This is an essay distributed by e-mail to colleagues by Professor Leonard Swidler in response to the events surrounding the terrorist attack. This draft may be revised in the future.
|WHAT DOES THE "ORDINARY"
US CITIZEN DO TODAY?
In the wake of the horror visited on so many thousands of all nations murdered in the attack on America, especially in the World Trade Towers, what should the “ordinary” American citizen do after trying to comfort the bereaved and supporting the rescue and clean-up workers?
We must affirm life over death!
We can do this partly by remembering the murdered and dedicating our lives to building a world of peace and love in the face of destruction and hate.
What, however, do we do regarding the terrorists, not the dead ones but the ones who are alive and right now are planning even worse horrors--not just on America but on the world (remember, many nations have suffered terrorist attacks for years: Italy, Germany, Scotland, Russia...)?
Some say that we should look to eliminate the feeding grounds of terrorism, poverty and its related results. Yes, we should pursue this goal of social justice ever more intensely.
But poverty is not the reason for the growth of terrorism. The percentage of poor people in past history has been vastly greater than it is today. This FACT is obscured by the talk about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Those classified as poor in America today, for example, have vastly more material wherewithal than the poor in America 200 or 100 years ago. Huge numbers of Americans, and others, are no longer poor--not despite Bill Gates’s becoming the richest person in the world, but BECAUSE!
Is the lifting of the “floor” of the world’s poorest people already accomplished sufficient? Of course, not! All persons of good will--and they are legion--are working to raise the “floor” ever higher. Moreover, we all could, and therefore, should do more, use our creativity, passion, and commitment even more effectively in this effort!
However, today’s chief terrorist, Osama bin Ladin, did not grow up in poverty, but in luxury and inherited $300 million! (After he went terrorist his family renounced him: “Issuing his condemnation in the London-based daily newspaper, Abdalla Awad bin Laden [the oldest brother] said: ‘We consider those acts an unspeakable contravention of the principles of our religion and they stand to be condemned by any and all religions and by humanity at large. We take this opportunity to confirm what we had already declared on the 19th February 1994, that the family of bin Laden renounces Osama’s deeds and stratagems and has absolutely nothing to do with them.’”).
Osama was for years a bit of a spoiled playboy, but then he suddenly “got religion,” meaning really he got the opposite of religion, idolatry; he took on the externals, the least important “means,” and made them into ends (Greek: eidola, image; latria, worship). For whatever psychological reasons operated in his case (and there many similar ones in all cultures), he rejected “modernity,” with its valuing of freedom and change, opting instead for the medieval mindset of absolutism: “I have the truth, and whoever disagrees....takes the consequences.”
Only a subterranean change of this magnitude could explain his rage in 1991 at the reported “externality” that infidel US soldiers came to defend Arabian soil, thereby soiling the sacred ground of Mohammad. He then turned himself and his hundreds of millions to terror against the “external” symbol of modernity, America. With his millions he could recruit, train, and ideologically indoctrinate his human bombs--staying safe himself, of course.
Again, then: Poverty source of terrorism? Clearly not. Otherwise the world would have been even more overwhelmed by terrorism in the past. Also again, we must do all we can to reduce and eliminate poverty. But we should not be misled into thinking that attaining that yearned for goal will eliminate terrorism.
Again, then: What do we do regarding the terrorists?
First, we can ALWAYS find fault with ANY position or person. We can ALWAYS take something “in pessimum partem.” However, cynicism is as humanly destructive as is its opposite, naivete.
We should use our critical-thinking capacities at all times, being ever vigilant to see that in the pursuit of the criminal terrorists we do not give them the ultimate victory by eroding the foundations of freedom and human dignity for all.
At the same time, however, we should also be aware that being naive vis a vis terrorists can be as humanly destructive as was Chamberlain’s “pacifism” vis a vis Hitler. His weakness in the face of Hitler’s assault on Czechoslovakia simply encouraged Hitler to attack Poland and launch World War II, with its tens of millions of casualties.
Jingoism, no! But forming a global alliance that will use all tools--diplomatic, political, economic, educational, investigative, and where appropriate, force--to pursue and root out the terrorist criminals and their supporters, yes!
In my judgment, the “good” can be attained vis a vis terrorism no other way. We must win over to the side of opposition to terrorist crime those political leaders who can be won over. Those who show their true colors as supporters of terrorist crime must be shamed by the world, isolated, and if their support for terrorism is vicious enough, they will have to be subjected to force as any violent criminal would be.
But most of us are not in positions to lead this multi-pronged “police” action (remember: police comes from the Greek “polis”, city--they have been given the responsibility of protecting the “polis,” the city). We ordinary citizens must encourage and direct the “police,” and thus our responsibility for “vigilance.”
But our special responsibility is to work especially in the field I would call “education” in the broadest sense, the kind that must go on from the cradle to the grave, which includes the school but encompasses vastly more.
At the heart of this “education” in myriad ways I believe we must foster a mentality of: dialogue of the personally transformative kind, what our GLOBAL DIALOGUE INSTITUTE terms Deep-Dialogue/Critical-Thinking. Many of us are tying to do this in many ways. We all need to find endless creative ways to expand our efforts. This can be the major part of our contribution to a future world where terrorism will be something only studied in psychology and sociology textbooks on the socio-psycho pathology of past history.
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Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.