Reaction to 9/11 may be mixed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2002

For whatever value the plethora of 9/11/01 rehearsals has, I judge it far more important to reflect on what we have learned by 9/11/02. I recapitulate now what I wrote here in fourteen columns of over 10,000 words following the attack, most in the following four months. The sum, I now think, is this. In the year since 9/11 we have stumbled between the extremes of impetuous reaction and indulgent inaction.

Watching television that day, I said to myself: I am not seeing this; this is not happening. I went about all day thinking that any moment I would wake up and recognize I had been having a very bad dream that mocked our planning when I worked in the Pentagon.

What we did not need to plan, nonetheless, was the dedication and sacrifice exercise by military and civilian officials and private individuals in both New York and Washington this day. We may not have planned effectively, but the characteristic American spirit -- which some had wondered if dead -- blossomed. It is this spirit that will pull us through this unspeakable tragedy.

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Traditional, centuries-proved military tactics had always assumed any enemy would be rational and reasonable and, therefore, relatively predictable, and we had not yet learned how to cope with terrorists who are anything but this.

Terrorism is not the consequence of an attack, but the direct and intended result in a state of terror beyond itself, and defense requires a wholesome mental attitude and calm emotional response. Yet, I warned of exploiting this misfortune for self-serving agendas and focus on the immediate task of recovery and protection.

Our mission has not been to react vengefully to the terrorist attacks, but to respond to the challenge posed by terrorism. Political correctness, however, has not only softened America into vulnerability to terrorist attack, it continues a major hindrance in finding a solution.

Inasmuch as this attack was by Muslims who claimed to act in the name of their religion, I needed to comment on Islam. It can be presumed few American Muslims accept hatred of &uot;infidels&uot; or a literal jihad (holy war), yet the Koran does call for such and it is taken literally by millions of Muslims who do act upon it. Although all Muslims cannot be held accountable for the terrorism of some Muslims, most Muslims are burdened by some level of responsibility for ending not only terrorism against non-Muslims worldwide but persecution of non-Muslims within Islamic lands. Radical Muslims hate us because, in their ignorance of the facts, they bitterly resent what they perceive as American affluence and power denied to them, in reality, by their own affluent and powerful elite.

People have asked why God should allow such destruction. But it is illogical for people to blame God for our own self-destructive decisions.

With an awful lot of hubris, Near Eastern Muslims continue to condemn other religions that attempt to practice their faith within Islamic countries. Any religion has a right to object to unfair pressure on its adherents by another religion, but every religion has the right to give a fair presentation of its own beliefs and welcome individuals to join them. They have objected to the Christian use of "crusade." Rather than being unreasonable about &uot;crusade,&uot; let’s put the term in the same historical context as Islamic &uot;jihad&uot; and then reach a contemporary perspective on zealousness balanced with tolerance.

This year-long thinking has shown me two extremes. One is virtually to abolish civil rights and pursue war as the immediate reaction. The other, at least as dangerous, is to assume blame upon ourselves, excuse the terrorists, and sink into irresponsible inaction. Let's find the critical balance.

Dr. Wallace Alcorn’s commentaries appear in the Herald on Mondays