02 May 2008

Pastor Wright and 9/11

Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has come under recent fire for speaking opinions many find offense. One of these quotes has particularly infuriated commentators around the county. It's about about 9/11, from a speech five days after the event on Sept. 16, 2001: "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."
I can see why, on one hand, people would be offended by this. Sept. 11 has always been a very personal event for my family, as we lost someone we loved in Tower 2. However, I think the moral hand wringing on what he's actually saying is perhaps overblown. It is, after all, one man's opinion. As much as the thought is difficult to accept, the United States has been involved in many other countries affairs since the end of World War II. Installing the Shah in Iran after a CIA backed coup in 1953 is one example. The Bay of Pigs Invasion is another. In short, we've been active on the world stage in one way or another since we've had the power to do so. It is simply what superpowers do; the Soviets did the same thing while they were able. In the process, we've created enemies - enemies who have long memories.
The events of 9/11 weren't the first attack on the United States by terrorists; they weren't even the first on U.S. soil. In February 1993, the World Trade Center was struck by a truck bomb, killing six and injuring hundreds. In 1996, the Khobar Towers apartment complex was bombed in Saudi Arabia, and more than 20 American servicemen and women were killed. In June 1998, two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Nairobi were bombed. In 2000, the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. Osama bin Laden was around before 9/11, but after that day, he was impossible to miss. My point is this: terrorism has been a gathering storm for years. It's not limited to America, either. Just ask the British about that.
I think Americans sometimes have a short memory when it comes to world affairs. It was easy for many people to think 9/11 was a random attack that had come out of nowhere. I've cried bitter tears over that day - and this column is in no was any sign of affirmation for those horrible attacks or the tremendous amount of pain they caused. However, it would be foolish to think that America hadn't made enemies after 50-plus years of activity on the world stage. It would also be foolish to think there aren't those who wouldn't hesitate to attack us if the opportunity arose. On 9/11, we were reminded that, despite our superpower status, we were vulnerable to those enemies.
The attacks in 1993 on the World Trade Center should have opened our eyes that the landmark was a target. Terrorists can be persistent enemies, and, having failed once, it was perhaps inevitable that another group would try again. It was simply too good a symbolic target to not strike. So, plan they did, and when the second time came, the attack succeeded. Only then did many people seem to grasp that we were indeed hated in some parts of the world. The fear was a reaction that seemed to pass over us in 1993, but in 2001, it changed everything. That sense of fear has ended up changing the world, and history will be the true judge of its outcome.
So, Wright's message may be inflammatory to people, but there is also a kernel of truth in it. That, more than anything else, might be a reason why people have responded so poorly to this particular statement of his.

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