On What's at Stake Between the Tribesman and the Financier
by Albert Schorsch, III
Baseball and football are now back, along with the FX’s Buffy and Fox's Dark Angel, and so are the left-right American culture wars. If one were to listen only eight days after 9/11 to the talk on several stations including National Public Radio, or to read online discussions, you'd think that New York recently just had a bad accident, which we could solve this week by political one-upmanship. Irrelevant rhetoric is amazingly durable.
So now denial of the horror begins to set in: not just the horror of New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, and not just the horror of the quality of life in certain sectors of the East and Middle East, but denial of the horrible danger to human civilization itself that this present conflict poses.
When the terrorists have amassed nuclear or similar weapons, they will certainly use them on New York or DC. One such weapon could be scrambled among the thousands of transport containers that enter the country every day and lay stacked around expressways. A hundred or a thousand times more than the Twin Towers may then be permanently subtracted. Pakistan does have nuclear weapons--one real prize sought by the terrorists--and is most in danger of being destabilized by the present conflict. How this conflict can be resolved without capsizing Pakistan and forfeiting these weapons to terror or destroying them of necessity is a matter for prayer, dread, and prudence. Any number of scenarios might lead to a terrible conflagration. Analysis that does not pragmatically confront this immediate threat of mass destruction is mere identity maintenance.
The end of the Cold War unleashed the smoldering thirteen-century-old enmity between the apocryphal theism of the Eastern sansculotte, which executes those who apostatize, and the conflicted spiritual-material nihilism of the West, which both apostatizes and executes. Globalization put the arid tribesman directly in touch with the urban financier, and matter/anti-matter collided.
Happily, many leaders and followers of the great world religions are on speaking terms, offering some hope for a longer-term future. Global businesses and universities, where people from a multitude of backgrounds work and learn together, stand as key links of human coherence. These very links terrorize the terrorists, and make them obsessed to destroy not only what World Trade Center represents, but all that world trade and exchange are. The "robber barons" of the West put their money into universities. Sadly, the present barons of the East to a similar extent did not, with the East and the world remaining poorer and a good deal more the dangerous for it.
If the Taliban do not meet the demands laid out by President Bush on 9/20/01, Afghanistan will unfortunately see an “overwhelming force.” The fact that Alexander, the British, and the Soviets were frustrated in Afghanistan will offer very small comfort, because these experiences have taught the US to exponentially multiply the force to be expended well beyond the maximum. The extremist myth is based on the fiction that people fight because they have nothing to lose, when in fact they still have some tool with which to fight. Since Sherman, the American martial myth has answered: people stop fighting when they have absolutely nothing at all.
For what may be the first time in American history, President Bush has resounded a very ancient theme on 9/20/01, one implemented by Constantine, by Charlemagne, and by Suleiman the Magnificent. The US is leading the world to use the state power to reduce a theological heresy, this time in Islam.
If anything remains in Afghanistan after the impending devastation, one other key link might remain to bind the tribesman and the financier, and that is the language of the bargain. The present Afghan leadership did, in their own way, try to speak it to us. The US and its allies should, before we activate the engines of destruction, find out what, if any reasonable thing, the host states want for ending terrorism and for turning over its leaders to justice. They may by way of common sense thoroughly understand this approach. The cost of bargaining may be much lighter for all, if coupled with civil engagement with the US and its allies, than the long human ruin which we will otherwise surely face.
Most states, when given the choice--"You can have your terrorists, or you can have your airports; but you can't have them both"--would tend to pick the airport, especially if the choice is offered with the promise of genuine friendship. But then again, a few insane do want an apocalypse in any case.
One should think twice about handing a madman exactly what he wants just when he wants it. Our civilization's great endangerment confronts us with limited options due to its immanence and scope. President Bush's words, "the time and date of our choosing," give us one clue how to confront and reshape the madness.
The prospect of war is utterly terrible. All peaceful means should be exhausted before beginning it. The threat to civilization itself posed by terrorist networks, however, is much more grave, immediate, and resistant to gentle persuasion than we care to admit.
If prolonged war breaks out, it will result in a policy surprise. The necessity of sustaining the conflict through cooperation with the Muslim allies, who will be much more critical for the long-term success of the effort than most others, will lead to the US recognizing a Palestinian state earlier rather than later. The US will "play the Palestine card." This ethical rationalization of the US position in the eyes of the Muslim states is an essential component in the eradication of terror. A Palestinian state, joined with a responsible community of nations, is also a pragmatic step against the growth of terror.
All text previous Copyright, 2001, Albert Schorsch, III.
All Rights Reserved