Weekly Editorials Page
9/20 to 9/26, 2001

Previous Weekly Editorials

9-27-2001:     After observing U. S. strategy and media coverage over the past two weeks, I personally feel much better about our course of action. It seems to me that we're in the position of trying to eradicate nests of poisonous spiders located in various houses in the neighborhood. We couldn't get rid of all of the spiders by destroying the houses. Their elimination will require time and finesse, and it appears that the U. S. is prepared to approach the problem in that rational way.
    Terrorism isn't a recent strategy. The Russian revolutionary and nihilist Michael Bakunin constructed and deployed bombs, including (?) the 1881 bomb that killed Tsar Alexander II of Russia. (The assassination of Alexander II had the effect of turning his son, Alexander III, toward a harshly repressive regime. In other words, its effects were exactly opposite to those that Bakunin was seeking.) It was the Black Hand Serbian terrorist, Princip Gavrilo, who triggered World War I by assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. As usual, when violent means are employed to secure a supposedly benign end, the results were opposite to what was intended.
    It would have been possible to have flown a transcontinental aircraft into the Empire State Building, the White House, and the Capitol Building at any time from the 1930's onward. It would have been possible to detonate a dray wagon filled with combustibles (e. g., naphtha or Greek Fire) or explosives on a bridge or beside a building at any time in history. The only reason it didn't happen was because, apparently, it wasn't tried.
    I think that terrorists are everyone's enemy. The Muslim terrorists who attack the West would target every other non-Muslim venue, including China and non-Muslim Africa, if the West were no longer a breakwater. Terrorism is a banner that attracts and semi-legitimatizes goons and psychopaths, like the SS in Nazi Germany. And if terrorism works, psychopathic miscreants will adopt terrorist methods in droves. [It seems to me that their understanding of human nature must be wrapped around feelings of powerlessness, and an inability to understand the mentalities of the powers-that-be, or the power of gentler ways of securing justice. (Gandhi's policy of non-violence must at least have contributed to the British departure from India.) But whatever the mindset, terrorists are vermin.] Muslims above all others should consider Muslim terrorists Islam's enemy. Precious few Muslims would want to live under the heavy hand of the Taliban. Terrorism is monstrously incompetent, achieving results diametrically opposed to its goals.. Terrorism has the effect of attracting the wrath of the entire world, whose countries realize that they are also vulnerable to these poisonous spiders. In the end, I think that we need to send them the message that crime does not pay.
    Phrases from the Koran have been quoted to show that Muslims are enjoined to seek world domination. I would suggest that there are similar drastic phrases within the Bible that no one takes literally, such as, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life with crippled or lame than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire." Offhand, I don't know anyone who cut off his hand or foot because it offended him (or her).
   Some of us tend to see beyond thud-and-blunder approaches to problem-solving. (Some of us also tend to be empathetic and fair-minded, and can be gulled into supporting impractical or unworkable causes.) I think some of us were put off when President Bush announced a "war" on terrorism, visualizing the carpet bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and the slaughter of millions of innocent civilians, setting the stage for retaliation by the children or grandchildren of the innocent victims of such a pogrom. In the meantime, many, or most of the terrorists would have slipped the hounds, and would be plotting their next depredations. But at least so far, good judgment seems to have prevailed in Washington.
    There is a tendency for some of us to see the motes in our own eye while remaining blind to the beam in our neighbor's eye. Some of us have been concerned about what the U. S. may have done to warrant suicide raids on our tallest towers. But no matter how upset you and I were, we wouldn't have done what these terrorists did. And beyond these Muslim terrorists lies a potential army of other terrorists with other "causes". What we need to accomplish is to discredit terrorism as a means to an end.
    Not even the most liberal of liberals would argue that a positive end, such as improving the lot of Palestinians, justifies any means, such as the mass murder of civilians in other countries.
    The "war" on terrorism has only just begun, and I can now feel as supportive of our cause as I could about overthrowing Hitler.
9-26-2001:       In its Miscellaneous section, today's Science News presents four articles about Osama bin Laden: Interview with Bin Laden, Osama bin Laden, Transcript- The Man Who Spoke to Bin Laden, and Who are the Taliban?. To me, what these articles convey is the idea that bin Laden and his associated terrorists are Muslim zealots who aim 
(1) at the expulsion of infidels from Saudi Arabia (home to Mecca and the Ka'aba), 
(2) the expulsion of infidels from all of Islam, and (I presume) 
(3) the fulfillment of God's Holy Word, as set forth in the Koran, in converting all the world to Islam. 
    In other words, it's a religious war. 
    In his interview, bin Laden refers to outsiders in the Middle East as "the Jewish and the Crusaders". Evidently, he wants to re-open the Crusades, and this time, drive the infidel from the Middle East, and force the rest of the world to accept Islam or die. 
    A month or so ago, I had pondered writing the observation here that intolerance of other religions is a sine qua non of the world's major successful religions. 
(1) I would expect that religions that are tolerant of other religions either rapidly die out, or are absorbed by other, less-tolerant religions. 
(2) Another characteristic of the world's leading religions would seem to me to be the fact that they are based upon ancient, immutable writings--holy writ. Although these religions may become more liberal from time to time, they are subject to periodic reforms in which they return to basics, as delineated by their (incompatible) "divine" doctrines.... the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, etc. These periodic reforms have occurred in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They wouldn't seem to lend themselves to long-term progress, since they're based upon ancient books whose text is frozen in time. (It may be argued that, although the Koran, the Talmud, and the Bible are received wisdom, our interpretations of them are evolving over time, in accordance with "God's Holy Plan". I hope so.)
    I had been concerned for some time that some Western Christians, in their zeal to "save" others, might be unaware that they might open Pandora's Box by pushing other faiths to respond to challenges But it appears that this has been overtaken by events, with the challenge coming from fanatics within the Muslim world. I think it should also be noted that this challenge is no more an across-the-board gauntlet thrown down by Islam than would be a corresponding attack on the Muslim world by Christian fanatics. Most people, Christian, Hebrew, or Muslim, don't want to live in a religious police-state like Afghanistan, including, I'm sure, most Afghans. Such environments have arisen repeatedly in the past during the Protestant Reformation (the Puritans and the early Presbyterians), and, I would imagine, during comparable  Muslim reforms. To this day, there are Amish and Mennonites in the U. S. who adhere to a non-technical culture, but most people don't opt for this.
   Also, the Taliban are Sunnite Muslims, and are sworn enemies of the Shi'a Muslims.
   It might be worth noting that the Old Testament is, in my opinion, a very bloodthirsty history of the Israelites and their neighbors. God repeatedly kills everything that moves. God instructs Saul, "'Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him: but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" Thus saith the Lord to his servant, the king. "So Saul defeated the Amekelites, from Havileh as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he captured Agag the king of the Amekelites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed."
   Yea, the Lord was wroth over Saul's transgression. "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him."
   Later, Saul dies in battle. But God commands the death of every living animal Saul encounters.
   God also commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and although Abraham isn't asked to complete the sacrificew of his son, human sacrifice was obviously practiced in that day. Tophet was a place where the ancient Hebrews made human-sacrificial offerings.
   The Christian position is that God made a new covenant with them based upon the offering on the cross of His Only-Begotten Son, in exchange for the remission of their sins. Christian theology is based upon such shibboleths as "Love thy neighbor as thyself,", "Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth", and "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God". It must have seemed to the Christians as though God had mellowed over the millenia. Even so, Christianity left enough latitude to justify hundreds of wars, such as the Crusades, the Hundred Years War, and the Thirty Years War.
   Six hundred years later, when God instructed Muhammet, He seems to have reverted to his Old-Testament Persona.
    It has seemed to me to be deadly dangerous to have entered the 21st century with huge populations brainwashed into harboring 1st century superstitions. (You may feel that you're not a product of brainwashing, but think of all the other religiously-indoctrinated believers that are!) And even if that weren't the case, there are still fanatics like Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVay who go around the bend. In the meantime, we have been developing weapons that, increasingly, empower individuals to harm ever-larger numbers of people. In every movement and in every country in the world, there are psychopaths and paranoids among us who are potentially dangerous. In other words, I foresee a generic problem here that transcends Middle Eastern terrorists: the problem of the empowerment of small minorities to harm huge majorities.
    Beyond this is the problem that the world is too small and vulnerable to survive our weapons of mass destruction. Nuking Afghanistan would wreak monstrous, long-lasting environmental carnage, not to mention inviting eventual reprisals in kind, and setting a terrible example for future warfare. Other indiscriminate weapons, such as biological modalities, could decimate the populations of innocent nations (thereby bringing the wrath of humankind down upon the perpetrators).
    The bottom line is that it seems to me now that these terrorist attacks are the handiwork of a relatively small collection of Muslim zealots who are bent upon Muslim resurgence and domination. And if you want to get an idea what it would be like to report to these theocrats, read "Who are the Taliban?" above.