I absolutely disagree with any offensive actions that purposely target innocent civilians. In America, the loss of an innocent life is perhaps the most tragic occurence imaginable. When a child is abducted, when an enraged husband murders his wife and children, when a drunk driver kills a family, or when a serial killer is on the prowl, we are all filled with great sadness for the victims, pity for their loved ones, anger at the perpetrators, and consumed by the need for swift justice.
One of the reasons that Americans cherish life so much is that life in America is a wonderful thing, for most of the people, most of the time. In general we have good health, long life spans, living wages, personal and religious freedom, humane working conditions, rich culture, freedom to travel, benign government, low crime rates, and are generally free from peril. In America, life is good. In fact, life may be the single most important possession for an American. Staying alive means more happiness, wisdom, joy, love, and fun. And about the only thing that all Americans can agree is worth dying for is preserving our freedom and the American way of life.
So when we experience the callous murder of innocents by terrorists, we can only see them as evil madmen, because only a crazy, evil person would purposely destroy innocent life. Not only destroy innocent life, but then hope to gain something from its destruction. Only a maniac would expect to be rewarded for doing the most unthinkable thing imaginable. Right?
The Worth of a Life
Well, maybe. But stop for a moment and consider that the most recent statistics show that the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 40. And it’s not much different in the rest of the Middle East. And the lucky(?) 50% who live to be 40 endure 40 hard, cruel years of struggle, strife, poverty, disease, and then an untimely death. For people in this position it is reasonable to assume that their most precious possession is their knowledge that Allah will take them to paradise when they die, if they live and die by the teachings of Islam. And one of the most sure ways to achieve paradise is to die serving Allah while defending Islam and fighting infidels.
Now, that viewpoint may not make sense to the Judeo-Christian masses in the US, who tend to look down their noses at the callous, cowardly, and misguided actions of “terrorists”. However, before we (Americans) go casting stones, let’s take a look back at our own history…at the birth of this very (great) nation…and ponder the view the civilized world had of our forefathers, shall we?
History of the World, Part I
At the time of the Revolutionary War, England strode the Earth as the one and only superpower. Their intentions, while imperialistic, were mostly benign, and they seemed to struggle through the march of history with the intention of doing good, making right, and enforcing justice. Sound familiar?
But then one day a bunch of uppity colonists decided that they had had enough of the yoke of the Crown, and decided to throw it off. Notwithstanding the fact that England had single-handedly taken the risks and made the investments necessary to build “The Americas” into a prosperous little colony, the locals figured that it was time for a change. To hell with loyalty, law, property, and gratitude. Let’s just take this entire continent, and the only reason we don’t view it today as thievery is because we won the Revolutionary War, and history is written by the winners.
But how did we win? How did a raggedy bunch of out-gunned, out-trained, out-numbered, and out-strategized colonists defeat the greatest army in the world? By playing dirty, that’s how. So dirty, in fact, that our actions were labelled as cowardly, evil, misguided, and cruel by the entire civilized world. Again, sound familiar?
And what did we do that was so awful? Well, for one we did not fight the war as we were expected to fight, which was lined up in ranks on the field of battle and slowly killing each other face to face like gentlemen until attrition and superior body count determined the victor. I mean, that was how war was fought at that time. But we didn’t do that, because there is absolutely no way we could have won a conventional war against the greatest conventional war machine of its day.
No, what we (or our forefathers) did was to fight dirty. Hide behind trees. Crouch behind rocks. Snipe from the trees. Attack the flanks. Attack from behind (unheard of)!! Attack at night. Sneak around like cowardly criminals committing murder (in the eyes of the civilized world of the time). To face each other as gentlemen on the field of battle was war, but to sneak around and kill someone was cowardly murder.
Again, sound familiar?
The Slippery Slope
Now, I’m not claiming that the use of un-gentlemanly tactics against soldiers is the same thing as terrorists exploding bombs in (or crashing planes into) areas populated by innocent civilians who are simply going about their daily lives. A soldier knows that he is putting his life in harms way. So do government agency employees and peace officers. Not that this makes it right to target soldiers and peace officers with terrorist acts, but at least we (Americans) could have a glimmer of understanding of the aims and goals of a group that targeted armed and prepared targets rather than unarmed, unprepared innocents.
However, the point at which I’m driving is that tactics employed by our forefathers against the British were about as far outside of the accepted practices of war as are the actions of the terrorists of today. The terrorists of today could never hope to defeat the US armed forces in any sort of conventional warfare, so they are using the tools available to them regardless of how cowardly we perceive them to be.
However, the terrorists have crossed one very clear boundary because of the fact that they target civilians and innocents. For that they are to be condemned, but they should not be dismissed simply as maniacs and/or fanatics. Whatever we think of their actions, we should also be sure to actually take a look at their side of the story, as they certainly have a story to tell.
A Tale of Two Regime Changes
After the events of 9/11, the United States zeroed in on the Taliban of Afghanistan as the harborers of terrorists and the dismantlers of freedom and progress. The Taliban ruled by their strict interpretations of Islamic law, pushed Afghani women into subservience, did away with secular education, and even went so far as to demolish ancient stone carvings that represented gods in whom they did not believe.
And the United States invaded Afghanistan, deposed the Taliban, and have worked to institute freedom and democracy in the country, with what appears to be some success. The Taliban were clearly unfit to join the ranks of world leaders, and there has been no hue and cry surrounding their overthrow, and no resistance of any note from the Afghani people. Also noteworthy is the fact that Afghanistan is a very poor country (no oil) whose major export is heroin. Also noteworthy is the fact that no Western companies can make any legitimate dollars off of heroin.
Contrast that with Iraq. Now, Saddam Hussein was definitely NOT a good guy. However, he did have women and Christians in his government, regardless of how puppet-like it was. He embraced secular Western values and education. However, he was also despotic and evil, but no more so than the leaders of many, many other countries around the world. And he certainly was not among the worst. And, oh, just in case you forgot, the CIA orchestrated his rise to power in Iraq in the first place.
However, the United States determined that he was developing weapons of mass destruction and that he had links to Al Qaeda. And so, for the greater good, we invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein. The deposing seemed easy, but in reality our forces were the victims of a massive judo throw, where our enemy simply stepped aside and then used our own momentum against us. After our “victory” we Americans were jubilant, but it did not last. Over time we realized that the scattered resistance was actually more cohesive than we first thought. And better organized. And smarter. And more persistent. And now, many many months after our “victory”, Iraq is a hostile zone where American troops are in constant peril from the endless stream of well-coordinated attacks by “insurgents”.
Oh, and while this is going on, Halliburton (et al) are making billions and billions of dollars in Iraq. And the country’s oil reserves will certainly be…er…liberated? Protected? Preserved? Plundered, maybe? Also, Saddam Hussein is the guy who tried to take on George Bush Sr. He hated Bush Sr., in fact, so much so that he had a tile mosaic set into the floor at the entrance to Baghdad’s largest hotel. Now, given that fact that showing the bottom of your shoe or touching someone with it are one of the gravest insults in Iraq, you can see what his goal was with the mosaic…and endless stream of people stepping on Bush Sr’s face.
But Bush Jr. took care of all that. In fact, if one were looking for a story that fit the facts it would be hard to find one more fitting than the one that says that we invaded Iraq to both settle a Bush family score and to enrich Cheney’s former(?) company. I am a red-blooded American and it’s hard for me to dismiss this particular story. In fact, given the boondoggle that Iraq has become, coupled with the revelation that all of our “proof” of Iraq’s development of WMDs and involvement with Al Qaeda seems to have been forged, falsified, and/or non-existent, this story seems to me to be the most plausible.
And I am a freedom-loving American. I love this country. I worship the Constitution. I’m a moderate and not a card carrying member of any political party. I think this is the greatest nation in the history of the world. I think that, as a whole, we have gotten it right. Our founding fathers were a bunch of geniuses and put in place a system that works. Almost all the time. Almost.
But not now. Our current administration seems to be going about this all wrong. And if I (as well as nearly 50% of Americans) think that, can you imagine what your average Middle Easterner thinks? We Americans are predisposed to love our country, and half of us think our Middle East policy is wrong, bordering on criminal. Your average Middle Eastern person has no reason at all to even like America, so imagine how our current administrations blundering about in Iraq appear to them?
I think it looks to them about what the actions of England looked like to our founding fathers. A benign but clueless superpower whose main interest appears to be keeping control and keeping the profits flowing.
And I think we in the US make the mistake of painting all Islamics with the same brush. Can you imagine if the world did that to us? If you think the US government is corrupt, would you like for everyone to judge you based on the actions of the Oklahoma City bombers? If you are Catholic, would you like for everyone to judge you based on the actions of some pedophilic priests? If you are pro-life, would you like to be judged based on the actions of those who set off bombs in clinics? If you’re a Pistons fan would you like to be judged based on the actions of a couple of drunken fans? I know that I, as a Texan, hate being stereotyped as an ignorant, inbred racist every time some ignorant, inbred racist from Texas decides to perpretrate a hate crime.
And guess what? All Islamics are not civilian-killing fanatics, either. Most do not like the US, it’s true, but what have we done that they should? But most also do not engage in cowardly terrorist attacks, either.
Do I have the solution for terrorism? Of course not. However, one thing that America is doing right is not negotiating with nor compromising with terrorists. I agree with that strategy 100%. However, what America is doing wrong is completely ignoring the causes of terrorism, and using the criminal acts of terrorists to invalidate the legitimacy of their issues. And that, my friends, is not a workable strategy. We (America) need to take a cold, hard, unemotional look at the very real injustices and exploitations that are creating such a fertile breeding ground for terrorists. We should not take this look in order to appease the terrorists, but to do the right thing. The most noble and productive thing that the United States could do in this terror-ridden world is to face up to the fact that our own greed and corruption have contributed to the problem. Our complicity does not excuse the terrorists in any way, but by the same token their criminal acts do not mean that there are not actual problems that need to be addressed.