The Semi-Apologists and the War against Terrorism

Article excerpt

In the hours after the twin towers came crashing down, a tidal wave of support for a war against terrorism swept across the country; Americans had not been so united about anything in over a haft-century. But almost immediately, an undertow of perverse opinion was created by the "semi-apologists" -- those who deplore the acts of terrorism but, at the same time, shift an appreciable amount of the blame onto America. In so doing, they not only minimize the acts of terrorism, but suggest that those acts would stop if America would only behave more nobly.

Terrorism as a generic term can include the systematic use of terror against a military enemy. But the war we have declared is against the terrorism practiced and openly proclaimed by Osama bin Laden and his ilk, which primarily targets civilians. In 1998, one of bin Laden's organizations stated that the killing of American civilians was "the individual duty of every Muslim." It should go without saying that at least such murderous terrorism against innocent civilians breaks the bounds of civilized behavior and, on its face, can bear no excuse; unfortunately, it cannot go without saying. It is this kind of terrorism for which the semi-apologists do offer back-door excuses.

Their voices may seem no more than the usual chorus emanating from members of the anti-American and/or anti-Israel brigade, not likely to detract from the prevailing sense of outrage against these acts of serial homicide against civilians. But that outrage may not be enough. We may be facing a civilizational challenge much more difficult to understand than those of 20th-century fascism and bolshevism. Beyond aggressive military, diplomatic, and law enforcement action -- and to sustain those action fronts long enough -- this is destined to become an extended war for the minds of the American people. If their understanding of the real and portentous nature of this terrorism falters, the West, America, and Israel could suffer grievously.

The exculpatory note is found most clearly in the familiar refrain of the semi-apologists about the "root causes" of bin Laden's terrorism: the role of this country in visiting abject poverty on the Arab and Muslim world; and the arrogance and disrespect America generally shows towards that world, notably in its support of Israel. Noam Chomsky, M.I.T. professor and pied piper to generations of college students, deplored the terrorist attacks, but then explained that they were committed out of feelings that "the US obstructs freedom and democracy, as well as material plenty for others. In the Middle East, for example, the United States supports Israeli oppression of Palestinians." Susan Sontag famously wrote in The New Yorker that while the slaughter in New York was inexcusable, it should really be seen as "an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions."

Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote in his magazine Tikkun that, while the terrorism was deplorable, it was partly explained by resentment about "the hoarding of the world's resources by the richest society in the world, and our frantic attempts to accelerate globalization with its attendant inequalities of wealth." The publications of the "Mobilization for Global Justice" -- a sponsor of the often riotous "anti-globalism" protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- have been a venue for these semi-apologies.

And then there have been the universities. George Wright, a professor of political science at the University of California, voiced the refrain heard at many campus "peace vigils" when he said, "We should try to understand why there are people in the world that hate the United States." He explained that the terrorism in New York and Washington was an attack on America's economic dominance and leadership in "globalization." At the University of Texas, Professor Robert Jensen indicated that the mass murder in New York was "no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism . …