Yesterday morning, the collective sense of American security was shattered by an overwhelming terrorist attack the worst of its kind on American soil. In the face of this catastrophe, an understandable feeling of futility surrounds the people of this nation. A motivation toward action is justified, but caution must be exercised. The events that transpired yesterday are tragedy enough, without being exacerbated by the immediate scramble to point fingers. This situation supercedes political ideals, affiliations or objectives. Of utmost importance at this point is respect for the lost and immediate action to aid the living.
It is a natural human instinct to seek answers to the multitude of questions involving who is guilty of this crime. However, the backlash to this event must be tempered by a sincere attempt at rationality. Already, esteemed commentators have attempted to draw parallels between yesterday”s tragedy and the 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy”s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor that precipitated the United States” entry into World War II. While this analogy is useful to a degree it definitely communicates some sense of the magnitude and significance of this event it can also be dangerously misleading.
Whereas the attack on Pearl Harbor was an act of war by one nation against the military installation of another nation, there is no indication that yesterday”s attack was anything more than an elaborate strike perpetrated by an independently-financed terrorist organization. The rhetoric of war-hawks that continues to circulate does nothing but fuel hysteria and promote fear the United States has been attacked, but the nation is not “at war.”
The Pearl Harbor analogy should also remind us of the horrific consequences of the mass-hysteria that swept the nation after the bombing. Fearing a Japanese invasion of the west coast, the United States government (later with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court in its Korematsu decision) forced Japanese-American civilians into internment camps. While the situation in the Pacific was tense and invasion fears could be justified, the forced internment of American citizens in internment camps regardless of how likely an attack from imperial Japan may have been was a tremendous national disgrace.
Unfortunately, the race-baiting experienced by Japanese-Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbor seems to have been visited upon Arab- and Muslim-Americans following recent terrorist attacks. In the days immediately following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, arsonists attacked mosques and Arab-owned businesses across the country.
Even more disturbingly and closer to home, in “enlightened” Ann Arbor reports of harassment and violence against Arab and Muslim students trickled in yesterday. The harassment caused enough unease in the Arab/Muslim student population that the Muslim Student Association distributed an e-mail cautioning Arab/Muslim students to, “always be in groups of two or more,” and “never be out after dark, unless absolutely necessary.” Stigmatizing any group because of racially-fueled motives is inexcusable and we should come together to ensure that everyone feels safe on this campus and in Ann Arbor.
Members of minority groups are not the only people who have to worry about irrational responses to terrorism. Terrorist acts have been used before to promote reckless crackdowns on civil liberties. The Espionage Act of 1917, for example, exploited World War I to target dissenting political groups who opposed American policies during the war. The perpetrators of yesterday”s assault have already taken more than we can comprehend we should not allow their actions to be an excuse to take our rights as well.
There also exists the danger of this event being exploited for partisan agendas. The most fearful reaction would be one that validates a cornerstone of President George W. Bush”s administration: Increased militarization.
Bush has been a tireless advocate for increased defense spending, but his plans dump billions of dollars into creating a military state that fails to offer any real protection in today”s world. Bush has largely ignored critics from both major political parties who point out that his plan ignores terrorist organizations and other non-state actors.
Bush”s missile defense plan is based on an antiquated view of the international theater. Bush”s proposed defense plan would have been wholly ineffective against yesterday”s terrorist attack. The United States needs to be more concerned with the allocation of its defense spending, and not necessarily on beefing up any and all military programs simply because they once worked.
These attacks will illicit a response unheard of in American history. The question is not whether the United States will react to the worst act of terrorism in our history, but what sort of reaction there will be. Our nation needs to temper its response and avoid knee-jerk reactions to this disaster.
Even as Americans try to comprehend the tragedy of yesterday”s events, the nation must begin to cope with the harsh prospect of an insecure tomorrow. Although our efforts, first and foremost, must be directed toward helping the victims of the present calamity, our collective minds must turn to the prevention of an equally bleak future.