These remarks were originally prepared just after the attacks on the WTC for a talk at the Wat Thai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles...
I've been asked to speak today about what's going to happen next. As a journalist, I interview many soldiers, politicians and economists about the causes and consequences of the "New World Order." But today I can only speak for myself. And I would like to make an offering here in the name of peace.
America has declared war. Supposedly, it's a new kind of war, even if the words sound very familiar. It could be a very dangerous war. For every terrorist we capture, will we create ten more? For every innocent civilian in the Middle East who gets in the way, will thousands convert from ambivalence to antagonism and be sympathetic or even supportive of future terrorism?
War brings out the best in people. Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst. Politicians and generals say that victory depends on winning the hearts and minds of citizens. They need citizens to narrow their focus and control their emotions so that anger is channeled and doubts are disregarded. That way, we demonize the enemy and trivialize the violence we commit in the name of justice. That way we don't ask questions, like "Why?"
So when we talk about winning wars by winning hearts and minds, we mean closed hearts and closed minds.
Terrorists succeeded in punishing American people for their alleged crime of being American (although there were victims from 92 countries). They succeeded in erasing symbols of American prosperity (and their own failure in 1993). They have hurt the U.S. and world economies in ways that will take years to recover (although wartime spending is pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy). But terrorists still haven't get everything they wanted. They haven't succeeded in destroying America's strength as a country or a culture.
They can't accomplish that unless we help them. If we become suspicious of neighbors because of how they look or how they pray, fear wins. If we withdraw from the world, fear wins. If we allow the world to be further divided by anger, hatred and ignorance, fear wins. In other words, if we act stupid and afraid because of closed minds and closed hearts, then we surrender to terror.
This new war is not just against a few terrorists. It's against fear itself. The only way we will win is if we regain the freedom to feel safe. I believe that makes this is a new kind of war that can only be won by open hearts and open minds.
By open hearts and open minds I mean that we need to be willing to ask questions. Could we have been better prepared if we had been willing to imagine what a terrorist thinks? The World Trade Center attack was so successful not because of a failure of intelligence, but a failure of imagination. If it was this easy to use an airplane we should have thought of it first and found a way to make it harder.
At the same time, what steps might we have taken if we had been willing to imagine how people around the world come to hate us so much that they kill our people—or just enough to dance in the streets when they see our people killed?
We must begin to inquire at the process that creates terrorists. President Bush says they did this because they hate our freedoms. Respectfully, I disagree. I think they hate us because—rightly or wrongly—they believe we took away their freedoms, whether those freedoms are political or economic or just the right to oppress each other. But how do people on the other side of the planet become so disenfranchised, dispossessed and de-socialized that innocent civilians become legitimate targets?
I think it happens long before they become terrorists. I think it happens when ordinary people aren't willing to open their hearts and minds or to have the courage to learn about ourselves and about others and to let others learn about us.
I was asked to think today about what's going to happen now. I think that depends on what you do next as Americans and as citizens of the world.