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Published in the Ventura County Reporter, Winter 2003
Friday 19 December, 2003 News & Opinion > Columns
It is not one world
Freedom versus enslavement and ignorance
by Mark Storer
“It is not one world,” as Paul Harvey says frequently on his radio broadcasts. The events of 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror—and most recently, the bombings in Iraq and the constant barrage of ethnic killings in the Middle East—are illustrative of this. We do not live on a planet inhabited by people whose goals are the same. And the clichés that have poured through our culture about freedom not being free are more valid than ever.
Forget WMDs and all the superfluous discussion the media spews out about them. Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel has said that his support of the war in Iraq had less to do with what we’d find than what had already been done. He called the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon “a human earthquake.” If so, then these latest massacres are human aftershocks. This war and its battles are about freedom vs. enslavement and ignorance. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hatred. Terrorism exists in a den of ignorance. Indeed, the Taliban in Afghanistan forced ignorance on their people under penalty of death. Women were not allowed to be educated and therefore to be free. That is the opposite of what America is and a grim reminder that it was once punishable by death to teach a slave to read in America. The first act of oppression is to force ignorance on people.
Terrorism is not an act of desperation. Indeed, it is an act of hope. Those who use it as a weapon are themselves hopeful that the act will bring about their own eternal peace and their country’s coming of age. Homicide/suicide bombers do not walk into crowded Israeli marketplaces because they are protesting political agendas. They give their lives because they have been forced to believe that the only reason for their inability to succeed is that Israel is succeeding.
Al-Qaida members don’t fly airliners into buildings because they are desperate. They are trained at a young age that this will lead to their salvation. Those young, intelligent men with the potential to do with their lives whatever they chose had the misfortune to grow up in a place where there were no options. They were taught that the reason they were not free was because of America. In the simplest terms, they believed a lie and the lie came full circle; then became their reality. Reason was deafeningly silent. “If I’m allowed to go learn how to fly a plane, why can’t I do that and create a life, do a job, provide a service for others? If I can learn to assimilate into America, why can’t I do that, live there, raise a family and be who I want to be?” Questions that not only were never answered, but were never allowed to be asked.
It won’t do to say that American policy led various terrorists to these acts. It’s not true that the responsibility for these crimes rests on policy makers from America who supported the wrong regime or bought the wrong oil. That is a silly, almost meaningless, argument. To argue these things is to argue that at one time, America fought Britain for its independence and we should therefore by no means be friends with them now. Nonsense. Since the human landscape is constantly changing, so is the political one, and for good or ill, America acts, like so many other countries, in its best interests at the time.
This is not a religious war by any stretch of the imagination; at least not on the part of this country and her allies. In fact, it is quite the opposite of that. It is a war to destroy the assumption that one religion supercedes the rest. People of faith across the US must struggle with this, for at some point, all things are religious matters to those of faith. I can no more put aside my faith and belief in my everyday life, particularly in matters of such import, than I can accept tyranny. But my very ability to employ such beliefs is a function of a society that encourages me to do that. Freedom of religion is not just allowed, it is encouraged, and what’s more, it creates more faith, not less. For proof of this, witness that in European countries where there is an official church, attendance is down to as low as five percent per capita. Religion forced on people is ultimately self-defeating because faith, by its very nature, requires a sincere, individual and honest appraisal. No state can dictate the terms. Freedom is better than ignorance.
The paradoxes that have been faced by the US in the need for heightened security have created cries that we are becoming what we behold, and there may be some small sad truth to that. We continue to examine ourselves on a daily basis, trying to avoid the most perilous effect that terrorism brings; that of McCarthy-like suspicion. In our attempt to both protect ourselves and yet grow as a free nation, some argue, we have sacrificed what the nation stands for. This is not quite true, though the danger is there. Erosion of civil liberties will take more than a few cases of injustice, for we have always had those. What will erode our freedom is if we allow institutionalized security to take the place of liberty, and that has not happened.
War is folly, and so we are chest-deep in a raging folly that has no quick end in sight. But war is less folly than is ignoring and refusing to defend one’s freedom. We all must make a choice as to whether core values can include the belief that there is no right or wrong. This is a war that asks that very question: Is it valid to say that Western beliefs in freedom, tolerance, the pursuit of happiness—however imperfect our practice of those beliefs—are on par with the belief that ignorance is better and that some lives matter less than others? The answer for me is no.
If, in our delusional pursuit to be one world, we allow ourselves to entertain the thought that some cultures’ forced ignorance is as valid as our freedom, we never will be unified, or free.