Any fierce commitment to an ideology brings an unfortunately easy tendency to lose sight of the impact of one”s ideas. There stands a barrier between imagination and reality a barrier that is usually seen as an impediment to our advancement. We dream of curing cancer, but the reality is farther off. We picture an equal society, but have no success in attaining it. We can marvel at the stars, but have no certainty of understanding them.
But there are times when the barrier between imagination and reality seems all too thin, all too weak.
Yesterday morning, the collective imagination of a group of terrorists crossed the barrier and created a reality that destroyed more than an impediment between the mind and the world. It”s almost unfathomable to think that this could have been anything more than a natural disaster. It”s the sort of thing that shakes to the core the romantic idea of the inherent goodness of mankind. This has to be a series of unfortunate events it”s impossible that anyone could have dreamed of this, planned this and implemented this.
The news tells me otherwise. Suddenly it becomes impossible for me to believe that all people are good or that all people understand the inherent linkage between each other. Soon after the twin towers of the World Trade Center crumbled, we saw horror, shock, mourning. But we also saw some less than noble human responses.
A liberal response: We”ve been asking for it. We”ve been terrorizing foreign nations for so long, running rough-shod over the rights and sensibilities of others.
A conservative response: This is a clear indication of the wickedness of outsiders. We need to close our borders, build bigger and more elaborate bombs, retaliate with all of the force we have.
We saw pseudo-scholars seeing this as a Biblical redemption against a world of non-believers. We saw Palestinians dancing in the streets, passing out candy to celebrate the suffering of an enemy. We saw genuine glee at the deaths of people who as yet do not have faces.
Though such a tragedy cannot be recalled in the collective memory of this nation an attack of this magnitude is unheard of on American soil we have had our fair share of man-made trauma. Whenever these stories break, there are soothing voices on the radio and calming faces on the television explaining to us that this is our moment. This is our time to come together as Americans, our time to shine, our time to prove our grit and our soul.
I wish that this were the sort of thing that could be uniting, but my pessimism wins out. Already, Arab-Americans on campus are being attacked. Already, we hear national reports of faux-bomb threats placed by people willing to take advantage of this situation. Already, Henry Kissinger is suggesting an all-out attack on any group or any nation that seems even remotely suspicious. Already, the places of grief are filling instead with anger and hatred.
In and of itself, the terrorist attack was enough to shake my self-indulgent romanticism regarding the goodness of mankind. But the response makes me question a fundamental ideal that I”ve held for as long as I can remember. People who act with evil intent may not simply be misguided or blinded they may in fact be evil.
And still, the barrier remains. Between the minds of evil and the reality of the world is a barrier of impossibility. It is impossible for someone to coordinate this sort of thing on American soil. These are the sorts of casualties that only occur in foreign countries with foreign sounding names. Certainly not in America we are protected by a barrier between imagination and reality. We are safe.
But the news tells me otherwise.
Manish Raiji can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org