I was sightseeing in the Scottish Highlands when news of the World Trade Center bombings broke. I'd visited the spot where Janet Horne, the last 'witch' in Scotland, was burned to death, and had just returned from Dunrobin Castle and its extraordinary eagle named Fig. Years before, Fig had been found abused and near death, the feathers on one of his wings shattered and ripped apart. It was only through attaching the feathers of other birds to Fig's shafts that he was now able to majestically soar with the rest, stronger and wiser than before. As a North American, I am wondering if our process of dealing with this horrific terrorist attack will follow Fig's example, or far worse, Janet Horne's.
Public/media reaction stateside has differed markedly from that abroad, which is significant given the cold realization that we may be collectively staring down the barrel of a global war. Discrepancies between the official U.S. intepretation of events and that of other countries can be summed up by two opinion pieces in The Herald (September 13), a major British newspaper. The first, "Inevitable Ring to the Unimaginable" by Australian journalist John Pilger, argues that "the US and its sidekicks, principally Britain, have exercised, flaunted, and abused their wealth and power" for so long they shouldn't be surprised if those they have victimized decide to fight back. Among many examples, he cites the 200,000 Iraqis killed during the Gulf War, and the million others who have since died in Iraq as a result of US/UK sanctions, and concludes that "Western terror is part of the recent history of imperialism."
This perspective is directly contradicted by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's "Response Must Destroy the Network that Shelters Terrorism." Kissinger writes that countries harboring terrorists "must pay an exorbitant price" (ironic given that the US trained and funded Bin Laden and at least a few of the hijackers) and calls the World Trade Center attacks "a threat to our social way of life and to our existence as a free society." Perhaps to the dismay of allies who evoked Article Five of the NATO charter --which stipulates that an attack on any member of the alliance is an attack on all, and which insists on consultation of members before unilateral action is taken -- Kissinger says "since our own security was threatened (the response) cannot be made dependent on consensus." (A second irony to this, of course, is the ongoing campaign to haul Kissinger himself into court for crimes against humanity.)
While headlines in the UK reflect those in the States, ("The Day Our World Wept" etc.), and pictures of the teary-eyed queen at a memorial service make the front pages, beneath the sympathy is an adamant insistence that even though a significant percentage of the World Trade Center victims were British, any response must be preceded by an honest assessment of the attack's root causes. "They Can't See Why They Are Hated" (The Guardian, September 13) notes that it is the "record of unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives Anti-Americanism among swaths of the world's population," and that this connection must be made "if such tragedies are not to be repeated." In the same edition, "Shoulder to Shoulder" questions Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for George Bush, noting that while Blair referred to the attacks as an assault "on the very notion of democracy," the terrorists "did not in fact target democracy; they targeted American power. There is a very important difference between the two."
Large demonstrations have taken place across London, focused on urging Tony Blair to pursue a peaceful solution to the crisis. Some protestors are worried about being dragged into an intractable war, and express concern that U.S. Air Force F-15 "Strike Eagles" have suddenly returned to Suffolk airbase, home to over 30 nuclear warheads. Others demand that the UK use any international clout it has to supercede an assault on dubious targets in Afghanistan or Iraq, before even more innocent lives are lost.
Which brings us back to Janet Horne, the last "witch" put to the stake in Scotland. It seems that back in 1722, the tiny Scottish town of Dornoch was looking for a scapegoat. Times were hard, people were restless and the Catholic church was eager to assert its authority. Janet Horne's two children had been born with minor birth defects, and even though both were by then healthy and productive adults, she was an easy target. Upon hearing about the charges against their mother, Horne's children fled town and never returned, but were unable to warn her beforehand. Janet Horne was charged with having turned her daughter into a pony and was burned at the stake.
The violence and carnage of the terrorist attacks in the States are sickening and indefensible. Which means we shouldn't turn around and do the same thing to someone else. While it's much easier to pick a quick scapegoat than to examine the painful roots of a problem, now is the time for the United States to reengage with the rest of the world - especially with those in countries its policies have harmed. It is time to reestablish support of international treaties regarding biological weapons, space wars and greenhouse gases, and time to pay UN dues. In the same way that Fig the blue eagle could only take flight with the support of other birds, justice for all will best be served by engaging diverse opinions, rather than the slaughter of more innocent victims.