let us then begin to fight. Let us fight not for oil, money or revenge but for a world where hatred and weapons belong to a distant, barbaric past.
'NEITHER IN THE EAST OR THE WEST'
New York City
I am an Arab-American. I am also a New Yorker born in America of a Moroccan Muslim father. On September 11 I stood terrified at my office window above Madison Square Garden, as I watched in horror and disbelief the devastating destruction of the World Trade Center--one of the quintessential landmarks of this city I love. In the distance, down the soundless stretch of Seventh Avenue hung the ghostly cloud of what moments before had been the mirror for the Statue of Liberty, the thriving workplace of thousands of people hailing from all over the planet, each living their portion of the American dream. Read the names on the Wall of Prayers outside St. Vincent's Hospital; they will tell you how the blow dealt to New York truly hit the world, for the names are not only Mark, Jennifer and Kevin, but Imran, Mohammed and Kumar. The terrorists who committed this heinous act, if they were Muslim, are no more "my people" than Timothy McVeigh was "the people" of Christians.
As a liberal Muslim, I must speak out with the clearest and loudest of voices and not let fanatics and extremists define me and my community. For we are in the vast majority--Muslims and Arabs who condemn the killing of another human being, who believe that Allah is compassionate and good and forgiving. Who know that the Koran forbids suicide, who see life as a gift that must not be squandered. My father taught me his favorite sura from the Koran, where God is described as a "Light within Light, emanating from a source found neither in the East nor in the West." The terrorists who carried with them death and destruction shared neither my vision of Allah, nor my vision of the world. They were men devoured by hate and stood only for themselves.
I don't know if we will ever have a real sense of how much was lost on September 11. I don't think I can ever stop hearing the bells from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine that tolled for the dead all day that Tuesday. I heard them as I walked out of Central Park coughing from the soot and ash, my feet blistered from the long trek to Harlem, away from the horror. I feared so much was dying, I feared not just for my college friends, graduate school buddies and neighbors who worked in those towers but for my visions of peace and of a better world. I feared for my dream of an end to the conflict in the Middle East--most likely that vision had gone up in a cloud of smoke. What of my hopes of cultural understanding, of erasing of stereotypes, of validating identity and difference? That, too, had come tumbling down. The terrorists had sounded the death knell for my vision of a better day to come.
But I will not let them do that. In memory of all those who died, I will speak up loudly and not let terrorists write the epitaph of our future. I will not let a handful of hatemongers, who twisted the minds of desperate souls, convince more people that there is no way out of despair but through destruction. The differences that divide the Arab-Muslim world and the West are not a chasm that nobody can bridge, and I will not let extremists on either side tell me otherwise. I refuse to let hate draw the blueprints for our tomorrow.
ANISSA MARIAM BOUZIANE