Security and Peace in a Post-9/11 World

Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, and other similarly militant organizations and individuals will never stop “terrorizing” until the far more wealthy, powerful, and better-armed leaders of nation-states stop sending their military and espionage forces to invade, occupy, assassinate, murder, war against, oppress, exploit, direct, victimize, and otherwise “terrorize” them. Terrorists are those who have given up on dialogue, diplomacy, and compromise, and have instead resorted to war and other kinds of violence to achieve their political goals. People who courageously stand beside their homes, defending them from invading outsiders who would threaten their way of life, are not terrorists.


We are too quick to believe what we read and hear about so-called madmen and lunatics. Powerful demagogues and fear-mongers in every land misquote, marginalize, and demonize—and make a lot of war-profits—by convincing people to hate and fear various international leaders, whether they be George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Nasrallah, Moqtada al-Sadr, or Ahmadinejad.


On this small, fragile planet, our only hope for safety and peace is for each of us to independently investigate such charges for ourselves, and to then elect and support only those visionary local, national, and world leaders whose lives, words, and actions, like Gandhi’s and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, have been consistently peaceful, and whose international reputations reflect their devotion to compassion, empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Only such leaders can unify all the world’s peoples, lifting them away from war and other forms of violence by fundamentally changing hearts and minds.


In this heavily-armed world, only one enemy presses for world domination, ceaselessly striving to throw every nation into never-ending inhumane war. That enemy is neither terrorist nor fanatic nor extremist, neither Muslim nor Jew nor Christian, neither Fascism nor Nazism nor Communism nor globalization.


The common enemy of mankind, the one ever urging us all toward overreaction and war and torture and every other kind of terror, is fear in all its forms: fear of change, fear of failure, fear of disgrace, fear of the unknown and unfamiliar and different, fear of want, loss, and death, fear of despair, fear of the past and future, fear of abandonment, of guilt and blame, of losing control, of being helpless and hurt, fear of being wrong….


And what is fear’s remedy? Love, in all its forms: caring, ideas, faith, hope, trust, dialogue, cooperation, generosity, cultural exchange, understanding, knowledge, kindness, negotiation, compromise, diplomacy, peace….


Instead of “allies” and “enemies,” we could choose to see all people everywhere, our own selves included, as alternately falling from one moment to another into either one of two interchangeable camps–people currently offering (us) help, and people currently needing (our) help.


No one can completely avoid suffering some injustice in this post-9/11 world; however, we need not add to its sum.


Patriotism and nationalism will not work so long as people continue to see “others” of different nations, beliefs and cultures as less valuable, less important, and somehow separate from “us.” Nationalism will fail if it stands in opposition to the highest universal human value–support and respect for the quality of human life everywhere–because the only rule which works in human relations, both personal and global, is the Golden Rule: Treat all others as we would want all others to treat us.


Until, one-by-one, we each courageously stand up in perfect love to cast out fear, until we proudly support the unselfish values which unite us all—the democratic ideals proclaiming the equality of all men and the inalienable right of all people everywhere to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—we will all continue to be vulnerable to a relentless battery of twenty-first century storms.


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Welcome to America's Future, Senator Allen, and More Power to It

Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen's recent racist remarks reminded me of my own childhood racism against immigrants. Unlike him, I have seen the future of immigration in America, and it is good.


My military family moved to San Antonio during the late 1950’s, my middle school years. We had moved eight times before, years I spent in overseas post schools with middle-class multiracial/multiethnic classmates. Transferring now to a San Antonio “off-post” public school, I was surprised to be thrown in among many desperately poor Hispanics, and shocked to see their harsh treatment by my Anglo classmates.


Although some teachers treated all students respectfully, the consensus about “Meskins” among the Anglos in my school was that they were dirty, poor, immoral, violent, sneaky, and “too stupid” to speak English. The filter of racism soon blurred my own eyes, too, to the differences among these children, and eventually I clumped them all, even the occasional middle-class and native-English speaking exceptions, into a single rejected race.


Through whispered conversations, I “found out” what my schoolmates “knew”—that all these kids were children of “illegals” who had snuck across “the river” and were no doubt now sneaking around in bushes and backrooms doing filthy jobs our parents wouldn't dream of doing, living in hovels, probably stealing and breaking other laws too. We exchanged warnings about their poor side of town: “Don’t go near the San Antonio River unless you want to get knifed by a 'Mex'!” My wealthiest friends even bragged about “'owning' a ‘wet’ (‘wetback’) or two” hidden away on distant ranches in shacks stocked with sacks of beans, left to chop cedar at pennies a day.


Gradually I conformed, and viewed immigrants with suspicion and disgust. Sometimes we sneered at them, occasionally fought them, but mostly we ignored them. How quickly I went from feeling righteously indignant about their mistreatment, to apathy, to feeling more “in the know” and “appropriate” about how to feel and act—that is, prejudicially.


Needless to say, I knew nothing about racism, or about how hard it is to get ahead when you’re poor, or about the immense barriers of linguistic disadvantage, or the challenges of a new life in a different culture, especially an illegal life. I saw without seeing only the glaring commonalities of poverty, for indeed, many of my Hispanic classmates were dirty, their clothes were smelly, and their poor English made them seem ignorant.


I’m especially saddened to recall how kind many of the Hispanic children were to me at first, how attractive and fun they seemed to this lonely new girl. Too quickly, I came to “know better,” pulling away from them, frightened by the stronger social prohibitions against socializing with “Mexes.” I'm sure my cruel transformation and confused withdrawal hurt many feelings.


Fast-forward now to forty years later, to the recent year I returned to San Antonio to care for my dying father. To my astonishment, I found a completely changed San Antonio, a bright working city ornamented by a proud Hispanic cultural heritage. During that difficult year of family losses, every one of my childhood prejudices were firmly replaced with admiration and deep gratitude for the long line of outstanding care-giving and service professionals who helped me—nearly all native-English speaking, educated, middle and upper-class Hispanics.


From that ragtag bunch of schoolmates of yesteryear, no doubt largely parented by penniless, uneducated laborers who braved their way across the border, came this impressive line of smiling, capable, courteous, faith-driven professionals. Where “Meskins” were previously relegated only to San Antonio’s lowest social classes, now they were the home-care aides who tenderly washed and fed my father, the capable nurses who treated him, the orderlies who gently attended him in hospital, the dedicated doctors who set his broken hip, the hospice workers who comforted us, the owners of the funeral home, and the directors who helped us plan his funeral.


Hispanics now ably run much of the city, blending in with the Anglo minority attractively and patriotically. As I hurried through busy days, helpful Hispanic faces sold me groceries and hardware, delivered our packages, repaired our dishwasher, patrolled our streets, and repaired our phone. My father’s accountant was Hispanic, as was his attorney.


I recalled then my youthful astonishment when I overheard talk about nationally respected local “Meskins” such as Henry B. Gonzalez and Henry Cisneros, who later transformed the city for Hemisfair, refurbishing the San Antonio River Walk to become one of the world’s safest and most colorful international tourist attractions. I couldn't imagine then how these apparently benevolent leaders could possibly be drawn from the same racial pool I had learned to exclude from my personal repertoire of “nice people.” Or perhaps, even, “human beings?”


The San Antonio of today is a multicultural treat, largely run by courteous, ambitious Hispanics. Every Hispanic I met during that painful year was a genial, earnest, hard-working, well-intentioned person demonstrating solid values.


Welcome to the America of the future, Sen. Allen, and more power to it.


Immigrants break no laws they ever had a chance to democratically vote on. Immigrants are doing exactly what every one of us would do for ourselves and for our families, were we faced with an impossible present and future…and were we as daring and persistent as they.


Only the United States spends billions to guard its borders from terrorists (although quite a few nations are presently scrambling to arm themselves against American invasions.) No expensive walls are being built to keep terrorists out of Canada, China, Norway, or Sweden, although each of these countries has a similarly long, porous border. Unlike the U.S.A., however, they have friendly, cooperative foreign policies—i.e., fewer enemies.


When we elect leaders committed to creating fewer deadly enemies with hurtful trade and foreign policies, when we generously embrace the world’s problems as our own, then we will spend far less money on war and security, and have more to spend on a better life for ourselves and the immigrants we need to help make this country great again. Hopefully, some day soon, many more of these adventurers will claim for themselves that same bright prize our audacious American forebearers claimed throughout our history, that grandest lottery ticket gamble of all, the chance to win U.S. citizenship.



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America’s Oldest Enemy Batters the Flag

A sudden thunderstorm caught me as I walked in my neighborhood recently, some weeks after Independence Day. In the calm following the wind and rain, I found myself ducking in and out of yard after yard to indignantly prop up and replant all the little made-in-China plastic flags which had blown over into undignified little crash-sites. I felt a deep sadness at the thought that my country relies upon such a thin, flag-waving kind of patriotism to keep it safe and prosperous in such stormy times. Shallow nationalism can never protect us from the coming tumults of the twenty-first century, because nationalism too often puts short-term national greed and safety above the very reasonable right of all peoples everywhere, ourselves included, to live life in peace, and to build within our own cultural traditions and with the generous and peaceful support of others, ever more justice, freedom, and opportunity.


America recently has had a difficult time getting its arms around that oh-so-important concept of a universally agreed-upon, despisable national “enemy.” “Terrorists” and “terrorism” worked for a while, at least so long as people could conceive of unprovoked armies of irrational suicidal Islamic extremist nutcases eager to kill innocents for world domination. Thanks to our still-free press and internet, we are finally learning that what Islam wants most is to be left to live and conduct their own affairs in peace. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese, even members of Hamas and Hezbollah, are not the maniacal fanatics we were once convinced were so envious of our freedoms that they continually plotted to invade America, to randomly kill, destroy, steal our resources, and ravage our way of life.


Unfortunately, too many Muslims believe that this is exactly what American leadership is about.


Because by flag-waving and fear-mongering, by arguing specialized expertise and inside knowledge, by offering leaky rationales about why America should aggressively “protect” not only our own country but others’ as well, narrow-minded and unrepresentative American leaders sometimes do indeed seem bent upon terrorizing everyone everywhere—Americans included.


Who gains from this insanity? A handful of wealthy political insiders and war profiteers who pocket the billions in war money our citizenry pours out—along with our children’s blood—tax money which should have been spent on worthwhile causes at home and abroad, and which is instead buying more fear, and its progeny—anger, vengeance, guilt, cruelty, misery, hatred. Soon, even more of our hard-earned money will be required to restore good will and rebuild destruction, money which will once again fill the coffers of rich opportunists.


A tragic result of American expansionism is a generation of angry, fearful, vengeful, polarized American citizens who have swallowed a steady diet of Limbaughesque propaganda justifying endless wars and goading a steady supply of soldiers. I recently heard a caller assert on C-Span that “America has the right to kill every man, woman and child in Lebanon because….” Whatever nonsense followed the word “because,” I shudder to think any human could place his faith in a theory which morally or legally justifies wiping out a whole country. And yet, to many Americans, “Nuke ‘em!” is the final solution to all our political problems.


We live in the richest, best-armed, most powerful nation the world has ever known, and yet we have become convinced that we should be the most frightened and the most belligerent.


Wiser leaders would work to create a peaceful, helpful, cooperative foreign policy and educational system (beginning by passing the excellent legislation establishing a cabinet-level Department of Peace—(see .) We could sustain a patient, accepting American citizenry skilled in peace-making in both their personal and political lives, rather than continually advocate for the morality of threatening and killing as a solution for political challenges. As Islamic nations do, we should condemn all wars except those against invaders who violently attempt to invade and conquer our homelands.


Many Christians hope their faith will spread around the world (and many proselytize to spread it); just so do many Muslims hope their faith will eventually prevail globally. No one knows what the future holds, and only time will tell. So far, though, no Muslims (unless you count allies the West selects, empowers, and backs, like Saddam Hussein) violently invade and occupy others’ countries, nor commandeer others’ valuable resources, nor force changes in others’ institutions at the point of a gun.


In this heavily-armed world, as in all previous worlds, only one enemy has ever pressed for world domination, only one enemy strives ceaselessly to throw every nation into never-ending inhumane wars. That enemy is neither terrorist, nor fanatic, nor extremist, neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, neither Fascism, nor Nazism, nor Communism, nor globalization.


The common enemy of mankind, the one ever urging us toward war and torture and every other kind of terror, is fear—in all its forms—fear of change, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown and unfamiliar and different, fear of want, fear of death and loss, fear of despair, fear of the past, fear of abandonment, fear of guilt and blame, fear of losing control, fear of being helpless and hurt, fear of being wrong….


This universal enemy of all mankind—this eternal enemy of Islam and the West alike—will always be fear itself (one name for what many traditional religions call “the devil.”) And what is fear’s remedy? Love, in all its forms—diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, ideas, faith, hope, trust, cooperation, cultural exchange, understanding, love, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, peace….


The very concept of the word, “enemy,” is itself a fear-based mistake. Instead of “allies” and “enemies,” we could choose—both personally and nationally—to see all people everywhere, ourselves included, as variously falling intermittently into either of two very similar camps—people currently offering help, and people who currently need help.


Human beings everywhere quite reasonably wish to preserve what they see as their good old ways, to expand their influence and power, and insure their future security. Yet patriotism/nationalism cannot work, on this small, interconnected, fragile planet, so long as people see “others” of different nations as less valuable, less important, and somehow separate from “us.” Patriotism/nationalism can only fail whenever it stands in opposition to the highest universal human value—support and respect for the quality of human life everywhere. The only rule which works in human relations—both personal and international—is the Golden Rule, treating all others as we would want all others to treat us.


Until Americans stand up together in perfect love to courageously cast out fear, until we proudly support the unselfish ideals which unite us all as Americans—the values proclaiming the equality of all men and the inalienable right of all people everywhere to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—America will continue to be vulnerable to a relentless battery of fearful twenty-first century storms.




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