Thursday, July 07, 2005

Condolences to the U.K.

I was going to post something funny today, but instead I'll post about the bus and subway bombings in London.

Read more below the jump.

First, and really, last, I'd like to send my sympathy out to the Brits, who, despite the paranoid blather of the "The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe," have done absolutely nothing to deserve being murdered. I'm not just saying this to preface some political point about how we should then do something else. Really, I just think that our primary response to this is should be to comfort and aid the Brits.

Through its actions and its words, SOAQE reveals itself as a bunch of ignorant, vicious conspiracy nuts.
Who else could call the Tories the "Zionist crusader government?"
Who else could believe an ideology that justifies blowing up buses and trains full of commuters?

I moved to NYC from SF in the summer of 2001.
A lot of my circle of friends in SF were liberal, or, more accurately, leftist.
When the planes hit on 9/11, one of them ("S") wrote to the group, on the 11th, the first e-mail to our listserve:
These tragic plane crashes, were in a lot of ways, bound to happen. Yes, that's the pessimistic view, but the American government needs to wake up and realize what it has done to other countries. People are pissed off at America and have the right to be. It's just sad that so many people die at the hands of World Leaders who are just little boys playing games.

The message included a link to an article called "America's Terrorist Roots."

Was I alive or dead? S hadn't asked. And she hadn't expressed horror at the terrorists' acts, or sympathy for the victims.
First on her mind was smugness. Such was her concern for the evils our own country had allegedly perpetrated.

I responded (also to the group):
I can't believe you sent this-- it is in such poor taste. There are ten thousand people dead here in NYC, and you're telling us that their murder was the
inevitable consequence of American bullying?

What are you thinking?

In retrospect, I was wrong about the casualty figure, but right about her.

I was hoping for an e-mail from another member of the group to the effect of "Are you okay?"
Instead, another member of the group, K, responded with some prefatory remarks that sounded like a bad politician's speech:
I think we're all shocked and sadden by what happened today in ny. I was in disbelief when i woke up this morning to the news coming from the alarm clock and thought it was a sick joke at first until learning that it's not a movie trailer or a joke. we are all sending our prayers to those who worked in the towers, in the financial district, and the families of those lost in this trajedy.

K then blamed U.S. policy on Israel, of course, and warned us not to become bigots:
we can all express our grief, but we should also be aware and not deny the reasons for why this happen. it does not occur in a vaccum. there are reasons for this. this is shocking and horrifying to us, but imagine all those who live in war torn areas who are regularly bombed by missiles with much more force. it's their daily existence. the us contributes to this. violence begets violence. we (U.S) imagine ourselves as an all powerful invulnerable nation where we don't answer to anyone and do as we wish without taking any responsibility. this attack shatters that image of the untouchable nation. i hope that this forces the US as a nation to be more responsible in its actions internationally, not just for the sake of innocent civilians (and even non-civilians) who suffer from our (US)contribution to the political instability in their areas (military arms, etc), but also for the sake of all the innocent people here in the US and other US citizens worldwide who pay the price of retribution. though i am fearful that in the meantime only more violence and death will follow as we seek retribution on WHO EVER it is that is responsible, and as people take it in their own hands to seek out justice by attacking and threatening arab americans and muslims who they speculate to be the perpetrators.

I did not agree that deserving terrorist retribution, supporting Israel, and bigotry were connected in any way.

S, slightly chastened, then had this to say:
It's not that I am not saddened by this horrifying act and don't feel sympathy towards the people who died, were injured and had to watch the display of the twin towers crumbling to the ground. It's not that I don't feel the horror of the magnitude of this act. The reason I sent out that article was because I know that these acts aren't created in a vacuum and that a lot of historical events created by the US have created something in the minds of many people in this country and others that feed a feeling of retribution that I don't in any way condone, but can see and know is real.

It's a wake up call in a lot of ways for America to look at what we have done and what we can do to insure the people that live in this country are safe as well as people who live in other countries who get trapped between political lines.

Sorry to make some of you all feel uncomfortable with this article. If you have any beefs about it, please let me know. It's good to hear all sides.

I hope any of you who have friends or family in DC or NY are okay and safe right now.

Not good enough. And the "feeling of retribution" she didn't "condone" but saw and knew "is real" just set me off.

On 9/12, K then sent a copy of the following piece by Robert Kagan from the Washington Post, with the message "it has started already.":

September 11, 2001 -- the date that will live in infamy, the day the post-Cold War era ended, the day the world for Americans changed utterly. In the coming days, as rescuers pick through the rubble in New York, in Washington, in Pittsburgh and who knows where else across the besieged United States, as the bodies of thousands of dead Americans are uncovered and as the rest of us weep over the destruction of innocent human life, our friends and loved ones, we may begin to hear analyses as to why this "tragedy" has befallen us. There will no doubt be questions raised, sins of omission and commission in the Middle East alluded to. Even today, the BBC opined that the attacks came because the United States had failed to get a "grip" on the
Middle East. Nothing strange or odd in that. After Pearl Harbor, almost exactly 60 years ago, there were those who argued, with perhaps even more persuasiveness, that then, too, the United States had somehow invited the Japanese attack. After all, had we not embargoed Japan's vital oil supply?

One can only hope that America can respond to today's monstrous attack on American soil -- an attack far more awful than Pearl Harbor -- with the same moral clarity and courage as our grandfathers did. Not by asking what we have done to bring on the wrath of inhuman murderers. Not by figuring out ways to reason with, or try to appease those who have spilled our blood. Not by engaging in an extended legal effort to find the killers and bring them to justice. But by doing the only thing we now can do: go to war. Over the past few years there has been a nostalgic celebration of "The Greatest Generation" -- the generation that fought for America and for humanity in the Second World War. There's no need for nostalgia now. That challenge is before us again. The question today is whether this generation of Americans is made of the same stuff.

Please let us make no mistake this time: We are at war now. We have suffered the first, devastating strike. Certainly, it is not the last. The only question is whether we will now take this war seriously, as seriously as any war we have ever fought. Let's not be daunted by the mysterious and partially hidden identity of our attackers. It will soon become obvious that there are only a few terrorist organizations capable of carrying out such a massive and coordinated strike. We should pour the resources necessary into a global effort to hunt them down and capture or kill them. It will become apparent that those organizations could not have operated without the assistance of some governments, governments with a long record of hostility to the United States and an equally long record of support for terrorism. We should now immediately begin building up our conventional military forces to prepare for what will inevitably and rapidly escalate into confrontation and quite possibly war with one or more of those powers. Congress, in fact, should
immediately declare war. It does not have to name a country. It can declare war against those who have carried out today's attack and against any nations that may have lent their support. A declaration of war would not be pure symbolism. It would be a sign of will and determination to see this conflict through to a satisfactory conclusion no matter how long it takes or how difficult the challenge.

Fortunately, with the Cold War over, there are no immediate threats around the world to prevent us from concentrating our energies and resources on fighting this war on international terrorism as we have never fought it before.


I don't know--it seemed like good advice to me, and didn't urge hate crimes, either.
Well, now my dudgeon was up, and I was annoyed no one was asking after me and my family (these were friends of mine!). I wrote back to the group:

Why mention that "events created by the US … feed a feeling of retribution" if you don't condone that feeling of retribution? Millions of people who have been victims of violence somehow managed to feed an unjustified feeling of retribution; how is the US different?

Your [S's] letter and [K]'s suggest that the attacks were payback, our just desserts for failing to "answer to anyone and do[ing] as we wish without taking any responsibility." It may be that "the US contributes" to the circumstances of "all those who live in war torn areas who are regularly bombed by missiles with
much more force" than we are. Is the lesson we're supposed to learn -really- that "violence begets violence?"

Of course these attacks shatter our notions of safety, but they shouldn't lead us to any conclusions about our innocence OR guilt in international affairs. The
suggestion that victims of terrorism and other violence should reflect on what they did to deserve it is horrible. Using a massive act of violence as an "I-told-you-so" in criticism of U.S. foreign policy is unpersuasive and repellent. If half as many people had been murdered, would your argument have been only half as strong? Certainly that's what the terrorists were thinking. When [K] writes that she "hope[s] that this forces the US as a nation to be more responsible in its actions internationally … for the sake of all the innocent people here in the US and other US citizens worldwide who pay the price of retribution," she could be acting as a spokesperson for those responsible.

Just because someone else feels justified in murdering us doesn't mean we should try to see things his way.

Furthermore, I don't understand why we shouldn't seek retribution against those responsible. We are perfectly capable of distinguishing terrorists from innocent Arabs and Muslims, and there is no reason to refrain from seeking justice and "escalat[ing] this into an all out war and bomb[ing] the hell out of WHO EVER it is;" rather, no "escalation" is necessary- ten thousand people are already dead.

The author of the article [K] mentioned, Donald Kagan, wrote a great book, "On the Origin of War and the Preservation of Peace." [Ed.: I confused Robert Kagan, who wrote the article, with Donald Kagan, who wrote the book.] One of the book's arguments is that many wars start when the major powers fail to assert their power over little states with an incentive to initiate aggression. This failing, and not a foreign policy of insufficient benevolence, is probably more the cause of yesterday's attacks.


I still think I'm correct about the Kagan point. If we'd cleaned up Afghanistan earlier instead of letting it fester, we might have prevented the transformation of Al Qaeda from a bulwak against the Soviet invasion into a pan-Sunni terrorist group.

The exchange went on from there. People in the group who were closer friends of mine were more sympathetic to the victims, but no one really wanted to acknowledge that S and K's messages were insensitive, tasteless, and ignorant, let alone agree with my views of international relations.

Anyway. That's context. So.

I don't want to hear anyone talking about how Britain's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to anger that is "understandable."
I don't want to hear hysterical objections to the inevitable increased scrutiny Muslim immigrants in Europe will receive at train stations.
The only appropriate response now is to comfort the victims of the attacks and hunt down those responsible.

So, you know, for the dozen or so people who read my blog, that's how I feel.

3 comments:

Tenderfoot said...

Dear Litvak,

I didn't notice you asking any of your readers how their friends or families in London are in your post.

It seems like your condolences were exactly, in fact, a preface to a political point of what we should then do - i.e., hunt down and smoke out those responsible, applaud the increased scrutiny all Muslim immigrants will receive, and go marching off to war to some unrelated country. We may be theoretically perfectly capable of distinguishing terrorists from innocent Arabs and Muslims, but I have yet to see that happen in our "war against terr-ism".

Anonymous said...

I think the Labor party is in Government right now not the Tories....

The Litvak said...

As for asking after my friends in the UK, that's already done, and not through my blog.

[sfx: me slapping my own forehead]
Anonymous is, of course, correct. Labour, not the Tories, are the gov't in the UK.

Tenderfoot is correct that our own administration has made an enormous clusterf--- of the "War on Terror," squandering resources, opportunities and goodwill with stupid policies like "special registration" and the occupation of Iraq.
Still, I think we were correct to invade Afghanistan. Keeping it a shambles, not so much.