Meditations on Jingoism, Jihad and Dunkin' Donuts
       by Christian Livemore

Bear with me, folks.  This one’s going to be a little rag-tag.  My
thoughts are pretty scattered these days, and I’m writing this as much
to figure out where I stand on things as to let you know about it.

I went to the Dunkin’ Donuts in my hometown the other day.  I’ve been
spending a lot of time out of New York City these days, partly because
until September 11th I worked on Wall Street and lost my job as a
result of the World Trade Center attacks and consequently have a lot of
free time on my hands, and partly because New York is not a very nice
place to be right now, what with the eerie lack of people on the streets
and the unsettling odor wafting over from Ground Zero and the five
helicopters that circled my neighborhood for two hours on Saturday
afternoon for some reason that was not reported on the news that night.
We even had a little earthquake a week ago that shook the brownstone I
live in and woke me from a sound sleep, but with everything that’s been
going on, it was only page 27 news.

So anyway while I was waiting for the woman to make the two iced
coffees I’d ordered for my mother and me, the mailman came in and
deposited a packet of letters on the counter.

All the employees of Dunkin’ Donuts dropped what they were doing and
approached the letters.  They formed a cautious semi-circle around the
packet on the counter and stared at it as if it were a bomb to be disarmed.
After a few moments of this, one of them turned to another:
“Go ahead, open it.”  The other girl responded, “I’m not going to open it.
You open it.”  For a moment, I expected one of them to say, “Let’s get Mikey.”
And another to respond, “He won’t open it.  He hates everything.”

Finally, the oldest woman, the one who had been making my iced coffee,
who seemed to be in charge, drew eight or nine papers from the box of
papers they use to pick up the donuts, and wrapped them around her hand.
Thus shielded, she took the mail from the counter and deposited it in the garbage.

It made me think of the little ways our lives have also changed since
the big event changed them so dramatically.

My baby sister Charity has added a tag line to the bottom of her e-mails
that reads, “Osama bin Laden is a stupid dot-head.”  I wrote back to explain
that if she wanted to get her ethnic slurs right, bin Laden was not actually
a dot-head, but rather a towel-head.  However, I went on to explain, it was
not acceptable to call him either of those things.  I wound up in a three-hour
phone conversation with her, explaining the difference between Indians and
Arabs, Pakistanis and Afghanis, and how most Muslims are good and
peaceful people and do not want to kill us.

Up until now, Charity’s biggest problem had been that her ex-boyfriend
sits behind her in study hall and lobs spitballs at the back of her head.

The attacks have affected us all in different ways.  One of the things that
disturbs me most, though, is the increased marginalization of peoples’
opinions and their unwillingness to admit that any others have merit.
Friendships are being destroyed over it.  Some of us are waving flags madly,
and if some others of us are not, we are condemned for being unpatriotic,
rather than because we maybe just find all the flag-waving a little jingoistic.

Which I think finally brings me to my point.

We are a good people, Americans. We are a generous people, a kind people.
But let’s be honest:  we are not a thoughtful people.  We do not by and large
read the newspapers fully and try to understand the issues of the day, unless
they relate to our pocket books.  We do not as a general rule investigate the
issues at stake in a campaign.  We do not keep up on Dingle-Norwood and
the latest Senate Appropriations bills.

We go to work, we come home, we maybe watch a few minutes of the local
nightly news to see if the city council voted funds for our kids’ new park.
Then we switch over to Will and Grace or the WWF or, if we’re really
cultured, All Hitler All the Time on the History Channel.  We take our kids
on vacation to Six Flags over New Jersey and we vote for the draft-dodging
C-student for President because he’d be more fun to have at a kegger.

I’m not saying these are bad things to do with our time (except for that last one),
but let’s face it, they are not thoughtful things.

Perhaps this is because our aggressive attitude and can-do spirit have
not been tempered by war on our own soil, not in the last 140 years or
so, anyway.  It is one thing, tragic and affecting though it is, to read in the
morning paper  the names of casualties of an obscure war in some small
far-away country.  These dead soldiers, though they are mourned, expected
that they might die, and so did we.  It is something else again to kiss your
husband or your wife goodbye in the morning, then hear on the radio in
your car on the way to work that their office building has been toppled
by an airplane hijacked by terrorists, or that your next-door neighbor
has contracted anthrax in your local post office, where he works.

Most Americans garner much of their knowledge of world geography based
on the countries with which we have fought wars.  Many people never even
heard of Vietnam until we sent troops there.  The same is true for Somalia and
Bosnia and Iraq and a dozen other places.  A woman I used to work with
thought we kicked England’s ass in World War II, and another thought that
we fought France during the Korean War.  As Dave Barry likes to say,
I am not making this up.

I wish we could have remained in ignorance if it would mean the sparing
of the 5,000 lives that have been lost.  But since that is not possible,
it seems to me that what we do with our grief will show what kind of
people we are.  You judge a person not by how they treat their friends,
but by how they treat their enemies.

I am not a dove, but neither am I a hawk.

The doves seem to believe we brought this on ourselves through our
wrong-headed foreign policies and arming of one unstable government
against another unstable government with which we have a problem at
that time.  While we have done some terrible things in our history,
nothing justifies what these terrorists have done. Yes, we were
disgusting in our treatment of the Indians and we were slaveholders and
slavetraders, and we still have poverty and racism and racial profiling.
But we also established the first democratic government in the world
and made unheard-of freedoms our birthrights and ultimately abolished
slavery and have since made great strides in civil rights, and we helped
to liberate the Jews in World War II, and we donate millions of dollars
every year in humanitarian aid to countries around the world.

And just for the record, all you folks who are griping about the ugly
Americans including peanut butter in the food drops over Afghanistan?
Instead of condemning us for being ignorant and anglocentric, perhaps
you should consider the possibility that we’re dropping peanut butter
because it is a good source of non-perishable protein.

So let’s not mail in our membership dues to the America Sucks society
just yet, shall we?

The hawks are screaming for Muslim blood and saying we should carpet
bomb Baghdad and Riyahd and Kandahar and every other Arab capital we
can think of until Osama bin Laden is surrendered to us.  But if we do that,
how long will it be before we become terrorists ourselves?

Many doves believe that if our policy toward the Palestinians were different,
Osama bin Laden would pull up his tent stakes and open a taco stand
somewhere.  There are several reasons that this is a flawed argument.

First, for the last eight years, the Palestinians have had no better friend than
Bill Clinton.  He worked tirelessly to see that they got as fair a deal in the
peace negotiations as possible.  And yet still bin Laden blew up our
embassy in Kenya, killed our troops in Somalia, and drove a speedboat
into the hull of the U.S.S. Cole.  Second, the Arab nations have been
stamping their feet over the plight of the Palestinians for years, but it seems
to me largely just another excuse for bashing Israel.  Think about it:
excepting Jordan, can you name another Arab nation that has even
admitted Palestinian refugees into its country?  I can’t.

The only difference between serial killers and terrorists is that terrorists
try to create a reason to justify killing innocent people.  Bin Laden’s reason
du jour is the Palestinians.  If Israel and the Palestinians sign a peace accord
tomorrow, bin Laden will just have to find another reason.

There are things that both sides must understand.

What the doves must understand is that we cannot “dialogue” with Al Quaida.

These people are religious extremists, and they hate us.  They are trying to
annihilate us.  Our very existence sickens them.  This is not World War II,
or the War Between the States, or even Vietnam, all of which were about
territory or power or national sovereignty.  This is war the way it used to
be fought in the time of the Crusades.  This is holy war.  This is "My God
can beat up your God."  We cannot sit down at a table of negotiated
shape and iron out our differences.

What the hawks must understand is that we cannot win a war against
Muslim extremists, not a war in the way we think of it.  The greatest thing
these people can do is die for Allah.  Consider the following quotes from a
recent article in Salon regarding Afghani nationals in Saudia Arabia retrieving
their passports so they can return to Afghanistan and fight America:

"We were born in war and we will die in one. We are ready for jihad,"
or holy war, declared Dawood Nazer, one of the waiting men.
"I would love to die as a martyr and I have already informed my
family of my intentions," said Akhtar Mohammed, 18, of Kabul.
"They were very proud of me," he added.

"Let America come. We will be ready for them," said Deedar Khan, 37.
"We are born warriors, and we will die as martyrs."

And there is one thing that all sides must remember.

It was marginalized thinking of a hawkish nature that caused us to give
Iraq weapons to fight Iran, and when they kicked Iran's ass, they turned
our own weapons against us.  We gave the Afghan rebels weapons to
fight the Soviets, and those weapons have made their way into the hands
of Al-Quaida.

And it was marginalized thinking of a dovish nature that caused Neville
Chamberlain to pursue his policy of appeasement with Hitler after he invaded
Poland and Czechoslovakia that allowed Hitler to gain enough strength to
fight World War II and cause the deaths of many more people than if
Chamberlain had taken a strong posture and said, “Stop right there, Adolph.”

In two months, we have gone from being a country who delights in watching
Britney Spears shake her ass on television to a country afraid to open its mail.
We have gone from being a world of relative peace to a world poised at the
brink of World War III.  My hope is that we can find some middle ground.

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