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Struggle for the Soul of a Nation -- Please Forward

Published on Saturday, September 15, 2001
Struggle for the Soul of a Nation

A couple of articles I wrote recently, condemning the terrorist attacks in 
New York and Washington, DC, but also opposing the growing drive toward 
indiscriminate retaliation, have generated a flurry of responses.

Many are of the condescending “realistic” kind  -- you don’t understand, 
you have to be tough with bullies. The considerable majority agrees with me 
and expresses hope that peace will prevail.

The most disturbing by far are from self-identified “left-leaning” people 
calling for genocide. “I used to think like you before this happened. Now, 
I for one can't wait to see the Arabs get what they deserve - to be turned 
into charred, bloody corpses...If we can't find them we can just follow 
their smell or listen for the sounds of wife-beating.”

“I grew up as a hippie and anti-war protester during the 60's ... but this 
is different. The war in Vietnam was immoral and the USA should never have 
been involved ... but when you have butchers from Palestine, Afghanistan, 
Pakistan, Iran and Iraq attacking the United States, it is time to … 
obliterate the entire region then when the dust settles and ALL the 
murderous Muslims are dead, open the area up for immigration by all the 
homeless civilized people in the world.”

A bizarre reincarnation of Hitler’s plans for Slavic eastern Europe and Russia.

How could people who favored and worked for peace and social justice so 
dehumanize an entire people? If this is what the “left” is saying, what is 
the right saying?

Many have been disquieted by the footage of a few Palestinians, mostly 
children, laughing and dancing when they heard of America’s misfortune. 
Every time there is danger of people working through their anger and trying 
to think beyond it, one of the networks runs the clip again. Many are no 
doubt thinking in the back of their minds that Palestinians are subhuman.

Instead, they should reflect on the phenomenal outpouring of racist 
virulence we have seen in the past few days in our own country. The 
minuscule percentage of Palestinians who exulted at the tragedy is probably 
far smaller than the percentage of Americans who would call for massive 
terror bombing in the Arab world.

And that, of course, is what we mean by all this talk of going after those 
who “harbored” the terrorists -- note that the resolution passed by 
Congress authorizes the president to use any force he chooses against these 

What does this mean? By living in the same country as the people quoted 
above, am I harboring potential genocidists? Are all Americans harboring 
the war criminal Henry Kissinger, butcher of Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and 
East Timor? How fine a line is it between killing people based on their 
geographic proximity to terrorists and killing them because of the color of 
their skin or their ethnic background?

Exterminism is the besetting vice of our country. Most know of the 
incredibly thorough genocide of the native population, with up to 98% of 
the original population lost. Far fewer know that a Gallup poll in 1944 
found 13% of Americans calling for the annihilation of every single 
Japanese person after the war was over. To see this crop up again after all 
the progress we had made in eliminating extreme forms of racism is 
disheartening and frightening.

It is becoming clear that the emerging struggle in the public sphere is not 
only about our foreign policy, about whether we will abandon military 
aggression and domination in order to work for the security that can only 
come from peace. It is also about how we will define ourselves as a 
society, both internally and externally. It is a struggle for the soul of 

People opposing massive “retaliation” and calling for international 
cooperation and the use of legal channels to fight terrorism, and calling 
also for our country to rethink its foreign policy, are being called 
un-American. We are not.

Instead, we are holding out our own vision of America. It is the America of 
those who spontaneously organized to defend their brothers and sisters of 
Middle Eastern descent against racist violence here. It is the America of 
those who can see past their pain and grief to understand the pain and 
grief of others around the world, who can disentangle the few who committed 
this act from the 1 billion people of the Islamic world who only want peace 
with justice.

We counterpose it to the America of hatred and genocide, to the vision 
being put forth of a militarized garrison state fighting an unending “war 
on terrorism” that constantly creates more enemies, blights and destroy 
more lives, and endangers all of us on the planet.

As Senator Carl Schurz said long ago, “My country, right or wrong. When 
right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be put right.”

Rahul Mahajan is a member of the Nowar Collective 
( He serves on the National Board of Peace Action 
( and the Coordinating Committee of the National 
Network to End the War Against Iraq ( (Identification 
only). He can be reached at

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