Monday, September 11, 2006

The long-term message of 9/11...(over)simplified?

IF PRESIDENT BUSH and a Muslim terrorist each can believe that God is in his respective corner—then we cannot turn to God for answers to what needs to happen from this day forward. If two observers imbued with superior intellect can analyze the overriding issues and their genesis, with one observer blaming fanatical Islam and the other observer blaming U.S. imperialism itself—then we cannot turn to intellect for the answers.

At some point, the vast geopolitical complexities that seem to surround terrorism actually reduce to a simple matter of survival—ours or theirs. At some point, we must recognize that we need to throw out God, and intellect, and all things rational or moral. It then becomes an almost Darwinian question of "survival pragmatics": If one side is to live, the other side must die. There is no in-between. What's more, they must die now, and in total, before technology's inexorable onward march enables them to acquire the weapons with which they might wreak our destruction en-masse.

Of course, that is a step we will not take, stymied as we are by our compassion, our commitment to diplomacy, our determination to be "better than" our enemies. And that is why America as we know it will not see the year 2020.

That's how I see it, anyway—limited as I am by own powers of analysis.


RevRon's Rants said...

If two people conjure a vision of God, each diametrically opposed to the other, it is obvious that the flaw is within their individual interpretations, not with God. It should be noted that in the original Hebrew, the word describing the Divine was "Yod," which roughly translated means a state of balance between perfect wisdom and perfect power. Applying this perspective, Divine Order exists within a state of balance and compromise. Thus, neither Bush nor the terrorist can rightfully claim divine favor so long as they each pursue a myopic agenda which ignores the well-being of the other.

The same logic applies to the use of intellect in seeking answers to the dilemma. True breakthroughs are achieved when the tension between a thesis and an antithesis results in synthesis. No theory has ever resulted in a breakthrough until it has been tested against opposing theory and thus modified to encompass all variables. Claiming failure of intellect to solve a problem is actually admitting that one's intellectual approach has been limited, and thus flawed.

To apply Darwinian logic, those who most fully adapt will survive. Annihilation of one's opposing counterpart is not adaptation. Only through an objective analysis of the two seemingly incompatible perspectives can discovery of a solution to the problems occur. Of course, the real stumbling point is that both sides must be motivated toward finding a solution, rather than toward perpetuating their own narrow agenda.

It is my hope that America as we know it will not see the year 2020. The America as we know it is at best blind to mindsets and cultures that do not share its goals, and at worst, unwilling to tolerate their existence. My hope is that one day, we will put aside our arrogant sense of entitlement and follow the principle of stewardship taught by all religions. While we must certainly protect ourselves from genuine threats, we need to minimize our vulnerability to them. We can do this by eliminating our economic well-being's dependence upon the assets of an unstable region. By doing so, we will remove the justification for attacking elements in the region who might compromise our economic security.

As to the threats they pose, were we to actually implement and enforce a realistic immigration policy, the threats would for the most part cease to exist. Iran, Korea, Iraq, Syria, and others of their ilk might well possess weapons of mass destruction, but lack the ability to deliver those weapons anywhere but within their own geographical sphere. If a kid two blocks away calls me and tells me he's going to throw a rock at me, I won't worry, so long as he stays on his block. And I certainly wouldn't go over to his house and start throwing rocks of my own... unless I was just hungry for a war - and that hunger, as I see it, is the real problem, on both sides.

Rodger Johnson said...

The tone of your post is troubling -- unsettling.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I hear what you're saying, and yes, I agree with you in theory. But in the end it doesn't matter that the problem exists in the erroneous human "conjurings" of God. Unless or until God himself (herself?) appears and sorts it all out for us--telling us point-blank what he/she wants the world to look like--we have no choice but to fall back on human interpretations of same. And thousands of years of world history tell us that there are always going to be those who believe that (a) their vision of God must prevail, and (b) in order for that to happen, all those who believe otherwise must be vanquished. I would remind you that even Catholicism, which today is regarded as a voice of gentility and moderation, once had its crusades. Now, I suppose that radical Islam (and even America's own radical Christian fundamentalism) might someday evolve to a point where it is more accepting of opposing viewpoints; that would be a very welcome development. I just don't think we have time for that. Do you doubt that someday soon--surely within our lifetime--one of the suicide-minded religions or nation-states will attain nuclear capability? Robert McNamara's (since disavowed, but historically validated) theory of Mutually Assured Destruction serves as no deterrent at all to people who don't give a damn if they go down with the ship--as long as the ship goes down. You can't threaten the suicide bomber with death. You can only hope to kill him before he succeeds.

Look...I am not disputing that yes, we should all get along, and people should make nice, and wouldn't it be de-lovely if we could all sit around the campfire and sing famous Disney songs. But that ain't gonna happen. And in a world where one zealot with a suitcase bomb can take out an entire city, it seems to me that we face a very, very difficult question: How do you ensure that you have removed all the zealots from the equation? Do we take the King Herrod approach? I'm not saying that we OUGHT to do that. I'm simply saying that if we don't do that, we lose. And, in fact, we won't do that. We will continue to engage in low-level harassment actions (like Iraq) or pursue peaceful, diplomatic means designed to bring about the sort of one-world "synthesis" you describe). Our collective conscience will not allow us to engage in the sort of horrific all-out barbarism that is necessary to ensure the continued survival of the U.S. Which is why we are doomed.

Steve Salerno said...

As a p.s.--and I'm going on at unusual length here because it's a touchy subject and I want to be clear--let me say that I'm not even necessarily disputing that we brought this on ourselves, as some argue. I'm just saying--we're past that now. Analogy: Say I get out of line in a bar and get some guy seriously pissed off--it's totally my fault. Does that still matter anymore when he shows up later at my house and holds a knife to my daughter's throat? Do I let him kill my daughter to atone for the fact that I pissed him off in the bar? (Hell, even if I KILLED his I just let him kill mine in return??) Each of us must answer that question for himself. Maybe you would willingly make that exchange, and that's fine. Remember, this is not about morality. It's about survival. If people who fly commercial jetliners into buildings can justify those acts on the basis of religious principles--the singular notion of morality that is operative for them--then clearly, as I say in the main post, morality will not lead us out of this darkness. Indeed, we ourselves are a nation that kills people who kill people (i.e. the death penalty) and cite biblical justification in doing so. Morality, in the end, is just opinion. We find a justification for what we want to do.

Incidentally, when I use the word "must," as in what "must" happen for the U.S. to survive, I'm not saying it's what I advocate. I'm just saying, in a very neutral sense, that this is what I believe must happen if today's America hopes to preserve an amicable society for its kids and grandkids. I don't expect anyone else to "sign on" to this.

It's a moot point anyway, because we're not going to do it, so the battle is already lost. (I couldn't even bring myself to do what's necessary, if I were in power. That is why they will defeat us. We have consciences in the traditional sense.) We will deliberate, and negotiate, and "hope for the best," and confine ourselves to modified, highly politicized police actions when we feel it's required, and congratulate ourselves on becoming good one-world citizens...until they kill us.

RevRon's Rants said...

Well, Steve, I'm nowhere near the fatalist you seem to be, but neither do I believe we'll be sitting around a campfire with Osama singing koom-ba-yah. In every scenario, there are multiple courses of action, and a significant gray area of results, and it is within that gray area that our hope lies.

While I would never advocate wiping out everybody who might be a potential terrorist, neither do I advocate sitting around a table, giving in to their demands, in the hope that they would be sufficiently mollified as to start cooking up s'mores with us. We must tend to our borders and participate in a collective effort to contain the would-be terrorists (we've proven it is doable in Iraq).

At the same time, while we cannot go back, we can certainly work toward changing our own behaviors that encourage the hatred others have for us. The countries of the Middle East have always been fractionalized societies, and have engaged in tribal wars for centuries. The only times they have not been mired in "civil" wars were during periods of colonial intercession, by the British, Belgians, French, US, et al, or when one of the factions has been able to rule with an iron fist, crushing all dissent (such as was the case with Iraq under Saddam).

The moment we (or some new Saddam) is not in power, the cycle of violence will resume, unabated. The only variable in the equation is how many "coalition" body bags get filled in the interim, and how much justification we will provide for those who look for an excuse to do us harm. For my money, we'd be infinitely better off getting out ASAP, and devoting our resources to containing the violence to the region.

Looking back at recent history, the US became a target of Muslim terror attacks as a direct result of the CIA-orchestrated coup d' etat which placed the Shah in power in Iran. We wanted someone whom we could control, so that we could more easily exploit the region's oil reserves. The Imams were very successful in drumming up anti-Crusade sentiment as a result. Unfortunately, our foreign policy approach to the region is essentially unchanged, fostering ever more antipathy toward us. Because of recent actions, even our allies have lost any real trust in our country, and will be increasingly hesitant to quell unrest directed at us in the future as a result.

It is my belief that if the US were to make an honest effort toward eliminating our dependence upon Middle East oil, and to gear its foreign policy toward actually protecting our own country, rather than manipulating others', we would have much more credibility throughout the world, and the radical Muslims would have a much harder time recruiting soldiers for their war.

As to the suitcase nuke, I think we're worrying about the wrong kind of attack. Granted, a suitcase sized device could cause significant damage (though not to the extent of destroying a major city), but implementing such a weapon involves significant technological and intelligence hurdles that other weapons would not. Why bother designing and building a complex piece of machinery, using difficult to obtain components, when you can do just as much damage with stuff you can get at Safeway, and deploy without so much as raising an eyebrow?

The bottom line is that, so long as someone wishes to do us harm, they will find a way. It just seems reasonable to avoid the glaringly antagonistic behaviors, especially when they have been proven detrimental.

I won't even address your scenario involving my daughter, because frankly, I believe the insinuation is beneath your debating skills. I am comfortable with what I know would be my response to such a situation - probably the only real benefit of combat experience, outside of realizing that it should be avoided whenever possible.

Steve Salerno said...

I can't really take issue with a lot of what you say, RevRon. We're debating largely in the realm of negatives, unknowns and unknowables. You do make some excellent points that remind me of how fundamentally queasy I am (and always have been) about coming down hard and fast on any given side of a complex, heavily nuanced issue. What say we see what others think, if anything.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Roger that your post is disturbing and unsettling. But I also find your comment that "morality, in the end, is just opinion" interesting and quite probably valid, since even cannibals are merely following their own accepted morality, as was the Inquisition.

Trish Ryan said...

What if God is the only hope we have for all getting along? I can't even get through the drive to work without getting mad at somebody unless God shoves aside some of my righteous indignation and reminds me that he loves bad drivers, too :)

I agree with your take on how much damage self-help has done to our world (I used to work for one of the people you profile in your book) but I don't think I'd lump God in with Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil. Seems like you've thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Steve Salerno said...

Trish, I'd be invoking God, too, if I had to navigate Boston and environs on a daily basis. But...whose God? The compassionate, love-thy-neighbor God that's most familiar to those of us in Western society? Or the inflexible, blood-thirsty God that seems to play such a key role in the sociopolitics of the Middle East? (I wonder if the latter God is in charge of road rage....?)

Cosmic Connie said...

Although I am a devout agnostic, I have to admit that Trish's question -- "What if God is our only hope for getting along?" -- is one I often ask myself. But that question always raises another one, which happens to be the question Steve asked in response to Trish’s comment: "Whose God?"

Although it is my understanding that most faiths advocate love and tolerance, humanity as a whole can't seem to get past the "My God's better than your God" game. Assuming there is indeed some sort of higher power (a possibility that I don't really have a problem with, since I am not an atheist), I like to believe that all faiths embrace the same essential truths, but they get bogged down in the details. And God, all too often, is not in those details.

I am well aware that the all-religions-is-equal idea is considered blasphemous by many folks. Nevertheless, on several levels it seems to be true. Comedian Cathy Ladman said many years ago that religion is just “guilt with different holidays." Ah, if only guilt were the worst problem caused by organized religion, or rather, by the more radical followers of various religions...

I have to say that, barring some completely unpredictable scenario, I lean more towards Steve’s fatalistic view. But I fervently want to believe in the possiblitiy that we can find a workable solution in that large “gray area,” as the Rev suggested. I really want to believe the US can adopt a larger world view, and that our foreign policy will reflect this world view, without compromising our very existence.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to speak for Steve but if he's saying what I believe he's saying, that we need to act and act fast, you can count me in. Or maybe he feels that he can't really say that because it's politically incorrect but a day like this reminds you of what's really important. Survival is number one on that list.