Finding our Enemy

Broadcast September 13, 2001

This morning the cleanup and grieving continue, and America is getting back to work. Talk also continues about retribution and war. Some Americans are feeling impatient to strike back at those who participated in any way in these horrific events. There is mounting public pressure to retaliate against our enemies, to demonstrate our power and resolve. General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the American military stands ready.

But it s still not clear exactly what the military stands ready to do, or should do. We don t know for sure who was responsible, although evidence points to Osama bin Laden, apparently still headquartered in Afghanastan. We learn that a lost piece of luggage contains incriminating evidence in Arabic. There are accounts that the hi-jackers were Arab. Meanwhile, we re shown televised pictures of Palestinians celebrating in the streets. And we re told that federal officials are interviewing a number of suspects, also identified in the media as "Arabs."

When a nation wants so badly to identify and punish the people responsible for barbarism, there is a strong temptation -- politically and psychologically -- to find an enemy as quickly as possible. Some members of the military may want strike at a number of suspected outposts within several Arabic countries. Some Americans will want to blame the entire Arab world. Already there are reports of anti-Arab rhetoric. Arab-Americans may find themselves under closer scrutiny by the FBI as well as by their neighbors.

And yet, in our rush for vengeance it is vitally important that America not demonize -- and not be seen to demonize -- the world s Islamic community or view what has happaned as yet another stage in a holy war between the Islamic East and the Judeo-Christian West. This would only strengthen extremists who want nothing better than to revive that holy war.

The purpose of this kind of terrorism is not only to make us fearful, but also to make us hate-filled. Fanatics gain power when their targets retaliate against people who had not been fanatical but become angered by the retaliation. The political purpose of terrorism is to escalate mutual hate and distrust, until recrimination breeds ever more violent rounds of recrimination. This is what has happened between Israelis and Palestinians. Moderates in the middle have vanished.

America may be at war right now, but we must be careful about how we identify our enemy. If in our official acts of retribution, or even in our casual conversation, we are understood to be lashing out at the Arab world in general, we will be giving the terrorists exactly what they came here to get.

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