The men who shattered our cherished sense of security on American soil saw themselves as instruments of god. We see them as vicious criminals. Which view ultimately prevails in humanity’s collective conscience will decide who wins or loses this newly declared war on terrorism.
Any meaningful discussion of the September 11 terrorist attack must begin with an acknowledgement that it was hardly a “cowardly” act, as our talking heads so glibly called it. It was a breathtakingly bold plan carried out by brave men of almost unfathomably deep faith. If we as a nation can’t recognize this obvious truth, we lack the character to defeat the legions of such men and women who will rise up to fight us.
We must also recognize at the outset that in this war our fighter jets, AWACS planes, missiles and nuclear bombs are all but useless. Big weapons don’t wipe out terrorists; they only create more of them. Enter this war relying on our superior armanents and we will merely set off cycles of destruction that will send the world on a spiraling descent back to the 19th century.
No, in this war our weapon must be the one that has won the lasting victories — unbending devotion to the highest principles of humanity and justice. About now I hear the raspberries of cynics who mock my words in lisping tones. I hear the jeers of armchair generals who scream, “Nuke the bastards!” Fortunately for us eighth-grade dropouts aren’t yet setting our national policy.
I will admit right off that faithfully applying the principles of humanity and justice won’t produce the cinematic big-bang payback we’ve been lusting for. At times I too had succumbed to the bloodlust myself. But I also know that we don’t want the national hangover produced by piles of dead children and generations of youth smoldering with dreams of holy vengeance, say, collapsing office towers, crashed airliners, crumpled freeway interchanges, contanimated water supplies, flaming theaters and shopping malls.
To defeat people waging a holy war we must wage a holier war. They blithely kill thousands of innocent Americans. Sub par. We must pursue patiently and with pinpoint precision only the perps and their twerp bosses, then prosecute them according to the highest principles of due process. We must take superhuman pains to prevent collateral damage of any kind, including hate crimes by our own dingbats. Our brand of holier war must allow no room for racial prejudice and persecution. In fact, an essential element of our war effort must be a massive ongoing PR campaign to educate Americans on the principles under which we wage our holier war.
If we remain true to our high principles we will inexorably capture the high ground in humanity’s collective conscience. It may take years, maybe decades, but the world will come to see terrorists for what they are — not god’s chosen warriors but just violent criminals bent on satisfying their warped bloodlust. We will never entirely rid the world of violent criminals, but we will see their numbers and capabilities dwindle to a scale more appropriate to vermin rather than to holy armies.
Fighting this brand of patient, principled holier war won’t give us the instant gratification of, say, sending waves of bombers and missiles into Afghanistan. It won’t produce daily fireworks for the evening news. What it will produce over time is a world in which all peoples come to respect the rule of law and feel a personal stake in preserving a civilization free from senseless violence.
An American commitment to a holier war would produce an added benefit for Asian Americans and for all minorities everywhere — a general acknowledgement of the principle that entire ethnicities cannot be held responsible for the actions of misguided individuals. When all is said and done, that understanding must be at the heart of any effective war against terrorism.