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The Blame Game
Nikki McArthur • When you win, you lose.
January 2002

“Why do they hate us so much?”  It was one of the first questions that crossed the minds of many students after September eleventh.  A faculty panel organized only a few days after the attacks and headed by Dean Brodhead sought to answer this question for the student body, citing a list of “root causes” for terrorism that included economic disparity, American policy toward Israel, and unwanted American intervention in Middle Eastern countries.

Unfortunately, this panel proved ultimately unsatisfying for Yalies because by seeking to place blame on America first, it avoided the real issue behind terrorism – the fundamentalist governments that sponsor it. The idea that terrorism is the product of injustice is an explanation of convenience for those who refuse to recognize that only the destruction of fundamentalist governments will free America from the threat of terrorism.  

According to Edward Rothstein, cultural critic at large for the New York Times, fundamentalism “involves a set of beliefs that lie beyond particular resentments.”  Fundamentalists not only believe in a set of unalterable laws, but also believe in a divine mandate to ensure that these laws are universally enforced.  Their goal is to bring everyone under the power of the authority to which they themselves subscribe.  They are not concerned about dying – they are living for eternity.  Nor are they concerned about territorial integrity – all land belongs to their cause.  Rothstein concludes that “the goals of fundamentalist terror are not to eliminate injustice but to eliminate opposition.”

Speakers in the “Democracy, Security and Justice: Perspectives on the American Future,” lecture and discussion series organized by professors John Gaddis and Cynthia Farrar were quick to pick up on this point.  Senator Gary Hart, who inaugurated the series, encouraged students to support Bush in his quest to “smoke them out and chase them down,” thereby increasing American power and prestige.  Middle East analyst Michael Rubin agrees, claiming that most of the Iranians, Afghans and Sudanese he has interviewed “cannot imagine why we think that they want to live under these regimes,” encouraging Americans to avoid embarking on a policy of appeasement.  Fareed Zakaria, managing editor for Newsweek International, made the strongest case, claiming that resentment of the United States in the Arab world is not a result of the spread of American culture but instead a result of US prosperity and of the American association with secular dictatorships in the Middle East.  

The overall consensus of the series thus far has been that America cannot afford to pander to the terrorists by drastically changing its foreign policy.  Not only would this weaken American prestige, but it would also grant victory to a movement whose goal is nothing less than the destruction of the American way of life.  Instead, America must destroy the fundamentalist governments and the terrorist networks that they support, be it through the use of sanctions or of military force.  Once this has been successfully achieved, then America will be free to deal with the issues of poverty and injustice that make it so easy for men like Osama bin Laden to convince a naïve boy that America is to blame for his problems.  Those who believe that it is possible to address these issues without addressing the problem of the governments behind them are suffering from hopeless idealism.  America may be the most powerful nation in the world, but it is still beyond its power to eliminate poverty and inhumanity in nations where these things are necessarily enforced by the government. 

Nikki McArthur is a freshman in Saybrook College.

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