Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2001 / 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
painful to think about
The memorial services, at least most of them, are over; the concerts in praise of the strength of America have been held. The inspirational words have been spoken.
Now comes the dailiness of the war -- now comes the long haul.
The president has told us: This will be very difficult.
And one of the difficult aspects will be the questions we must ask ourselves. We have an obligation, as a country, to look ourselves in the eye, and to give ourselves the most direct and honest answers we can summon.
Perhaps the first question -- because its implications are so painful -- should be this one:
If our elected officials, beginning with the president, tell us that any nation that harbors terrorists within its borders is an enemy of ours, and will face the consequences. ...
If our elected officials tell us that, then is one of those nations -- one of the nations that harbors terrorists -- the United States itself?
This is a question asked with the utmost respect -- but it should be asked. It points out the enormity of what we have undertaken with this war.
Going just by the facts as they have been publicly presented to us by our government, the question is worthy of consideration.
Harboring terrorists? We have been told that the 19 hijackers whose crimes led to the death and anguish on Sept. 11 were living among us, some of them for years, planning and waiting for the right moment. They apparently found safe harbor within our borders, right up until the morning they struck us.
Harboring terrorists? The U.S. Department of Justice has said that more than 800 people nationwide have been detained for questioning in the investigation of the terror inflicted upon our country. Law-enforcement officials did not have to travel to other nations to find those 800-plus; they were picked up right here.
You may be saying: This does not really count as harboring terrorists. The 19 hijackers who killed the thousands of Americans, the 800 people questioned about the terrorism ... even if it were to turn out that some of them are culpable, they are not in the U.S. with our government's approval of any alleged terrorist plans. We are not harboring them intentionally; this is not what it means to harbor terrorists.
Are you certain?
With very few exceptions, other nations -- nations we condemn for allowing terrorists to live and plot within their borders -- would give you that very same answer: that they do not condone terrorists on their soil, that they have no knowledge that anyone living in their country has terrorist ties, that whatever a person may be doing or thinking or planning related to terrorism, it is not with the government's approval. These governments tell us: We regret it if terrorists are working here, but if they are, they are doing it without our knowledge or our endorsement.
The United States often looks upon such statements with skepticism, if not disdain, when they come from governments we don't like. Our national question toward those foreign governments is: How can you possibly tell us that you don't know the terrorists are operating with impunity in your country?
But if we ask that question of ourselves ... if we ask ourselves how we possibly could not know that terrorists are carrying out their work within our borders. ...
And it goes beyond the people suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. All you need to do is look at the case of Timothy McVeigh. Our national policy, we are told, is to consider any country that allows terrorists to operate freely as an enemy of everything we stand for. McVeigh, with his U.S. military background; the 19 men from Sept. 11, living here, shopping here, using public-library computers here. ...
Does our government in any way condone what these men did? Of course not. Would our government have stopped them, if someone had known? Of course. Of course.
But as the difficult part of the war commences, with it comes the difficult questions. We
say we will go after any country that continues to provide safe harbor for terrorists. Yet
we will make a mistake if our newly vigilant gaze is directly only