Physicians' Perspective - Tolerance with Wisdom - Not Anger with Revenge by Dr. Rick Bayer
The attacks of September 11, 2001 represent a crime against humanity and the perpetrators must be held accountable. But American patriots must not let civil liberties, the right to dissent, and equal protection under the law become casualties.
Recently, the Bush administration has been granted sweeping new powers of surveillance, wiretapping, infiltration of political groups at home, and assassinations abroad. But before we sacrifice liberty for seductive promises of security, we must review our history. Recall how the FBI harassed people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and tried to undermine the civil rights and antiwar movements in the ‘60s. Recall how the CIA has cooperated with some of the most egregious violators of human rights and helped to thwart the will of citizens in countries like Chile, Guatemala, and Iran.
Must confronting terrorism mean more violence and loss of innocent civilian lives? This only inflames the cycle of violence in which innocent citizens of many nations continue to be cannon fodder in geopolitical and fundamentalist religious conflicts. It is time to examine some underlying causes.
One cause is that many of us fail to see ourselves as citizens of one planet with one ecosystem. The world has become too small for the “nation-state” concept and nationalism makes us more susceptible to government-sponsored propaganda and “war fever”. Religious fundamentalism make us less tolerant of those who are different. Christian fundamentalist, Reverend Falwell, blamed the terrorist attacks on “the pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians. . .and the ACLU”, while Islamic fundamentalists see the 9/11 attacks as a continuation of the 1000 years old process to remove infidels from the Holy Land that started with the crusades.
The reasons that some in other countries hate American policies—not necessarily Americans—are many. They include arrogance regarding treaties (including the recent rejection of global warming and anti-biological weapons treaties while pursing national missile defense that threatens the anti-ballistic missile treaty). The US leads the world in weapons sales. US companies keep anti-AIDS/HIV drugs too expensive and thus inflict a death sentence on 25 million sub-Saharan Africans. The US plotted to kill or encouraged assassinations of at least eight foreign leaders in the last half-century. The devastation of the civilian population of Viet Nam is well documented. The illegal diversion of American taxpayer’s money to finance, train, and arm the Contras in Nicaragua contributed to thousands of civilian deaths and senseless destruction. Such worldwide examples are legion.
The US is viewed as having innocent blood on its hands throughout the Muslim world. Currently, US policy continues to support an embargo on Iraq that does little to contain Saddam Hussein but instead destroys the Iraqi people. We do little to aid the Palestinian people to live in prosperity and peace but arm Israel with sophisticated weapons and overlook inflammatory actions by Prime Minister Sharon. And after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, our CIA funded, trained, and armed Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets. Once the Soviets were defeated, the USA didn’t help build that nation but instead walked away, leaving Afghanistan burning in war and one of the poorest countries in the world.
We are all citizens of the United States, but equally, we are citizens of one planet with one ecosystem. These loyalties are conjoined. Therefore responsible patriots must insist upon US policies that respect human beings everywhere. We must demand justice through international diplomatic cooperation and law enforcement rather than indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians. We then must continue to do the hard work of being an informed citizenry, which includes looking beyond the military and religious propaganda that seeks to create “either/or” solutions. As surely as all Americans are neither good nor evil, the same is true of Afghans. Moreover, the same can be said of religions, languages, and color of our skin everywhere.
All of us share feelings of grief and outrage over the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and a desire that murderers be brought to justice. At times of crisis though, the most patriotic acts are often the unyielding defense of civil liberties, the right to vigorous debate, and equal protection under the law for all. To sacrifice the Bill of Rights for “security” is unwise. Long-term solutions mandate that we pursue tolerance and act wisely rather than seek revenge.
Rick Bayer, MD is a board certified internal medicine physician who lives in Portland, OR. Check websites of Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org), Portland Peaceful Response Coalition (www.portland911.tripod.com), and American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org).