Prevent Terrorism by Staying Away

Originally published Dec 30, 2001

Enough. This is enough madness. If the future is filled with latex and decontaminates and Anthrax, I say enough — no more. Let’s get back to normal, by any means necessary.

But how? With The Red Death knocking at our door, canáwe ever haveá”normal” again? Maybe. The U.S. will have to restrain its collective lust for revenge after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and walk the narrowest of paths. To do what? Nothing less than give the terrorists what they want.

They want to die, and America should oblige if they conspire to attack us. I’m talking about something else they want, something a lot of Muslims want: the U.S.ágone fromáthe Middle East. Good idea. Uproot bin Laden and his network and get out, so fewer weeds pop up on American soil for the next wave of attacks. Prevent the attacks altogether — for good.

How long has the U.S. been fighting Iraq? Come on, we all know where this war is leading and how long it is going to take, and how different the world — America in particular — is going to be afterwards — assuming an after. Whether American involvement around the world is right or wrong, justified or not, is not relevant now. We’ve got an entirely new set of questions to ask ourselves as a culture to prevent a horrible future vision from becoming reality.

The overriding issue is that America is reaping heavier and heavier consequences for its interventions around the world. And the future is pointing toward still heavier consequences: more terror, more security, more brutality and insecurity. A police state in America. Possibly. Or something worse.

Unless America wants terrorism to become a fact of everyday life — like in many other places around the world — we have to try a different approach, something radical, even earthshaking: mind its own business. Why does the U.S. military have to be so spread around the world? What good is it doing — or better yet, what harm? Why invite trouble when we’ve already got enough at home?

By pulling back we aren’t turning the other cheek or giving in; rather reordering our priorities. Besides, turning the other cheek doesn’t always mean non-retaliation. It used to mean I’ve got two cheeks and the other is going to be a lot harder to hit. But a fight is sometimes won by avoiding it, said the famous Chinese war tactician, Sun-tzu, and America can avoid more terror by giving the enemy less of a target, less reason, less motivation. We don’t bother you, you don’t bother us.

Take care of bin Laden and other terrorists who threaten American soil, then get out. Get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Balkans. Turn our sites inward and think more within our own borders. Get this so-called war over with and get back home, to normal, to a place where the violence was relatively predictable.

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It’s sometimes difficult for Americans to understand why anyone would hate us so badly to die striking at us collectively, but there are reasons that stretch way back. Arabs in particular have long memories, and the story of their last thousand years is popularly seen by them as the fall of a great, cultured, peaceful empire to stinky, violent, greedy, ignorantáEuropean Crusaders. Arab subjugation is complete with their freedom from colonial rule at the price of dependency on the West for oil money and foreign aid. What they want — what might prevent their extremists from lashing out — is to rule their own land without outside intervention, and they deserve the chance. Let them fight their own battles and make their own peace. They don’t need America for either.

Instead, let the U.S. help achieve peace through the U.N. Security Council, flexing other muscles than military to create security. This is a tremendous opportunity to fundamentally change America’s relationship with the world. If we’re cunningálike Sun-tzu and other wise warriors, we can make this war — what President Bush says is the “first” war of the new century — the last war we invite to our soil. Otherwise, prepare for a scary future of Anthrax cultures and security sweeps, rubber gloves and mail scares, suicide bombings and antibiotic runs, news alerts and gas masks….

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