20 January 2006

Beyond Terror

For the past few months --- the past few years, actually --- Americans have been debating one issue a vast majority of the time: The War on Terror. Understandably so, given the nature and level of the threat and the ambiguity of the enemy or enemies. Discussions of military strategy, tactics and deployment have raged. The expansion of executive power and the erosion of civil liberties in the face of the WoT have been hot topics. Isolationism and unitlateralism have been both touted and derided in public debate. These are the pre-eminent issues of our day, and they probably ought be. There is a threat and it's imperative that we all work together to achieve the best solution possible. (Whether or not that's happening is a different matter altogether.)

Issues like Medicare, Social Securtiy and, currently, lobbying reform, bubble up for momentary debate, before some solution --- often any solution --- is offered. Supreme Court Justices are nominated and, it seems likely, confirmed without too much public outcry, or interest. These issues, however, the ones that dominate coverage for a week or so and then fade deep into the Terror fog that clouds and overwhelms all other debate, are not the only unsolved debates in our nation.

Indeed, there are myriad problems afflicting our nation at the moment: from failing schools to rising unemployment, from illegal immigration to outsourcing, from the rising gap in wage disparity to volatile housing markets. There are people out there for whom there is no greater or more pressing issue than the War on Terror, and there are those who find these and many other problems as the great obstable of our time. The Bush Administration, with the assistance of media and the Democratic opposition, have turned the US into a one trick pony: all terror, all the time.

This does not imply that "fighting terrorism" should not be an important goal of the US, nor that we have proposed or implemented the most effective means of combatting terror and should move on. The implication is, simply, that in devoting all of our attention to the WoT, we have lost sight of the problems we are inflicting on ourselves and on our brothers and sisters. Fighting wars to save a country from an amorphous boogeyman of religious fundamentalism may look and sound like patriotism --- and it very well may be --- but it is no more patriotic --- and perhaps less --- than saving our fellow citizens from poverty, disease, domestic and criminal violence and the slow death of hopelessness. Many of our citizens have the right to question the sincerity of our commitment to them. We have neglected our health to save our lives.

Sunday marked the anniversay of the birth of an American who understood that our nation's vitality is directly connected what its citizens believe they can potentially accomplish. Our nation was, in the face of a grave military threat, founded on the belief that all people deserved the opportunity to live with liberty in pursuit of their happiness. We have neglected so many of our citizens for so long that many have no hope of happiness, without the ability to so much as recognize what an image of happiness might be. In constantly defending ourselves from enemies from outside our borders, we have forgotten about a greater and more ambiguous enemy that comes from within.

There is despair in America, in the hearts and minds of those who have been forgotten by our government and its citizens: those who live in a state of constant violence, both physical and emotional. They have no share in our decision-making process, no part in our negotiations and debate. They have been silenced and marginalized, tossed to the side and left to be dealt with at a later date. With every day that passes in despair and hopelessness, it becomes more difficult to imagine that such a date will ever come.

I can't say for certain what policy solutions are best, though I certainly have my ideas. What I can say for certain is that we aren't going to find any solutions by pretending there isn't any problem, or that those problems are unimportant. We have let terrorism and the threat of violence against us dominate for too long. Neglect is a form of violence, and it is not a threat but a way of life for many among us. We must being to talk with one another about the prevalence of this neglect. We must acknowledge its existence and work toward overcoming it. Only with future action will we reduce present suffering. The project that began with Thomas Jefferson's proclamation nearly 230 years ago did not end on that day, nor did it end in 1865, 1919, 1963 or 2001. We have come far as a nation in those intervening years; we have made great progress in ensuring the full humanity of our citizens and instilling hope in our people. But the American experiment remains incomplete. Our progress is halted so long as we allow our national discourse to be controlled by human enemies abroad rather than social ills at home.

On 25 February 1967, Martin Luther King spoke these words:
Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession. When it is not our security that is at stake, but questionable and vague commitments to reactionary regimes, values disintegrate into foolish and adolescent slogans.
We must remember that our country is founded on certain principles, unqualified principles of equality and liberty, and we must act to save them and expand them to include every one of our brothers and sisters before we can say that our work is done. We have a long, difficult road to travel, but it is our duty --- as Americans and as members of humanity --- to ensure that this work is done. We have neglected this work, and our own people, for too long.

It is important that we defend ourselves and our way of life from physical violence, but we must not let ourselves remain blinded to the fact that there are other problems in America today, and that those problems will not be solved by war or neglect. They will be resolved by the persistent voices and righteous action of those who will not accept suffering and despair anywhere. It is time to get back to work.

cross-posted at Street Prophets

UPDATE: In the course of comments over at Street Prophets, where everyone has been just as kind and accepting as I had expected --- moreso even, Elizabeth D makes a great point:
A diary yesterday made a point that Americans are drowning in irrelevence, distraction, and trivial pleasures. It's hard to focus on the things that really matter. The "War on Terror" screams at us because it is vividly frightening, but poverty and social injustice whisper. We don't hear, and we aren't moved to respond, unless we listen actively. But this is the duty of everyone with a conscience, to live with eyes open, to live with a sensitivity to the greatest need, to live with active compassion.
I think she's right on here, certainly when we consider the blustery voices in the media, who do nothing but spread and enflame fear. But I felt compelled to respond to the whispers: I simply wonder whether it's actually a whisper or if someone is muffling the cries.


Blogger Friedrich Hobbes said...

Kurt sez... 'Liberal'

20 January, 2006 15:47  

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