We should have seen
Issue #73 • January/February, 2002
The first question you should ask about your enemy is why he is your enemy in the first place.
—Joseph Sobran, writing about Sept. 11th just hours after it happened.
In 1961 I went to college fresh from a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. Up to that time the only foreigners I’d ever met were my family’s relatives from Portugal and my stepfather’s Italian relatives. But they don’t count because by the time I was born they were all naturalized citizens and not foreigners anymore. In high school I’d also met some Puerto Rican migrant workers with whom I picked apples when I worked at Apple Hill Farm. But they weren’t foreigners either because as the song says, “Nobody knows in America, Puerto Rico’s in America.”
The first real foreigners I met were some Middle Eastern students when I was a freshman in college. They came from a place I’d never heard of before. Just a few months earlier, in June of 1961, their country had acheived its independence from the same country we’d won our independence from—Britain. We did it with guns. Theirs was peaceful.
I’d been invited into a dorm room to participate in a political discussion. The Kuwatis were nice, well-dressed, and congenial. They weren’t poor, disenfranchised camel drivers. They came from well-to-do families rich from oil revenues. The converastion, when I got there, was why they didn’t like Americans. The one who spoke the most made it very clear: he didn’t hate Jews, he hated Iraelis; he didn’t hate us, but he hated the American government. He and his friends hated us because we were over there and because we were meddling in their affairs.
They said Europeans and Americans had moved in there and taken the best land and had moved the Arabs at gunpoint into camps where they were now refugees. I didn’t believe it for a minute. I knew our country would never stand for that. He likened what we had allowed happen to the Palestineans to what we did to the Indians. We took the Indians land and expected them to do nothing about it. Of course, from the time Europeans first set foot in the New World, there were four centuries of Indian wars. I felt uncomfortable when he pointed this out, but I didn’t give in. I continued to argue with them. This was 40 years ago.
Over the past few weeks we keep hearing the question, why? why? why? did they do it? The official line is that they did it because they hate our freedoms and our democracy. Mortimer Zuckerman, Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report, refers to “…the so-called root causes of terrorism, alleged to be poverty and despair.” This, despite the fact that many of the hijackers came from middle class or wealthy families—and even Osama bin Laden is himself a multimillionaire.
But, while we’re trying to figure out why they did it, is anyone listening to what they’re saying? They keep telling us why again and again. But no matter how many times they say it, we keep trying to guess what their real reasons were.
Here’s what they have been saying since at least 1961 when I started college: They did it because we support Israel, because we meddle in their affairs, and because we’re over there. (It may have been Ken Burn’s series on the Civil War where I heard this, but a Yankee soldier is reputed to have asked of a Rebel soldier, “You don’t own any slaves, so why are you fighting?” The rebel’s reply: “Because you’re down here.” Sound familiar?)
Even our friends are trying to tell us why they did it. But when they do, we rebuke them. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tried to give $10 million to New York, but because he indicated that part of the reason the terrorists attacked us was because of our policies toward the Palestinians and suggested we change them, Mayor Giuliani of New York City turned the gift down saying, “I entirely reject that statement. There is no moral equivalent for this [terrorist] act. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people.”
Of course, the prince wasn’t justifying the act. As a friend, who is willing to help out, he was telling us the reasons the terrorists did it. But for saying something we don’t want to hear, we figuratively slapped him in the face.
There is not one politician in this country who is publically willing to entertain the notion that the act was retribution for our foreign policy (though I wonder what they say privately). In fact, any suggestion the attacks came about as a response to U.S. policy is met with immediate censure that borders on censorship. It’s unpatriotic to suggest that perhaps the United States government helped bring this on. But the rest of the world knows this is true.
If you don’t like what I’m saying, let me ask one more question: Why did we bomb the Taliban? Is it because they harbored the terrorists and we’re after the terrorists themselves? If you said yes, fine. But that’s not the reason according to Moslems around the world who are now rioting in protest against the United States. They have a different story.
Just as we insist on maintaining that September 11th was the result of the terrorists hating freedom and democracy, or because they’re poor and in despair—even as they’re telling us why they did it—according to Moslem mobs around the world September 11th has nothing to do with our retaliation. They’re saying we’re bombing Afghanistan because we hate Moslems.
Does that kind of denial sound familiar? It should.