WTC: September 11, 2001. (09/15/2001)
Writing about horrific events just after they occur, especially of the kind that happened in New York and Washington four days ago, puts one more in a mood to respond than it does to create a state of rational analysis that can be used as a means of assimilating such horrific images. In my own case, that emotional response is conflicted in several different directions simultaneously. From a purely native American point-of-view, I certainly feel as much sympathy for the victims as anyone else, but see those attacks as a problem generated by a culture of violence that has always existed in Western civilization, and perceive them as problems that exclusively affect white Americans and not native people at all. This attitude has been caused by the fact that native Americans have always been so totally excluded from American culture, economically, socially, and politically, that events of this kind do not directly affect, except incidentally, any real interest of any native American tribe. What happens in, or to, white America, especially to its economic machine, has no significance, and hardly any impact, on native culture. In fact, if white America's money machine were to collapse tomorrow, most native tribes would not be adversely affected at all due to the extreme levels of poverty in which most of us live. In short, we have never been allowed to participate in America's white European "dream."
At a much deeper level, my perception of these events is colored by five centuries of European violence against native Americans, a systemic pattern of violence that has resulted in the virtual annihilation of the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere. When Europeans in America are themselves attacked by cruel, vicious, barbaric, shadowy terrorists, people now characterized as consummately evil, a certain sense of unreality arises in my mind when I hear that the victims of this event are innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever. The presence of European people on the island of Manhattan, even millions of them, when that land was literally stolen from the native Americans who originally inhabited it and where those people were then driven by force of arms from the island, leaves claims of absolute innocence for the people affected by the attack somewhat difficult to accept. While it is certainly not widely believed by Europeans that they are guilty of any crime against native people in the Western hemisphere, anyone who has been victimized by European violence, even after several generations have passed, cannot help but see these events in a very different light than the one that influences the majority of the American population. To say that the European population of Manhattan got what it deserved, which some radical Muslims have in fact been saying, is as absurd as arguing that native Americans were treated appropriately by Europeans during the sixteenth and seventeenth Centuries, which some Europeans still insist is true today. Worse, as already suggested, many people of European descent in America today insist that no crime against native Americans has ever occurred in the Western hemisphere. Neither of these extreme positions is appropriate.
What might be worth saying is that a culture and a society that created itself out of the deliberate annihilation of another culture, one that occupies, and profits from, the land taken as a result of that absolute destruction, and one, furthermore, that continues to deny, or acknowledge, the fact that it did so, but claims instead a pure and thorough innocence for itself, should not be particularly surprised when a violence that intends to annihilate its very existence from the face of the earth strikes the first terrible blow, not against its innocence, because it has none, but instead against its inescapable predilection for committing acts of genocide against other people. When Islamic people claim that the Christian nation of European America intends to destroy their culture, their very right to exist as a people, that assertion has a certain ring of truth that can be easily supported by the evidence of its past behavior against native Americans, on the one hand, and against Islamic people over the long history of the violence and warfare that has raged in Europe itself since the beginning of the Middle Ages, on the other.
A significant problem white Americans have in comprehending this situation is their virtual ignorance of the history of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. When George W. Bush announced in a speech on September 12th, the day before he characterized the attack as the beginning of "the first war of the 21st Century," that the coming conflict "will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil" and that "good will prevail," he is simply repeating opinions and attitudes that have been expressed over the same issue for the last 1200 years. The most chilling reality here is that the same statements have been made with equal conviction by both sides against the other for as long as the conflict has existed. In other words, Muslims have characterized their Christian enemies as evil, themselves as good, since the 8th Century. At the same time, Christians have viewed Muslims as evil, themselves as good, in precisely the same terms for exactly the same length of time. During the Middle Ages, Christians mounted "holy wars," called Crusades, against the Muslims who had conquered the Holy Land years before. The tradition of attacking and annihilating civilian populations was also a primary aspect of crusading armies at the time. This conflict raged for centuries and ultimately evolved into a struggle that saw the Ottoman Empire of the Turks to overrun and conquer most of Eastern Europe. A decisive battle in the expansion of the Ottoman Empire occurred in 1396 at Nicopolis in what is now Bosnia. A unified Western European army was drawn into attacking a well-fortified Turkish force, heavily supported by archers, a tactic of medieval warfare first employed by victorious English forces against the French at Crecy and Portier earlier in the century, that resulted in the virtual annihilation of the European army at Nicopolis. Europe never challenged the Turkish empire again, which remained in place and in power until the 1920's, when it finally collapsed.
That part of my consciousness that remains European has responded to the World Trade Center attack in exactly the same way that everyone else has expressed. When I saw the commercial airliners crashing into the towers, and realized what had happened, sensing that the event might be, and probably was, an Islamic terrorist attack against the US, I was transformed from a dove to a hawk in an instant. While I have not been overly sympathetic to Islamic causes in the past, I have nevertheless recognized the fact that they have suffered a fair amount of prejudice and discrimination, even rising to the level of genocide (ethnic cleansing) in some places (Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.), at the hands of Christian, and other religious, bigots. There was something, however, about the nature of the attack, and probably not that it was conducted against America, that eliminated any care or concern I have harbored for Islamic people, at least for those people who have proven themselves capable of conducting terrorist assaults against civilian populations.
It is that aspect of the situation that has driven my change of attitude. In a war, especially one that is, and must be, conducted between adversaries that are so disproportionately matched, a few hundred terrorists against the US nuclear arsenal and all that supports it, traditional military targets, while difficult to attack, are still the only kinds that are acceptable. When the terrorists shifted that protocol and attacked purely civilian targets, using purely civilian weapons, they stepped across a line, they altered the rules of engagement, that are acceptable in the conduct of conflict. Such a massive assault against decency, in my mind, removed any and all sense of restraint in terms of how the US should respond to the threat posed by the perpetrators of the crime. What is clear today is that the US intends to pursue military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan, initially and at the very least, in an effort to capture or eliminate Osama bin Laden, who is now thought to be behind the attack. My first thought of strategy in how to go about achieving the desired result, was to tell the Taliban to deliver bin Laden to the Hague for trial. They should be given a few days to comply. If they fail to do so, in the prescribed time, and with prior warning, a nuclear strike should be launched against their largest population centers. Reducing Afghanistan to a radioactive wasteland is a terrible idea but, given more reasonable alternatives, conventional warfare, for instance, there may be little hope of achieving the goal, on the one hand, and at too great a cost, on the other. Using a nuclear weapon, even if only against a "stone-age" culture like the one in Afghanistan, will make it clear to other nations in the region, nations which have considerably more to lose, that the US government really does intend to eliminate terrorism and the nations which support it. Making an example of the Taliban, even a terribly vicious and cruel one, may be the only way available to defend the US against future attacks, to end the Islamic tradition of state-supported terrorism that has plagued the West for the last fifty years.
A final observation, and probably the most troubling aspect of this situation, and again one that radically differentiates it from anything that could happen in the context of a purely native American cultural circumstance, is that this conflict is nothing other than a religious war from beginning to end, from the inside out and from the outside in. This fact became quite obviously inescapable, as if anyone could doubt that reality in the first place, during the prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on September 14th. Apart from the fact that the service was wholly elitist, by invitation only, where virtually no "ordinary" citizen was even allowed to stand outside the cathedral of the people, a circumstance wholly inappropriate in a free society, in a democracy, especially in light of the fact that not a single member of the publicly grieving political elite will ever be called upon to fight President Bush's war against terrorism, except from a perfectly safe distance, of course and as usual, the service began with a hymn of praise to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and ended later on the higher note of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The assembled mourners were then dismissed with the admonition to "go forth from this place with Peace in your hearts." Exactly how the Prince of Peace can be characterized as a "Mighty Fortress" who is "stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored" is a question that has never raised much doubt about the role of hypocrisy or ill-logic in the "thought" processes of a militaristic Christian ideology. George W. Bush put it simply enough when he noted that the task ahead of the political elite was to "answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."
That is the essential key to understanding this complex of religious irrationality. The idea that the US army should be given the task of ridding the world of evil is nothing short of ludicrous. Warring against Satan is not a military objective. In the absence of the structural steel of binary opposition, furthermore, none of this "logic" could stand. Just because Christianity is the religion of peace and love does not also prevent it from becoming, even simultaneously, a religion of hate and revenge. The mechanism that allows transition from love/peace to hate/revenge involves the necessary demonization of the other. The term used to mask the hate and revenge meted out to the demons that confront Christianity and Christians is justice. When this or that entity is determined to be evil, monstrous, vicious, cruel, etc., it then becomes permissible to destroy its existence utterly and absolutely with whatever means are necessary and at hand. The annihilation of the other is always called justice. Unfortunately, Islam and Judaism also employ exactly this same logic in meting out justice to those who are perceived as offending their own perceptions of goodness. What is good to the Jew is evil to the Christian and Muslim. What is good to the Christian is evil to the Jew and the Muslim. What is good to the Muslim is evil to the Christian and the Jew. Since all three religions are now, and have always been, militaristic, war against evil, the one George W. Bush has committed us to pursue against Islam, is both open-ended and eternal. When he said that "others" began the war, but that it "will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing," he engaged us in an incredible national arrogance born of historical ignorance (which is always confused with innocence) that has already cast the collective future of white America into an bottomless pit of suffering and war, one that has already persisted for 5,000 years and will not end until every Jew, Christian, and Muslim, has disappeared beneath the face of the earth.
Welcome to the "first war of the 21st Century," one that will no doubt still be raging in 3001.
From a purely native American point-of-view, this insanity of the whiteman has nothing to do with us. We do resign ourselves, of course, to becoming "collateral damage" in this latest round of hate and viciousness, in this latest enactment of the endless cycle of violence and destruction these religions have always generated and embraced. Rest assured, however, we also fully intend to throw the last handful of dirt on the bones of each and everyone of the combatants in this new war of religious bigotry and annihilation.