Patriotism in this time of war.

by Tom Cordaro, Pax Christi USA National Council Chairperson

In Pax Christi USA’s statement, "Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness," released on September 26th we stated:

"Our unspeakable grief and pain has, like a woman in labor, also given birth to a new sense of unity and has given the nation an opportunity to show its true character. We have witness countless acts of heroic self-sacrifice, love and compassion for those caught up in this tragedy. A new kind of American hero has been forged in the sweat and blood of countless fire fighters, police officers, emergency workers and doctors, who gave all they had, including their lives, for the sake of others. And in those instances when the ugly face of racism showed itself, countless numbers of people of faith stood in the breach and offered protection for our Arab neighbors. In many respects this has been our finest hour. The challenge, as we move forward to develop a national response to these horrible events, is to remain true to the best of who we are as people of faith and as Americans. Fear is understandable. What we do with our fears will truly test our faith and character." One of the things that I have been telling my brothers and sisters in the peace movement is that we must not surrender the flag to the militarists. We must insist that our response to terrorism is both true to our faith and true to the best of the American character.

What we need to understand is that the real target in this struggle are the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. This is not a war of weapons or counter-terrorism strategies, it is a struggle over competing visions for the future of the world. In this struggle our strongest weapons will be our ideals and values: our belief in the dignity and worth of every human life; our conviction that nations are strong when they respect the rights of all; and our determination to pursue what is right in ways that are just. These defining characteristics of national identity are anathema to these terrorists. This is precisely what their terrorism seeks to destroy.

Our most powerful weapons are the core values of what it means to be an American and a person of faith. At our best, we reject the principle of collective punishment that was used with such ruthlessness by the Nazis and by so many other oppressors throughout history. We are called to make distinctions between those who commit crimes and those who happen to share their belief, religion or national origin. At our best, we also abhor the notion of guilt by association, which brought us the scourge of McCarthyism in the 1950s. We are called to move beyond dangerously simplistic judgments that assume that those who do not share our views are our enemies. We recognize the folly of the logic of the Viet Nam War that dictated the need to destroy a village in order to save it. We are called to protect the innocent and not allow our desire for justice to become a fire of vengeance.

A patriotic response to terrorism built on the best of what it means to be an American and a person of faith includes the following principles:

1. AMERICAN PATRIOTS ARE COMMITTED TO THE RULE OF LAW: We are a nation of laws and we are a religious community that champions the establishment of international law, conventions and treaties. These are the strengths that must be brought to this struggle. We should insist that our government bring those responsible for planning and assisting in these crimes before a duly constituted international tribunal. Through patient and persistent international diplomacy we should call for the political and economic isolation of any country that does not cooperate with these aims; taking care to protect the innocent from harm. At the same time the U.S. must be willing to place itself under the rule of international law. We cannot have one set of rules for the U.S. and another for the rest of the world. Until the disenfranchised and powerless of this world have the means and ability to stand as equals with the most powerful before an international court to seek redress and justice, terrorism will continue.

2. AMERICAN PATRIOTS ARE COMMITTED TO DEMOCRACY & HUMAN RIGHTS OVER CORPORATE PROFITS. Beyond bringing the terrorist to an international bar of justice we need to recommit ourselves to promoting democracy and human rights around the world. These bedrocks of our civic and religious values hold that every person has a right to participate in their government’s political process and deserves to have their human rights protected by their government. Unfortunately, many of the world’s poorest people—especially in the Arab World --see the United States government as obstacles to democracy and human rights. They cannot understand how we can condemn ethnic cleansing in Europe and bankroll it in the Palestine. They cannot understand how we can call ourselves the leaders of the free world while propping up dictatorships in the Middle East. They believe our foreign policy is designed to maximize corporate profits, not democracy and human rights. Unless all the people of the world can enjoy the fruits of democracy, terrorism will become the tool of the politically disenfranchised. Terrorism will end when we give democracy and human rights primacy over corporate profits

3. AMERICAN PATRIOTS ARE COMMITTED TO THE COMMON GOOD. Part of the American ethos is that government should work for the common good of everyone, not just the rich and powerful. Our faith and our American tradition, in fact, have always called us to take special care for those who are the least among us. To overcome terrorism we need to put this ethos at the heart of our foreign policy. Terrorism will end when we create the economic mechanism that will insure that the wealth and resources of this world are distributed in a way that all people can live in dignity. Making the global economic system work to meet the basic needs of those with little or no money must become a global priority. As long as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, terrorism will be the choice of the disenfranchised.

4. AMERICAN PATRIOTS ARE COMMITTED TO PROTECTING CULTURAL DIVERISTY. Another hallmark of American life and our faith traditions is our tolerance of those from different cultures. At our best, we understand that in a nation as diverse as ours, tolerance and respect go hand and hand with peace and unity. Terrorism will end when all cultures are respected and our dominant White Western Culture is not forced upon indigenous peoples. Through the process of economic, political, social and cultural globalization led by the West, other cultures face huge pressures to become like us, adopting our social, cultural, economic and political systems. When President Bush claims that the attack against the U.S. was an attack against civilization itself, he shows disrespect towards all the other civilizations on this planet. His remarks are an illustration of a U.S. foreign policy that sees other cultures as primitive, defective and/or irrelevant. This is one of the main complaints that the Arab-Islamic world has against the U.S.—not just terrorist like bin Ladin, but Arabs of all walks of life. They see our culture and way of life as decadent and feel their own culture and religious values are under attack. As long as we continue to act in ways that destroy and disrespect other peoples culture, and hence their identity, there will always be terrorism.

We have a choice to make. We can embrace the best of who we are as people of faith and as Americans in addressing the root causes of terrorism, or we can repeat the mistakes of the last century of death and destruction. As people of many faiths but one God, we need to be sure that our anger does not cloud our reason and that our desire to be patriotic does not cause us to abandon the principles of our faith. We should not have to choose between the two.

There will be those who will try to tell us that criticizing our national policies in time of crisis is unpatriotic. But, as William Fulbright, the former Senator from Arkansas reminds us, "Criticism is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism—a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar ritual of national adulation. All of us have the responsibility to act upon the higher patriotism which is to love our country less for what it is than for what we would like it to be."