I had a brief conversation at work with a Sam, a close friend of mine.
He told me about an article he read by Salman Rushdie where the British
author opposed any talk of questioning the American foreign policy as a
consequence of the recent terrorist attacks. According to Rushdie, doing
so would amount to acknowledging that the US Government is ultimately
responsible for the attacks. I disagree with this position, and here I
Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001 06:21:35 -0500 (CDT)
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Sam Moreno
Subject: On terrorism and ultimate causes
We couldn't finish our conversation about this issue yesterday, perhaps in
part due to the interruption of my co-workers. However, it's something I'd
like to clarify because I've seen it also in an article by Thomas Friedman
published in The New York Times. Basically, his argument is the same as
Rushdie's: we shouldn't fall in the trap of blaming the terrorist attacks
on the American policy towards Islam. The acts themselves are unjustifiable.
Well, of course I agree with the fact that the terrorist acts themselves
are unjustifiable. However, if we simply accept this statement and don't
go any further we're left with the following: the people who committed
these acts are simple beasts, evil men, who planned and carried out the
attacks simply to do evil. Needless to say, I don't agree with this
statement. I feel the need to go further, especially because if we never
do that we'll never get even close to the resolution of the problem.
So, let me use a silly little example in order to clarify things and then
we'll get back to the big picture. Let's say I keep pinching you and
annoying you. You know, like kids do all the time. Let's say that you
react by smashing my monitor to pieces. What do we have? Well, first of
all, your reaction was obviously not justified. Yes, I was annoying you.
But no, smashing the monitor to pieces will not solve anything and cannot
be considered a morally good reaction to my atcs. However, let's take
this a little bit further. Let's say after you smash my monitor I ignore
the ultimate reason about why you did it. You know, since the reaction
itself was unjustifiable, I extend that to a belief that your feeling
bad because I'm annoying you is also unjustified (this is what we're
doing all the time with the Muslims, by the way). Right after you smash
my monitor, I react by slapping your face and punching your nose, and
then... I continue pinching you and annoying you. What's the end of this
tale? Only God knows. It's definitely not taking us anywhere close to
An important difference between my example and the social and political
reality though is that in this other field humans tend to build ideologies
to explain and justify things. This is no different though than in the
case of smaller social groups such as a high school. Remember Columbine?
We also had a group ("the jogs") picking on another group over there ("the
goths"). The latter reacted in an overly violent way that is totally
unjustified, and yet we know that without addressing the fact that the
former were picking on the latter we'll get nowhere. Why is that? Well,
_we_ are looking at the problem from the outside. We are neither "the jogs"
nor "the goths", and therefore it's not so difficult for us to see what's
going on there. We see clearly how the reaction of "the goths" is not
morally justified, but we also see how without stopping the abuse coming
from "the jogs" we'll never fix the ultimate problem and another similar
explosion of violence will occur sooner or later.
Now, back onto our big picture, but this time again viewing the whole
thing as an outsider. The terrorist attacks were morally unjustified, but
we'll never be able to get even close to the resolution of the ultimate
problem unless we also realize how our own behavior is also an element
in the mix of causes for the violence. Whenever there is violence,
whenever there is a social or political conflict, there is always a mix
of causes. There is never only one cause. Life is not that easy, no matter
how hard people like Tim try to make it simple and easy.
The very same thing I'm saying here, I also say to those Spanish people
I talk to regarding the Basque conflict. It's no different. So, I cannot
be accused of saying this out of some sort of anti-American sentiment
(not that I think you would). As for Salman Rushdie and Thomas Friedman,
again, I'd dare them to tell me whether it is their attitude or mine that
brought the Irish conflict closer to resolution. The same can be applied
to pretty much any other conflict in the past.
Now, what's the problem in implementing the policy or attitude I'm talking
about here? Well, the problem is that whoever proposes this idea has to
be considered a "hawk" or it will not work. Sort of like only Nixon could
have initiated the diplomatic relations with China and only Reagan could
have achieved the all-encompassing disarmament agreements with the Soviets
that he signed in the 1980s. In that sense, I'm glad it is Bush's turn
and not Clinton's turn. There is no doubt in my mind that the second would
_never_ convince people like Tim that what I'm proposing here makes
sense. The first may actually have a chance.