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William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, ex-chairman of the
National Endowment for the Humanities, candidate for President in 2000
in the Republican primaries, has written an intemperate little book
called Why We Fight. Using the horror of 9/11, the book crackles
with protestations of his patriotism as he lobs shells at those who do
not share his views. Apparently Bennett had no moral choice but to write
what he had to say in order to save the Republic. "I sensed in my bones
that if we could not find a way to justify our patriotic instincts, and
to answer the arguments of those who did not share them, we would be
undone."

If Bennett had his way, those who did not hold his views would be dealt
with very harshly indeed. He leaves it to the reader to guess what he
would do with those he views as "unpatriotic." But there are ample
clues. Civil liberties are not his concern, neither in this book, as he
makes clear, nor for that matter anywhere else. He states that he is for
military tribunals "and the detention of suspects within our own borders
for questioning." For how long Bennett does not say. Nor does he tell us
whether there is the same standard for a non-American as for an American
citizen. Until recently there were hundreds being held in detention,
sanctioned by an act of Congress that gives the Bush Administration
virtual carte blanche in handling suspects without warrants, and perhaps
even without recourse to the regular court system. (Most of the
detainees have been quietly deported.) This exercise of power is a
complement to Administration foreign policy, as it is apparently
prepared to intervene in or invade nations even if there is no evidence
that they are involved in terrorism or backing terrorists. The domestic
implications are spelled out well by Bennett, but none of it bothers
him. His gravamen against the left and those who disagree with
him--members of the "peace party," as he calls his adversaries--is that
they "have caused damage, and they [you] need to be held to account."
Nation editors and thinkers like Eric Foner, Richard Falk, Katha
Pollitt and Jonathan Schell, take heed. They are not alone as enemies of
Bennett--New York Times editors, Harvard (Bennett is an
ungrateful alum) and assorted scholars, Noam Chomsky, students and the
professoriate generally should watch out. They are targets in Bennett's
campaign for an inquisition, twenty-first-century style. He is concerned
that "the Foners of the United States" have led a minority of Americans
away from being true believers. As Bennett so indelicately puts it, "A vast
relearning has to take place," undertaken by everyone, especially
"educators, and at every level." "The defect" in our education and
morals "can only be redressed by the reinstatement of a thorough and
honest study of our history, undistorted by the lens of political
correctness and pseudosophisticated relativism." In other words, there
has to be a moral cleansing in America.

The word "reinstatement" does not tell us what Bennett is attempting to
reinstate, though. From Why We Fight we learn of Bennett's deep
distress at American education, where his notions of American history
seem less persuasive than they were in the days when nineteenth-century
historians acted as propaganda instruments for war, racism and America's
imperial superiority. Those were the days when "a vast relearning" was
not necessary. He quotes approvingly Professor Donald Kagan, the Yale
historian, who tells us that those who do not hold to their definition
of patriotism and their reading of history suffer from "failures of
character
[emphasis added by Bennett], made by privileged people who
enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest,
its opportunities, its freedom, its riches, but who lack the basic
decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands."
Bennett does concede at one point that while it is incumbent on those
who hew to the Kagan version of truth to point out the despicable
behavior of the naysayers, we must also "[respect] their right to be
irresponsible and even subversive of our safety."

There are other views of patriotism, of course. One was promulgated by
the leading American philosopher John Dewey, an independent thinker not
given either to religions or secular religions, namely Communism. He
surely would have been measured for a Soviet gulag. But he would also
have been on Bennett's enemies list for his belief that scoundrels too
often fly the flag of patriotism and nationalist triumphalism:

On the side in which public spirit is popularly known as patriotism this
widening of the area of interest has been accompanied by increased
exclusiveness, by suspicion, fear, jealousy, often hatred, of other
nations.... The self interest of the dynastic and military class
persistently keeps the spark of fear and animosity alive in order that
it may, upon occasion, be fanned into the flames of war. A definite
technique has grown by which the mass of citizens are led to identify
love of one's own country with readiness to regard other nations as
enemies.... And in many cases, it is becoming clear that particular
economic interests hide behind patriotism in order to serve themselves.
So far has this feeling gone that on one side there is a definite
attempt to attach the stigma of "unpatriotic" to everything designated
international; to cultivate that kind of "hundred percent Americanism"
which signifies practically suspicion and jealousy of everything
foreign.

In other words, Americanism can serve as a code word for "contempt of
other peoples," Dewey concluded.

The disinterested observer must wonder whether it is inaccurate to note
the emergence of dynastic classes whose political power is linked to the
intelligence community, the military and big business. It would be
absurd to deny at this point that there are classes and groups that
profit from war and military preparedness. It is equally naïve to
believe that the constitutional contract of civil liberties is so strong
that prosecutors, local police, freewheeling inquisitors and others will
not spy and inform on and harass the different and the dissident. War
mobilization is the perfect cover story for such abuses. The problem is
made worse because legal and structural changes in governing and
consciousness are legitimized through law, for example in the USA
Patriot Act. That is to say, the legacy of Bush will live long after he
returns to Crawford, Texas.

But what about the doubter? What about today's or next year's or next
decade's "little guy," a man like Winston in Orwell's 1984, who
didn't go along or know how to because the contradictions were so
profound between the stories that were given from one year to the next
that he knew enough not to believe in this year's lies? Suppose he
wondered why Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines was our friend one year
and the next we helped overthrow him, or why the hapless former
Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, a man once on the CIA payroll, became
the occasion for our invasion of Panama, ostensibly because of his
involvement with drug payoffs? The results were much destruction and the
death of several hundred Panamanians. Bennett's defense of violence
takes on frightening characteristics. Somehow he believes that, quoting
Orwell favorably, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because
others are committing violence on their behalf." He goes on to wrap
himself in the comfort of the armed forces. But surely he can't mean
this about Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, etc. Violence was not being
committed there on behalf of those who objected here. Indeed, it is a
stretch to imply that these actions did anything for the American
people.

Imagine the naïve citizen who doesn't understand hypocrisy and
strategies of evasion, contradiction or double standards. That person
might wonder why we went to war in Afghanistan when the perpetrators of
the 9/11 destruction were for the most part Saudis. Referring to
Augustine and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Bennett claims that "not
resorting to force leads to evils far greater than the one we
oppose." But surely it would be nice to know who the enemy is, and drop
the bombs on the correct culprit. Whether the naïve person who
holds such views and then organizes others to express their doubts
should be held without bail as a suspect is unclear from the Bennett
text. What is clear is that doubters should be shunned and punished.
They are raining on Bennett's "war party" (his term), a parade in which
he is a proud adjutant.

Bennett's animus toward his fellow Americans is unforgiving especially
in reference to those who were part of the movements of the 1960s, which
had the effect of concretizing ideals into practice--and at no small
cost. Perhaps his anger against the movement members was that they
employed nonviolence and used or stumbled into a social method that
broke "facts" open and found values that contradicted the stated
democratic ideals of inclusivity, equality and sheer decency. It is no
wonder that this social method is one that helps ourselves and the young
demystify events, their causes and implications. His disdain for the
peace party goes back to the Vietnam War. At that time, the peace party,
made up of the flaccid and pusillanimous, didn't support the "bomb them
back to the Stone Age" position of Gen. Curtis LeMay. Bennett, the angry
moralist, remains upset that the LeMay position didn't get much of a
hearing, although the general ran for Vice President with George
Wallace, and the tonnage of bombs dropped on Vietnam by the United
States was greater than the amount dropped in World War II. As Bennett
opines, it was the Gandhian nonviolence people of the peace party who
subverted an American victory in Vietnam because "those among us who
espoused the LeMay position were scarcely to be heard from." His
argument is uncomfortably reminiscent of the German generals and the
right during the Weimar Republic who claimed that the Germans lost World
War I because they were "stabbed in the back" by the left.

As a good Republican, Bennett bristles at those who might doubt the
motives and methods of the Bush Administration. After all, how could
anyone doubt those patriots who took power under questionable
circumstances, who had already used every sleazy trick to get one of
their fellow rightists onto the Supreme Court and vault into the White
House a man who'd lost the popular vote, installed as it were, by a
5-to-4 decision of the Supreme Court? Because Bennett is a dogmatic man
he is not burdened with self-doubt but has a surfeit of faith. (Bennett
lets us know that he is a religious man, a Catholic who has no doubts
about his faith and his belief in the Catholic Church, its teaching and
activities. It is his kind of faith, religion itself, which he
understands to be the backbone of America, much the way other believers
throughout the world, such as Osama bin Laden, perhaps, link their faith
to their political judgments.)

To Bennett, 9/11 was a moment of clarity between good and evil. "Good
was distinguished from evil, truth from falsehood." But there was more
to the question. He was concerned that some said the United States
helped bring the disaster about through its foreign and military
policies. After all, the skeptics wondered, didn't the United States
train and militarily assist the radical fundamentalists against the
Soviet Union? And then didn't our assets turn against the United States
when Afghanistan was left a broken nation? And did the United States
overstay its welcome in Saudi Arabia, whose people include chief backers
of the radical fundamentalists? These were not idle questions, nor was
it idle and unpatriotic to analyze from top to bottom the ethos of
American invulnerability. The United States had placed its faith in a
forward defense. But on that terrible day, the idea of fighting wars on
other people's territory was severely damaged. Wouldn't these questions
suggest a comprehensive review of American foreign policy? But Bennett
the purist claims that he is not interested in policy. He is interested
in right and wrong, good and evil. Bennett, the consummate Washington
insider, is not one, apparently, to get his hands dirty with the
realities of policy-making and everyday life--i.e., what to do--although
working through his principles would have horrendous consequences for a
democratic society.

The reader may ask whether there is anything about which Bennett and I
agree. And here the answer is yes. Certainly the assault on American
cities was an atrocious attack by a gang of zealots. On why they thought
to undertake their suicide mission Bennett and I disagree. Perhaps the
perpetrators wanted to give the United States a lesson in cost-benefit
analysis to show that all the high-tech military equipment in the world
does not make the United States invulnerable. (Indeed, because of the
interconnectedness of our communications system, the United States is as
vulnerable as any Third World country.) The zealots may have been imbued
with an anti-Western spirit that has rankled for over a thousand years
and finally erupted against the United States, paradoxically for the
same reason Bennett has had grave questions about American society: its
relativism, sensuality, individuality and lack of religious discipline.
Relativism has acquired a vulgar connotation, and Bennett uses its
burlesqued meaning as a stick against nonbelievers and the peace party.
He compares Stanley Fish, the dean of liberal arts and sciences at the
University of Illinois in Chicago, a leader of the postmodernist school
of literary theory, to mass murderer Charles Manson, who said that he
thought no man could really know and represent another, "to communicate
one reality through another, and into another, reality."

"Stanley Fish himself could hardly have put it better," writes Bennett:

Do we, then, have no independent and objective standard for determining
why Professor Fish should be allowed to teach at a prestigious
institution of higher learning while Charles Manson should languish in
prison just because he followed a doctrine he shares with Professor Fish
to its logical conclusion--the conclusion that since everything is
relative, everything can be justified and all is permitted.

One does not have to be a postmodernist, which I am not, to be deeply
offended by Bennett's comment. Bennett picks up on Leszek Kolakowski's
views that to follow principles to their logical conclusion can lead to
disaster. But Bennett overlooks a fundamental truth. The question is how
to determine an "independent and objective standard," what goes into
that judgment and who decides what that standard is. By analyzing this
set of questions we learn our own weaknesses, that of the standard
setters and those who seek to impute their values into an objective
reality. We can analyze and judge, from our perspective, actions and
behaviors. People can then choose between Fish and Manson.

Right and wrong may come from God or moral sentiments, which the
philosophers Francis Hutcheson and David Hume spoke of. These
sentiments, better stated as capacities that people have, may be
degraded by social roles, institutions, laws, poor upbringing, whatever
causes a person to turn toward the pathological. Obviously, if one
believes in the Enlightenment and historical progress, ways of acting do
emerge that are acceptable as against actions that are no longer
acceptable either as a result of social agreement or because there are
moral sentiments that make their way through historical struggle.
Bennett, who appears to be all over the map philosophically, does hold
as a constant his belief in Plato, who in turn held tightly to the idea
of an antidemocratic society, one based on hierarchy and strict class
lines. Plato, according to Bennett, disposed of the relativism that his
apostle now sees as the cause of our decay. But what exactly is
relativism? Bennett also quotes approvingly Abelard's dialectical idea
of sic and non (the debate surrounding opposite
propositions) as being the probable "basis of all learning itself...of
our very outlook on the world." But Abelard's method can be read two
ways. One is that the questions undertaken invariably lead to the same
question expressed in new ways (aporia), or it is a method that
is supposed to give the right answer expressed by a church that defines
what reason and faith are.

Relativism is really a special form of democratic skepticism that
encourages us to examine and extend our inquiry beyond the appearance of
an event even in the case of recognizable and accepted facts. The
relativist points out that the fact can be seen from different vantage
points, and, more important, that a fact has within itself an entire
story that can and should be explored. Now the question is, how does
this apply to 9/11?

First, there is the fact of its occurrence. In a policy sense it becomes
critical for us to understand how and why the event occurred, what the
implications are, what its immediate causes were. For its various flaws,
relativism is an attempt to move to a coherent, if invariably incomplete
picture of what happened and what lay behind the event. It is the only
way we can learn what to do. It takes a dim view of professed views of
what is "good" and "evil" not because they don't exist but because ideas
of an absolutist nature that are put into practice can lead to the most
horrendous consequences. It is why law, including international law, is
so important, for it imposes boundaries even for the protection of the
evildoer. In policy terms, matters of good and evil are transposed into
causes, consequences and manageable categories for people who cannot
know the whole truth, and for people who seek a means of understanding
rather than mere retaliation or dogma.

This form of analysis leads to certain conclusions. The first is that
9/11 almost immediately became a social and political question of what
to do. It was a moral question for those caught between their pacifist
beliefs and their concern for justice for their fellow citizens. For
Bennett that terrible day was the moment not only to get mad (angry) in
his terms but to get even. Bennett is obsessed with the idea that there
is not enough anger in American society. We are all caught in this
unmanly process of Roger Fisher and William Ury's ideas of "getting to
yes," that is, finding avenues of agreement between people, states and
groups. If this formulation does not have value then humanity cannot
escape the vise of dominator/dominated. Nor can it find ways of controlling and sublimating anger,
violence and rage. Nor will humanity be able to escape forever the
further use of nuclear weapons.

There is a smidgen of truth to Dean Rusk's and Bennett's idea that the
American people have to be pulled kicking and screaming into war. But
this belies the work of a state that has been involved, depending on
one's count, in more than 150 interventions and wars since its founding.
Only someone given to deceiving himself would not recognize the American
state as a warrior state. There are many reasons Bennett chooses not to
see this reality--that is to say, in Bennett's history book there are
many blank pages. Thus, the United States made continuous war on Indians
for the better part of a hundred years, always with its eye on the
prize: to take as much land as it could from them. The Mexican-American
war can hardly be seen in a different light. This is an old story told
well and critically by historians--a story Bennett would sugarcoat for
the young, with claims of an American destiny. Is that what the "vast
relearning" is to be about? Whether the United States had high moral
purpose or crass economic motives in employing violence and deceit does
not change the reality about the means used.

It should go without saying that there is a matter of supreme importance
for Bennett with which I do agree. It is that there is no place for
anti-Semitism in twenty-first-century civilization--whether it comes as
the virulent form that has erupted among too many in Muslim nations or
whether it exists as a residue in American politics (peace to the memory
of Richard Nixon). But it's there, whether in the Middle East, Europe or
in American politics.

This anti-Semitism does not excuse Israel's foreign and military
policies, which put at risk the state of Israel, in my view; but Bennett
is among the staunchest of Israel's supporters. He says there is "an
understanding, almost religious in nature, that to our two nations above
all others has been entrusted the fate of liberty in the world." There
is a consistency in his view. He wants no appeasement toward the
Palestinians, seeking their subjugation and cautioning the Bush
Administration; I suppose that weak fellow General Powell had better
watch his step in his concern to temper this ugly war. Or maybe it's his
back.

Here the prudent analyst might have learned something from Vietnam.
There was much pressure to remove the corrupt and seemingly feckless
Diem from his position. And after he was removed, with American backing,
the leadership structure of South Vietnam ended in turmoil. We may
expect the same to occur if the Israelis, with American concurrence,
manage to force into place among the Palestinians a Middle East version
of a puppet leader. Bennett's view of American foreign policy demands
that we look only at the depredations of Osama, Palestinian terrorists
and certain nations on his enemies list. He claims that he is interested
in objectivity, but he is unprepared or unwilling to look at those
issues that may or may not have salience. This has little to do with
good and evil, except as those words are used to obfuscate. The moral
asymmetry he assumes should be surrendered, so that the universal
standards Bennett says he is for can be applied to the United States as
well.

Another place of agreement between us is in Bennett's recognition that
through enormous struggle, the United States has sought to concretize
its shifting ideals of freedom and racial and economic justice into the
reality of everyday life. There are some exceptions, but there is little
to suggest that those who hold Bennett's views were the ones who were
part of the movements that changed the face of this nation into one that
others throughout the world admire for its freedoms. These struggles
were paid for dearly by the various social movements so the likes of
Bennett and me could live in relative comfort. It was not the
right--whether the ultramontane elements of Catholic hierarchy, Judge
Gary, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, Phyllis Schlafly, Antonin Scalia,
the George Bushes or William F. Buckley--that made this nation one that
championed "intellectual, moral and political freedom," to use the
philosopher A.E. Murphy's phrase.

But back to "why we fight" in international terms: Being a believing
Catholic, Bennett is concerned that "just war" be recognized as a
doctrine that has modern utility; one applicable to American reprisals.
As ironic as it may appear, "just war" is a weak reed to hang from in
order to support a war without end. Just war is predicated on struggles
between nations; it is not a struggle between a gang and a nation. A
just war has a beginning, middle and end, and it is not supposed to do
more damage than the original harm. Bennett argues that the opinions of
others (sometimes good to have) should in no way deter any unilateral
action the United States cares to take--that is to say, those who
control the reins of power. Bennett has thus adopted just war as his
rationalization for militarism.

One last word. An American-initiated alternative must be offered to that
part of the world that is writhing in pain. It is one that gets rid of
weapons of mass destruction through general disarmament. (This includes
our own.) It is one that supports the pacific settlements of disputes.
This does not mean the fashioning of imperial law but of expanding
international law. That the United States does not support the
International Criminal Court and has pulled out of various international
treaties is not a good sign for the United States or the world's future.
The alternative includes international economic rights, the buildup of
regional forces to act under the aegis of the UN Security Council,
massive health and economic assistance, and a system that makes clear
that intelligence is a feature of a free society--it is public property,
not that of the few or of the state. The alternative recognizes and
supports claims of plural cultures without undercutting in any way the
ideals and struggles that have defined human rights in the United
States, namely women's rights, civil liberties, civil rights, labor
rights, gender rights, environmental rights. It recognizes that
education, housing, religion, free inquiry and health are rights to be
expanded and cherished. This charge is not likely to be fulfilled by
calls for wars without end and claims of patriotism meant to mystify,
and worse.

The country is riven and ailing, with a guns-plus-butter nuttiness in
some of its governing echelons and the sort of lapsed logic implicit in
the collapse of trust in money-center capitalism, which has been an
undergirding theory of a good deal of the work that many people do. The
tallest buildings, real profit centers, fall, as "wogs" and "ragheads"
defy us, perhaps comparably to how the "gooks" in Vietnam did (from
whose example Osama bin Laden may have learned that we could be
defeated). But that was on foreign soil, and we believed that we had
pulled our punches and beaten ourselves, and so remained triumphalist
for the remainder of the twentieth century, as we had been practically
since Reconstruction.

Now we're not so sure. For the first time since the War of 1812 we have
been damaged in continental America by foreigners, having made other
people hate us, though we had never needed to pay attention to such
matters before. Proxies could fight the malcontents for us in places
like Central America, and the Japanese and Germans, would-be conquerors,
had not felt much real animus, becoming close, amicable allies after the
war. Our first World War II hero, Colin Kelly, three days after Pearl
Harbor, flew his B-17 bomber (as media myth had it) in kamikaze fashion
to hit a Japanese cruiser, before the Japanese made a practice of it. To
give your life for your country, like Nathan Hale, is an ideal that's
since evaporated.

Obese individually and as a nation, and trying to stall the aging
process, we talk instead of cars and taxes, sports and movies, cancer
and entitlements, but with a half-unmentioned inkling too of what more
ominously may be in store--a premonition that our righteous confidence
might have served us just a bit too well. We never agonized a lot about
killing off the Indians, or our slaving history either, once that was
over, or being the only nuclear power ever to incinerate multitudes of
people. We've hardly seemed to notice when free enterprise segues into
simple greed, because our religious beginnings countenanced rapacity, as
long as you tithed. Settling the seaboard in official belts of piety,
whether Puritan, Anglican, Quaker or Dutch Reformed (only the frontier
tended to be atheistic), we seized land and water with abandon, joined
by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and what have you, westward ho. Each
group encouraged its rich men to creep like a camel through the eye of
the needle, and political freedoms were gradually canted away from the
pure ballot box toward influence-buying.

We swallowed all of that because the New World dream envisioned
everybody working hard and getting fairly rich, except when undertows of
doubt pervaded our prosperity, as in the 1930s and 1960s; or now when,
feeling gridlocked, we wonder if we haven't gone too far and used the
whole place up. We seem to need some kind of condom invented just for
greed--a latex sac where spasms of that particular vice can be
ejaculated, captured and contained. Like lust, it's not going to go
away. Nor will Monopoly games do the trick, any more than pornographic
videos erase impulses that might result in harm. The old phrase patrons
of prostitutes used to use--"getting your ashes hauled"--said it pretty
well, and if we could persuade people to think of greed, as well, that
way and expel its destructiveness perhaps into a computer screen,
trapping the piggishness in cyberspace might save a bit of Earth. The
greediest guys would not be satisfied, but greed might be looked on as
slightly outré.

Some vertigo or "near death" experience of global warming may be
required to trip the necessary degree of alarm. The droughts and water
wars, a polar meltdown and pelagic crisis--too much saltwater and
insufficient fresh. In the meantime, dried-up high plains agriculture
and Sunbelt golf greens in the Republicans' heartlands will help because
African famines are never enough. We need a surge of altruism, artesian
decency. The oddity of greed nowadays is that it is so often solo--in
the service of one ego--not ducal or kingly, as the apparatus of an
unjust state. Overweening possession, such as McMansions and so on, will
be loony in the century we are entering upon--ecologically,
economically, morally, commonsensically. But how will we realize this,
short of disastrous procrastination? Hurricanes and centrifugal violence
on the home front, not to mention angry Arabs flying into the World
Trade Center? That astounded us: both the anger and the technological
savvy. These camel-herding primitives whom we had manipulated, fleeced,
romanticized and patronized for generations, while pumping out their oil
and bottling them up in monarchies and emirates that we cultivated and
maintained, while jeering at them with casual racism in the meantime,
when we thought of it, for not having democracies like ours. To discover
that satellite TV, the Internet and some subversive preaching should
suddenly provide them access to divergent opinions disconcerts if it
doesn't frighten us, as does their willingness to counterpose
rudimentary suicide missions to the helicopter gunships and F-16s we
provide the Israelis. "Don't they value life?"

They won't be the last. The Vietcong were as culturally different from
the Palestinians as we are and yet succeeded in winning a country for
themselves, at a tremendous but bearable cost, which the Palestinians
will also undoubtedly do. Self-sacrifice can be a match for weaponry,
not because the Americans or Israelis value Asian or Arab life--at key
junctures and for essentially racist reasons they have not--but because
of the value they place on their own citizenry. As many as fifty
Vietnamese lives were lost for every American's, but that was not a high
enough ratio for us, even though, unlike some Israelis, we don't ascribe
to ourselves a biblical imprimatur. So we let them have their land, and
the domino calamities that had been famously predicted did not result.

To equate our own revolution with anybody else's is quite offensive to
us. Mostly, in fact, we prefer to forget that we had a revolutionary
past and kicked thousands of wealthy Tories into Canada, seizing their
property. We were slow to condemn apartheid in South Africa, having
scarcely finished abolishing our own at the time, and have been slow in
general to support self-governance in the warmer climates or to
acknowledge suffering among people whose skins are beiger than ours. And
if our income per capita is sixty or eighty times theirs, that doesn't
strike us as strange. We are a bootstrap country, after all. They should
pay us heed. And the whole United Nations is "a cesspool," according to
a recent New York City mayor.

But primitive notions like those of Ed Koch invite a primitive response.
And box-cutters in the hands of Taliban fundamentalists are not our main
problem. We have gratuitously destroyed so much of nature that the
Taliban's smashing up of Buddhist statues, as comparative vandalism,
will someday seem quite minuscule. We have also denatured our own
nominal religions: that is, taken the bite of authenticity out of
Christianity, for instance. Our real problem, I think, is a centrifugal
disorientation and disbelief. There is a cost to cynicism (as in our
previous activities in Afghanistan), and the systematic demonizing of
communitarianism during the cold war made it harder afterward for us to
reject as perverse the double-talking profiteering implicit in phenomena
like Enron, when we had thought that anything was better than collective
regulation and planning.

But ceasing to believe in revolutionary democracy--whether of the
secular or Christian (or Emersonian) variety--has proven costly. A
decent regard for the welfare of other people, in international as well
as local life, is going to be more than just a matter of private virtue.
In a shrinking world it may be a survival tool. Fanaticism doesn't carry
as far unless catastrophic economic conditions lurk in the background,
as we learned in the case of Germany between the two world wars but
then, when non-Caucasians were involved, forgot. Our foreign aid budget,
once the cold war ended, collapsed into spectacular stinginess, and our
sole response to September 11 has been police work. This can probably
erase Al Qaeda--which became after its instant victory that one morning
quite superfluous anyway--but not the knowledge of our vulnerability to
any handful of smart and angry plotters in this technological age. We
might see an explosion of those.

Our national self-absorption (in which the focus seems more on trying to
stay young than helping the young) may give capitalism a bad name.
Simple hedonism and materialism was not the point of crossing the ocean.
Our revolution was better than that. It was to paint the world anew.

The attacks hardened the resolve of immigrant bashers and anti-Semites.

The new defense doctrine calls for meeting any threat, anywhere, at any
time.

On September 23, 2001, midpoint between the horrific events of September
11 and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the New York
Times
ran an intriguing headline. "Forget the Past: It's a War
Unlike Any Other," it advised, above an article by John Kifner noting
that "Air Force bombers are heading toward distant airfields to fight a
shadowy foe flitting through the mountains in a deeply hostile land
already so poor and so ruined by two decades of war that [it] is
virtually bereft of targets." It was a poor headline for an article that
began by noting the long history of conflicts among great powers over
control of Central Asia, but it was a message with a significant degree
of resonance.

History was often being ignored in the heated discussions of the coming
war and the attacks that provoked it, of course, but usually without
anyone having to instruct us to forget it. Pundits and politicians alike
could draw on a long tradition of keeping the public ill informed about
the role of the United States in the world. And once the "war on
terrorism" actually started, those who tried to speak about a context
for the attacks of September, or of how the history of US intervention
in the world had produced rage and frustration that could help fuel such
actions, were accused of justifying terrorism.

In The Clash of Fundamentalisms, a riposte to Samuel Huntington's
much-discussed "clash of civilizations" thesis, Pakistani writer and
filmmaker Tariq Ali sets the ambitious goal of challenging such
organized historical amnesia--"the routine disinformation or
no-information that prevails today"--and of speaking forthrightly about
many topics that have become unpopular or even heretical in the West, as
well as within what he calls the House of Islam. "The virtual outlawing
of history by the dominant culture has reduced the process of democracy
to farce," Ali puts it in one chapter, "A short course history of US
imperialism." In such a situation, "everything is either oversimplified
or reduced to a wearisome incomprehensibility."

Whereas Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis posits a cultural
conflict between Islamic and Western civilization, and sees religion as
"perhaps the central force that motivates and mobilizes people,"
Ali argues that economics and politics, especially oil politics, remain
central to the friction between Western powers and states in the so-called Islamic world, particularly in the Middle East. He
rejects Huntington's identification of the West with "human rights,
equality, liberty, the rule of law, [and] democracy," and he reminds us
of the vast disparities that exist among cultures and nations within the
Islamic world itself.

Few people are better disposed than Ali to serve as a guide to the
neglected and distorted histories relevant to the conflict in
Afghanistan, the broader "war on terrorism" now being fought on numerous
fronts by the Bush Administration, and the intimately related conflicts
in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, which have recently put the world on a
heightened nuclear alert. Ali, a longtime editor of New Left
Review
and Verso books, is the author of three books on Pakistan and
has deep personal and political connections to the region. In The
Clash of Fundamentalisms
he surveys a range of regional and
historical conflicts that remain open chapters, including the creation
of Israel and its ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, the
unfinished legacy of Britain's brutal partition of India in 1947 and the
fallout from division of the world by the colonial powers. The book is
an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the nightmare of
history from which so many people are struggling to awake, and deserves
serious engagement and consideration. Ali broadens our horizons,
geographically, historically, intellectually and politically.

Despite his obvious hostility to religious modes of thinking--defending
against religious orthodoxy in favor of "the freedom to think freely and
rationally and [exercise] the freedom of imagination"--Ali has a
sophisticated appreciation of the many contradictory movements and ideas
that have organized themselves under the banner of Islam. He can debate
Islamic doctrine with the most ardent purists while at the same time
dispensing with the simplistic (and all too often racist) caricatures of
Islam that pass for analysis in the West. In The Clash of
Fundamentalisms
he takes the reader on a necessarily schematic and
selective history of Islam, though one wishes he had provided more
signposts for those interested in further study than the scattered and
inconsistent references included in this volume.

Ali writes here of his "instinctive" atheism during his upbringing in
Lahore, Pakistan, and of being politicized at an early age. His
experiences then helped him understand Islam as a political phenomenon,
born of the specific historic experiences of Muhammad, who worked on a
merchant caravan and traveled widely, "coming into contact with
Christians and Jews and Magians and pagans of every stripe." Ali writes
that "Muhammad's spiritual drive was partially fueled by socio-economic
passions, by the desire to strengthen the communal standing of the Arabs
and the need to impose a set of common rules," thus creating an impulse
toward the creation of a universal state that remains an important
element of Islam's appeal.

Ali offers a fascinating discussion of the Mu'tazilites, an Islamic sect
that attempted to reconcile monotheism with a materialist understanding
of the world, including a theory of the atomic composition of matter;
some of its members also argued that the Koran was a historical rather
than a revealed document. "The poverty of contemporary Islamic thought
contrasts with the riches of the ninth and tenth centuries," Ali argues.
But he is by no means backward looking in his own vision. He is
particularly scornful of the mythical idealized past valorized by the
Wahhabites in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban and other Islamic sects. "What
do the Islamists offer?" Ali asks rhetorically: "A route to a past
which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed."

Ali sees the spread of reactionary impulses within Islam in part as a
response to "the defeat of secular, modernist and socialist impulses on
a global scale." Various forms of religious fundamentalism, not only
Islamic ones, have partially filled a void created by the failures of
parties operating under the banner of secular nationalism and Communism
in the Third World. These failures--his examples include Egypt and
Syria--were connected to the limits of the nationalist leaderships
themselves, especially their lack of democracy and suppression of
religious movements by politicians seeking to preserve and extend their
own power. But Ali also goes on to argue that "all the other exit routes
have been sealed off by the mother of all fundamentalisms: American
imperialism."

Consider, for example, the consequences of the US work to train and arm
the Islamic forces in Afghanistan, the mujahedeen, to wage a holy war
against the Soviet Union. A decade after the Soviets were expelled, the
country "was still awash with factional violence," while "veterans of
the war helped to destabilize Egypt, Algeria, the Philippines, Sudan,
Pakistan, Chechnya, Dagestan and Saudi Arabia." The factional
instability in Afghanistan, coupled with Pakistan's intervention,
created the conditions that led to the Taliban's rise to power.

To discuss the US government's role in overthrowing the secular
nationalist Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 and supporting the brutal Shah for
decades; in operating through the intermediary of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence units to back the mujahedeen in Afghanistan;
in repeatedly downplaying serious human rights abuses by US "friends"
such as Pakistan under Zia ul-Haq and Benazir Bhutto, whose governments
actively sponsored the growth of the Taliban; and in lending support to
groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sarekat Islam in Indonesia
and Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan is not merely a case of obsessing about
past wrongs. As Ali argues persuasively, the past is indeed prologue.

Ali has a sharp mind and wit. His mode of history telling is lyrical and
engaging, humane and passionate. He repeatedly points to the lessons
learned by people in the course of struggle, challenging the pervasive
view that people can be liberated by those other than themselves,
setting out his differences with the advocates of "humanitarian
intervention." Ali writes that Western intellectuals have been far too
quick to support US-led military interventions such as the Gulf War and
to provide a liberal veneer of respect to wars prosecuted only
rhetorically in the name of human rights and democracy but actually
motivated by traditional "reasons of state." Where other people see
closed doors in history, he sees roads not taken and paths that remain
to be pursued.

Yet Ali spends too little time enumerating what some of those alternate
paths might be, especially for readers who are new to the history
recounted in The Clash of Fundamentalisms (certainly a
significant section of his readership, given the intense interest in
Islam, Central Asia, the Middle East and US foreign policy that has been
so much in evidence in recent months). In his final chapter, "Letter to
a young Muslim," Ali provides a thoughtful challenge to his
correspondent, but I fear he has not done enough to convince his reader
to change allegiances. He has more to say about the weakness of Islamism
than about any alternative vision of how a more just world might be
achieved. What would a compelling agenda look like in an era when, as he
notes, "no mainstream political party anywhere in the world even
pretends that it wishes to change anything significant"? What might a
radical secular program consist of today? How does one effectively mount
a challenge to the claim that there is no alternative to American-style
capitalism, or that attempts at fundamental change will reproduce the
horrors of the Soviet Union?

Indeed, The Clash of Fundamentalisms would have been stronger if
Ali had engaged this question more thoroughly. Though he expresses
contempt for the bureaucratic and dictatorial regimes that confronted
the United States during the cold war, at times he gives the Soviet bloc
more credit than it deserves. To suggest that China and the Soviet Union
were "striving for a superior social and economic system" is to give
those regimes far too much credit, and in essence to maintain some
illusion that Stalinist authoritarianism was a real alternative.

Ali at times repeats himself verbatim and gets a few details wrong (such
as misdating Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, rather than 1990). None
of this takes away from the importance of his argument that we are not
living in a radically new epoch in history, but in a period with all too
much continuity to the one before September 11.

The $4.4 million damages award in June against FBI agents and Oakland
police for violating the constitutional rights of environmental
activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, wrongly accused of terrorism in
1990, represents more than the culmination of a twelve-year struggle for
vindication. The case also highlights the risks of today's antiterrorism
measures and offers lessons both daunting and encouraging about the
years ahead.

In May 1990, an explosion tore through the car carrying Earth First!
organizers Bari and Cherney. Bari suffered a fractured pelvis; Cherney,
less serious injuries. They assumed the bombing was the work of
antienvironmentalists, meant to disrupt planning for the Redwood Summer
of civil disobedience against the logging of old-growth forest.

The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force jumped to quite a different
conclusion. As soon as Bari and Cherney were identified, the FBI
informed the local police and leaked to the press that the pair were
terrorists. The authorities claimed that Bari must have made the bomb
herself and that it had accidentally exploded while the two were
carrying it to an unknown target. Bari was placed under arrest in her
hospital bed. Police and FBI agents searched houses in Oakland where
Bari and Cherney had stayed and questioned their fellow activists. Over
the next two months, until the government announced it would not charge
the two environmentalists, the local police and the FBI continued to
call them terrorists.

Only after years of litigation did the truth emerge: The FBI, before the
bombing, had been investigating Bari and Cherney because of their
political activism. When the bomb went off, the FBI shaded the facts to
fit an ideological presumption of guilt. It was also revealed that the
FBI, even after Bari and Cherney had been cleared, collected data
nationwide on hundreds of individuals and groups merely on the basis of
their association with the two Earth First! activists.

The case demonstrates how the truth will come out when the judiciary
fulfills its constitutional role. With patience, skill and funding,
committed activists and lawyers can bring accountability to the FBI.
Just as Bari and Cherney won, just as the secret evidence cases brought
after the 1996 antiterrorism law melted in the face of judicial
challenges, so the material witness detentions and other rights
violations of today will ultimately be held unconstitutional. But the
FBI and the Justice Department will resist oversight and use secrecy and
delaying tactics to evade accountability, prolonging personal and
political damage. Justice was too late for Judi Bari. She died of cancer
in 1997.

The most sobering lesson of the Bari-Cherney case may be this: The FBI's
focus on politics over hard evidence meant that the real bomber was
never captured. In the same way, the Attorney General's recent
announcement that the FBI can monitor meetings and groups with no prior
suspicion of criminal conduct is likely to take the FBI down the path of
investigations based on politics, ethnicity or religion, while real
terrorists escape detection.

If the Bush Administration has its way, Iraq will be the first test of its new doctrine of pre-emption. To adopt such a destabilizing strategy is profoundly contrary to our interests and endangers our security.

The timing of George W. Bush's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department
of Homeland Security--hastily unveiled when revelations about FBI lapses
were hitting the front pages--smacks of high-level damage control. And
it was followed by the announcement of the arrest in May of a
Brooklyn-born Al Qaeda plotter who allegedly intended to set off a
"dirty" bomb. This convenient coup was touted as an example of
cooperation between the FBI and the CIA and used to bolster support for
the Bush plan. Nevertheless, consolidating agencies that deal with the
issues of domestic security and reducing bureaucratic rivalry and lack
of direction make sense, if done right.

To be sure, reorganizing twenty-two agencies with 169,000 employees by
Bush's deadline of January 1, 2003, seems a staggering task.
Eighty-eight Congressional committees and subcommittees oversee the
components of the new department, and the turf wars will be fierce. And
Bush's legislative timetable nicely serves his political one: He'd love
to see the subject monopolize the Congressional agenda in the run-up to
the fall election, eclipsing the Democrats' potent issues.

Politics aside, many questions occur at the outset of the debate on the
new department. How, for example, will it solve the shortcomings of
intelligence gathering and dissemination and the endemic rivalry between
the FBI and the CIA? Will it be charged with coordinating intelligence
collection by other agencies or will it be merely a "consumer" of their
work?

And what of the non-national security functions of some of the agencies
slated to be aggrandized into the new DHS, like FEMA, first responder to
natural disasters? Will those worthy activities be relegated to
secondary importance? As Representative John Conyers Jr. asks, if
immigration is brought under the new department, what happens to the
right of political asylum when applicants are reviewed under the
criteria of national security?

These are a few of the hard questions related to mission and chain of
command that must be dealt with by Congress. Pace Bush campaign
rhetoric, government can work effectively for the public good,
but if this project is to succeed, Congress members should not let
themselves be rushed by a re-election-conscious Administration or
bullied into swallowing criticisms by charges that they're impeding the
war effort. Issues of privacy and civil rights should be vigorously
raised. The Ashcroft Justice Department's heavy-handed immigration
crackdown, for example, should be dropped in the trashcan. Such measures
are both an affront to civil liberties and will alienate the Arab
community--the best source of intelligence on Al Qaeda ops among us.

Homeland security does not mean building a better Fortress America. It
means building a better world. US pressure on Israel and Palestine to
achieve a just Middle East settlement would remove one of the main
irritants breeding hatred of America. Verifiable nuclear disarmament and
deterrence will more surely promote international stability than Bush's
pre-emptive war doctrine. Improving the lives of the world's poor--122
million people will die by 2015 of hunger-related causes--will weaken
terrorist support systems more effectively in the long run than sending
in US Special Forces. Homeland security is a global matter.

Senator Russ Feingold had hoped the Senate Democratic leadership would
challenge George W. Bush's decision to withdraw the United States from
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the least, he had expected senior
Democratic senators with track records on arms control to defend the
agreement between the United States and Russia that since 1972 has
underpinned efforts to curb the arms race. In a Senate where Democrats
are still hypercautious about questioning the Bush White House on
defense issues, however, Feingold stood alone.

"I wanted the leadership to take a lead. But when we contacted [majority
leader Tom] Daschle's office, they just weren't interested," said the
Wisconsin Democrat. Feingold knew that meant it would be impossible to
get the Senate to block withdrawal from a treaty it had approved 88 to 2
in 1972. Still, he said, "I did not want the Senate to be silent on
this." Three days before the June 13 expiration of the treaty, Feingold,
chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution,
rose on the Senate floor to remind his colleagues of the constitutional
requirement that decisions regarding treaties be made by the President
"with the advice and consent of the Senate" and of the Founders'
intent--as explained in Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary
Practice: For the Use of the Senate of the United States
--that
"Treaties being declared, equally with the laws of the United States, to
be the supreme law of the land, it is understood that an act of the
legislature alone can declare them infringed and rescinded."

"It is clear to me, Mr. President, as it was to Thomas Jefferson, that
Congress has a constitutional role to play in terminating treaties,"
Feingold declared. "If advice and consent of the Senate is required to
enter into a treaty, this body should at a minimum be consulted on
withdrawing from a treaty, and especially from a treaty of this
magnitude, the termination of which could have lasting implications on
the arms control and defense policy of this country."

When Feingold sought unanimous consent to debate a resolution making
that point, however, Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, objected. That ended any hope for a Senate
challenge to Bush. Meanwhile, GOP leaders in the House blocked an
attempt by Dennis Kucinich to assert that chamber's authority to
preserve the treaty.

The failure of Daschle and other Senate Democrats to stand with Feingold
illustrates how, post-September 11, the loyal opposition frequently
chooses loyalty to misguided Administration initiatives over necessary
opposition. But if Senate Democrats are unwilling to fight the power,
Feingold hopes a judge will do so. He has asked for Senate approval to
accept pro bono legal assistance so he can join a lawsuit filed June 11
in the US District Court in Washington by Kucinich and thirty other
House members who object to the President's unilateral decision. Peter
Weiss, lead lawyer for the lawmakers, says that if it succeeds, Bush
would be forced, retroactively, to seek Congressional approval of the
treaty withdrawal.

Feingold's participation in the suit is important, as a judge could
decide he has better standing than a House member in a legal matter
involving interpretation of the requirement that a President seek the
consent of the Senate. Still, the suit is a long shot. A federal judge
backed a 1979 attempt by the late Senator Barry Goldwater to block
termination of a defense treaty with Taiwan, but an appeals court
overturned that ruling and the Supreme Court refused to take the case.
That does not deter Kucinich. "The basis of this whole government is the
Constitution. When an Administration comes to power in a manner that is
extraconstitutional, as the Bush Administration did, it becomes all the
more essential that we insist upon the legitimacy of the founding
documents, on the sacredness of those documents," says Kucinich.
"Washington has become a very vulgar place, but the Constitution is
still sacred."

The FBI has come under harsh criticism in recent weeks for its failure
to act on information that might have enabled it to thwart the September
11 attacks. Rather than deny the criticism, FBI Director Robert Mueller
has embraced it (easy for him to do, since he didn't start on the job
until September 4) and then exploited it to argue that the bureau needs
more power, more resources and fewer restrictions.

Both the criticism and the remedy are misguided. The dots that everyone
now says should have been connected consist of a few leads spread over a
three-year period: a 1998 memo from an FBI agent in Oklahoma suspicious
about some Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons; a July 2001 memo
from a Phoenix agent speculating that Osama bin Laden could be sending
terrorists to flight schools here; and the August 2001 arrest of
Zacarias Moussaoui for acting suspiciously in flight school. Viewed in
hindsight, each points inexorably to September 11. But there is a world
of difference, as any gambler, stock trader or palm reader will tell
you, between perceiving the connections after and before the fact. On
September 10 these three bits of information competed for the FBI's
attention with thousands of other memos, leads and suspicious events
pointing in thousands of other directions. We are engaged in a
nationwide session of Monday-morning quarterbacking.

The remedy is worse. Shifting resources to fighting terrorist threats
makes sense, but freeing the FBI from the minimal restrictions it has
operated under in the past does not. The guidelines governing the FBI's
domestic criminal investigations, which do not even apply to
international terrorism investigations, had nothing to do with the FBI
missing the September 11 plot. And it is likely that the changes in the
guidelines announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft will actually
reduce the FBI's effectiveness in fighting terrorism.

The old guidelines were sparked by revelations that in the 1960s and
'70s, the FBI's COINTELPRO initiative targeted perfectly lawful antiwar,
environmental, feminist and civil rights groups for widespread
monitoring, infiltration and disinformation. The guidelines sought to
remedy the FBI's proclivity for indulging in guilt by association and
conducting intrusive and sweeping investigations of political groups
without any criminal basis. They sought to focus the FBI on its mission,
which, contrary to popular perception, has always been to prevent as
well as to investigate crime.

But even under the guidelines abuses continued. One of the most
prominent involved an investigation of the Committee in Solidarity With
the People of El Salvador (CISPES) from 1983 to 1985. Under the rubric
of counterterrorism, the FBI monitored student rallies, infiltrated
meetings and identified attendees at CISPES events. In the end, the
bureau had collected information on 1,330 groups--including Oxfam
America, the US Catholic Conference and a Cincinnati order of nuns--but
no evidence of crime.

Such investigations are likely to be commonplace in the post-
September 11 era. Ashcroft's guidelines expressly permit the FBI to
conduct some investigations without even a shred of information about
potential criminal conduct. And Congress has so expanded the definition
of federal crimes that requiring a criminal basis is not enough to
forestall political spying. Federal antiterrorism laws of 1996 and 2001
now make it a crime to provide any associational support to foreign
groups we designate as terrorist, even if the support has no connection
whatever to terrorist activity. Under those laws, the CISPES
investigation would have been legal, on suspicion that CISPES was
supporting the Salvadoran rebel movement.

The combined effect of the expanded statute, loosened guidelines and
increased counterterrorism personnel at the FBI will be to bring in
exponentially more information about the populace than the FBI has ever
had. Some of the additional information obtained may, like the isolated
leads developed before September 11, be related to terrorist plots. But
those leads are almost certain to be drowned out by the barrage of
information about innocent political activity.

An intelligence expert on a recent panel with me claimed that what we
need now is "all-source intelligence fusion," meaning a group of
analysts sitting in a room analyzing mounds of data for trends and
patterns. Despite its techno-trendy title, all-source intelligence
fusion is no substitute for good relations with the affected
communities. If the FBI has information that the threat is likely to
stem from Arab sources, it should be building bridges to the millions of
law-abiding Arabs--instead of profiling Arab students without cause,
holding Middle Easterners without charges and selectively registering
all immigrants from Arab countries. You don't build bridges by
infiltrating and monitoring legitimate political and religious activity.

Blogs

Eric on this week's concerts and Reed on The Washington Post's call for war. 

August 28, 2014

Stephen Cohen has the latest analysis of the situation in Ukraine.

August 28, 2014

And the only government official who went to jail for it was the whistleblower who exposed it.

August 12, 2014

Two major anti-Iran groups in DC are more than they appear.

August 11, 2014

The president gets support for humanitarian efforts, but wise voices warn of mission creep.

August 11, 2014

The president continues a two-decade legacy of wrapping the military option in Iraq in humanitarian packaging.

August 8, 2014

Fifty years ago, Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening cast visionary votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and war in Southeast Asia.

August 7, 2014

Lawmakers say the CIA redacted “key facts” from a long-awaited investigation into the agency’s cruel interrogation tactics.

August 6, 2014

The Nation recognized that US isolation would be tested as never before, but didn’t even consider intervention as a possibility.

August 5, 2014