Done in the name of the fatherland

The U.S. response to the tragedies of Sept. 11 is turning from shock and anger into a fanaticism that leaves no room for rational critique and analysis.

Pat Leung
Guardian

Hate crimes across the nation are only a glimpse of the emotionality that threatens to plunge the country into blind vigilantism. Everyone knows of someone who has been threatened or harassed since the attacks — Guardian staffers, too, have suffered from the backlash — but few seem to realize that the spirit behind the harassment is perpetuated through other, more socially acceptable means.

Everywhere you go, you can see indications of the nation’s hatred for Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the attacks. While driving the other day, I saw a motorcyclist whose helmet read, “”Execute Osama.””

Such actions do not help us heal; they only perpetuate the “”eye for an eye”” attitude that has taken hold. Very little separates someone who sports a helmet with such a logo and someone who gets a tattoo showcasing a murdered, mutilated bin Laden — which, by the way, is offered at the Alien Arts Tattoo Shoppe in Savannah, Ga.

There is also little difference between those passive-aggressive actions and the Sept. 15 murder of a Sikh man in Arizona who was targeted because he was wearing a turban.

The recent plethora of American flags and patriotic merchandise also indicates that misapplied fervor may cost us more than we have bargained for. I have no qualms with patriotism because I believe that now, more than ever, Americans need to come together. Unfortunately, I suspect that the ways in which patriotic imagery has been employed only alienates people from one another; it unites one group at the expense of “”outsiders.””

Witness the efforts of those of Middle Eastern and Asian descent who have tried to partake in the ceremonies to mourn the dead, but who have felt branded with hateful stares, as though they did not belong at such ceremonies. In many people’s minds, unfortunately, there is a clear-cut distinction between “”us”” and “”them,”” and those on the losing side are those who are not of European descent.

The sad effect of the combined backlash and patriotic fervor, pundits fear, will be the loss of the very values that America claims to represent. When we join together in solidarity, we call on principles such as freedom and individualism to feel unified. Those people who perpetuate hate crimes in the wake of the September attacks invoke the same standards, but their actions obviously reek of anything but these sentiments.

What is more frightening is that when the anti-Middle Eastern backlash dies down, the American mindset likely will have changed, and not for the better. The events of September will continue to resonate for months and years to come. This emotionality is already unable to coexist with rational, objective thought concerning the attacks.

Though anti-war sentiment is growing in America, an overwhelming majority supports decisive and violent revenge upon the perpetrators of the attacks. A September New York Times/CBS poll discovered that 85 percent of those polled believe that the United States should take military action against those responsible for the attacks. A further 75 percent of that group of warhawks agreed that the United States should instigate military action even if many thousands of innocent civilians must be killed.

Those who object to violent retaliation risk being branded as disloyal and unpatriotic. In this way, the patriotic bond shows itself to be a double-edged sword.

Though patriotism has united millions across the country, it is clear that anybody who is perceived to step out of line will suffer the consequences. The United States lauds individualism and its upkeep at all costs, yet Americans run the risk of sacrificing that individualism on the altar of single-minded frenzy.

If the nation is to step from this ordeal with its cherished values intact, it must be willing to see that there are more sides to each story than it has so far been willing to admit. It must be willing to recognize that constructive dialogue about these events will mean attacking the things that breed comfort and laziness within us.

Americans must not shy from analyzing the media and its ability to string us along on propaganda. They must not be complacent when the news describes the attacks as “”the destruction of symbols of wealth and power.”” They must dare to question what, if anything, could be so wrong with such a statement by itself.

These things are a lot to ask, but without regaining its critical eye, our nation risks falling victim to the temptations offered by indolent complacency.

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