Last night at Times Square in New York City, an amateur car bomb failed to detonate. A street vendor had noticed suspicous activity and smoke coming from a parked vehicle, and called police. The investigating officer called a bomb disposal unit, which discovered canisters of propane, cans of gasoline, fireworks and clocks with batteries. The bomb was successfully disarmed, and an immediate search for the suspect was launched by NYPD, the FBI, and US Homeland Security.
At the time of this writing, nothing is known about the would-be bomber or his/her motives. Already there is a blogstorm of speculation, calling for everything from restraint, to deportation of all non-citizens, to nuking suspected muslim terrorist strongholds.
So far I have not seen any mention of the possibility that this might be an act of domestic terrorism, similar to the Oklahoma City bombing, perpetrated by US citizens. This glaring omission is consistent with our culture's rampant xenophobia, as reflected in the recent "Show Me Your ID" law passed in Arizona. There is another word for xenophobia in our case -- racism. For a penetrating look into the slimy (and paranoid) Republican politics behind this law, check out this report.
Whether of domestic or foreign origin, terrorism is intolerable. What I find puzzling is the surprise and outrage expressed by flag-waving, militant "patriots" -- who seem to have no clue why so many in the world are sick and tired of American imperialism and war-mongering. As a thought experiment, let's turn the situation around. If another powerful country decided to invade US soil, whether to sieze control of a natural resource (as we did with oil), or to spread their idea of an ideal system of government (as we did with a rather twisted notion of democracy), or to spread their idea of an ideal system of economics (as we did with an even more twisted version of capitalism) -- would not US citizens rise up in revolt? Would they not attack the invaders at every opportunity, even carrying the war to the invader's home soil?
So why on earth should we pretend astonishment or shock when, after decades of mostly-Republican-sponsored intrusion and hegemony, other nations take exception? Athough the most powerful nation on earth militarily, we can no longer claim to be a beacon of morality, or even a beacon of freedom. Until the election of Barack Obama, every President since FDR (with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter) has espoused American supremacy, American manifest destiny, American superiority in all things material or philosophical. Of these leaders, the most egregious have been Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush -- all Republicans.
Is it mere coincidence that anti-American sentiment has been most vocal, sometimes most violent, during and immediately following the tenure of these men? Think about it. We invade Iraq, and in doing so create more opposition to the US, and by the way, many more terrorists. The subsequent 9-11 attacks were horrifying and tragic, but they were not only no surprise, they were preventable. The second Bush administration had the intelligence, had the resources, but failed to act. Rather, Bush and his cronies conspicuously hustled out of the country the very Saudi Arabian families who had financed the 9-11 attack. Black ops at their most insidious, with the added bonus (from the Bush perspective) of providing a pretext for an invasion of Afghanistan and a second Iraq invasion, creating yet more terrorists.
It is only the confluence of luck and geography that has prevented a subsequent attack on the US by Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. We remain vulnerable, however. Face it, no fences, no barbed wire, no racist laws are going to prevent any determined terrorist from entering this country. Our seaports are porous, with hundreds of thousands of cargo containers arriving and departing daily. Our land borders are equally porous. We might be able to make a small (and unjustifiable) dent in the influx of migrant workers from Mexico, but there are not enough human or technological resources in the country to prevent trained and determined terrorists from entering. The same holds true for our airports. Airport "security" in this country is a joke.
Besides, does this land of the free, home of the brave really want to descend into a siege mentality, hiding behind walls and guns?
A far more realistic and effective response would be to re-evaluate our assumptions about our place in the world. If we could learn to treat other nations and cultures with respect and tolerance, welcoming their views and lending assistance (with the participation of other developed countries) in education, food production, housing, water, transportation and other infrastructure, without imposing our economic, religious or political values upon their perfectly legitimate traditions, we would take the wind out of the sails of our detractors. Think Peace Corps, think any of a dozen United Nations relief efforts.
We are one nation in a world of equal nations. The sooner we start acting like it, the sooner we regain the respect and support of the rest of the globe. We had that respect and support immediately after World War II and after 9-11, and blew it immediately by turning into global bulllies. Who likes a bully? Yes, we must respond swiftly and decisively when attacked. And yes, we also prevent such attacks by adopting a more tolerant and humanitarian stance in international relations.
I'm just sayin'.