[Reader-list] Re: anti-war campaign

Joy Chatterjee joy at sarai.net
Wed Oct 3 18:58:01 IST 2001

In the context of the present thread I think Rushdie's comments will add up 
to the discussion. I like the last paragraph the most!

Fighting the Forces of Invisibility
By Salman Rushdie

Washington Post, Tuesday, October 2, 2001; Page A25

NEW YORK -- In January 2000 I wrote in a newspaper column that "the
defining struggle of the new age would be between Terrorism and Security,"
and fretted that to live by the security experts' worst-case scenarios
might be to surrender too many of our liberties to the invisible
shadow-warriors of the secret world. Democracy requires visibility, I
argued, and in the struggle between security and freedom we must always
err on the side of freedom. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, however, the worst-case
scenario came true.

They broke our city. I'm among the newest of New Yorkers, but even people
who have never set foot in Manhattan have felt its wounds deeply, because
New York is the beating heart of the visible world, tough-talking,
spirit-dazzling, Walt Whitman's "city of orgies, walks and joys," his
"proud and passionate city -- mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!" To this
bright capital of the visible, the forces of invisibility have dealt a
dreadful blow. No need to say how dreadful; we all saw it, are all changed
by it. Now we must ensure that the wound is not mortal, that the world of
what is seen triumphs over what is cloaked, what is perceptible only
through the effects of its awful deeds.

In making free societies safe -- safer -- from terrorism, our civil
liberties will inevitably be compromised. But in return for freedom's
partial erosion, we have a right to expect that our cities, water, planes
and children really will be better protected than they have been. The
West's response to the Sept. 11 attacks will be judged in large measure by
whether people begin to feel safe once again in their homes, their
workplaces, their daily lives. This is the confidence we have lost, and
must regain.

Next: the question of the counterattack. Yes, we must send our
shadow-warriors against theirs, and hope that ours prevail.  But this
secret war alone cannot bring victory. We will also need a public,
political and diplomatic offensive whose aim must be the early resolution
of some of the world's thorniest problems: above all the battle between
Israel and the Palestinian people for space, dignity, recognition and
survival. Better judgment will be required on all sides in future. No more
Sudanese aspirin factories to be bombed, please. And now that wise
American heads appear to have understood that it would be wrong to bomb
the impoverished, oppressed Afghan people in retaliation for their
tyrannous masters' misdeeds, they might apply that wisdom,
retrospectively, to what was done to the impoverished, oppressed people of
Iraq. It's time to stop making enemies and start making friends.

To say this is in no way to join in the savaging of America by sections of
the left that has been among the most unpleasant consequences of the
terrorists' attacks on the United States. "The problem with Americans is .
. . " -- "What America needs to understand . . . " There has been a lot of
sanctimonious moral relativism around lately, usually prefaced by such
phrases as these. A country which has just suffered the most devastating
terrorist attack in history, a country in a state of deep mourning and
horrible grief, is being told, heartlessly, that it is to blame for its
own citizens' deaths. ("Did we deserve this, sir?" a bewildered worker at
"ground zero" asked a visiting British journalist recently. I find the
grave courtesy of that "sir" quite astonishing.)

Let's be clear about why this bien-pensant anti-American onslaught is such
appalling rubbish. Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it
was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government
policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are
responsible for their actions. Furthermore, terrorism is not the pursuit
of legitimate complaints by illegitimate means. The terrorist wraps
himself in the world's grievances to cloak his true motives. Whatever the
killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better
world was part of it.

The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings.
Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a
multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable
government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism,
short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. These are
tyrants, not Muslims. (Islam is tough on suicides, who are doomed to
repeat their deaths through all eternity. However, there needs to be a
thorough examination, by Muslims everywhere, of why it is that the faith
they love breeds so many violent mutant strains. If the West needs to
understand its Unabombers and McVeighs, Islam needs to face up to its bin
Ladens.) United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that we
should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are
against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance
what we are against is a no-brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied
aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of
people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our
lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the above
list -- yes, even the short skirts and dancing -- are worth dying for?

The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view,
he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic
indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We
must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches,
disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more
equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of
thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by
the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.

How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your
life. Even if you are scared.

Salman Rushdie is a British novelist and essayist.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company 

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