Terrorism - No Public Discourse on Terror

Terrorism - No Public Discourse on Terror

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No Public Discourse on Terror


Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said the following in casting the lone vote against giving President Bush full congressional approval for carrying out his War on Terrorism as he sees fit:


I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter. . . . However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let us step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control. . . .



I have agonized over this vote, but I came to grips with it today and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful yet very beautiful memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."


I agree. But what is striking to me as a linguist is the use of negatives in the statement: "not prevent," "restraint" (inherently negative), "not spiral out of control," "not become the evil that we deplore.'' Friends are circulating a petition calling for "Justice without vengeance." "Without" has another implicit negative. It is not that these negative statements are wrong. But what is needed is a positive form of discourse.


There is one.


The central concept is that of "responsibility," which is at the heart of progressive/liberal morality (See Moral Politics). Progressive/liberal morality begins with empathy, the ability to understand others and feel what they feel. That is presupposed in responsibility-responsibility for oneself, for protection, for the care of those who need care, and for the community. Those were the values that we saw at work among the rescue workers in New York right after the attack.


Responsibility requires competence and effectiveness. If you are to deal responsibly with terrorism, you must deal effectively with all its causes: religious, social, and enabling causes.

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The enabling causes must be dealt with effectively. Bombing innocent civilians and harming them by destroying their country's domestic infrastructure will be counterproductive-as well as immoral. Responsibility requires care in the place of blundering, overwhelming force.


Massive bombing would be irresponsible. Failure to address the religious and social causes would be irresponsible. The responsible response begins with joint international action to address all three: the social and political conditions, and the religious worldview, and the means with all due care.
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