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From the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 11)

Asking the Bitter Question

John Kamau, Daily Nation (independent), Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 18, 2001.

There was a picture on CNN of a person stranded between the smoldering top floors of New York City’s World Trade Center, waving a white cloth. Then it happened. The floors came tumbling down.

In the movie Independence Day, Manhattan is actually flattened by extraterrestrials. In a new Steven Spielberg movie called AI: Artificial Intelligence, the twin towers are brought down by floods. But the CNN picture is real—brought live to our offices and homes. Our humanity has been touched, and fear stalks us like never before.

“If it can happen to America, nobody is safe” is the common sentiment. How true!

So far, all those who preach peace seem to have disappeared. Perhaps they are hiding in a corner like those souls in the ill-fated planes who were pushed to the back and forced to make their last calls.

If you consume the Western media, the emerging view is that the United States must retaliate and that it must be given full support. This question is never asked: If the innocent are our concern, won’t retaliation add to the toll of innocent lives?

And retaliation is not at all necessary. Suppose Americans find out that the people who carried out the atrocities were their own Timothy McVeighs? Would they retaliate on the whole population of Florida or Kansas City, Missouri?

Fingers have started pointing at specific countries that are traditional U.S. enemies—Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. We must all remember that millions of innocent people live in these countries and did not choose to be born there or to take part in planning to attack the Big Apple.

What’s more, no war, whatever our feelings, will silence the terrorists’ resolve to strike once more. The United States must get its foreign policy act together and stop living in the ivory tower of politics, where it listens only to itself or its blue-chip equals. Time has come for it to sit down with its traditional archrivals and settle for peace.

The United States must promote goodwill and democracy all over the world. Time and again, since the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has asked the developed nations to invest in peace rather than waste money on military might.

We may have dogs that can sniff out narcotics and bombs at airports, but who ever thought that a kitchen knife was capable of a holocaust? We may have missiles that are very smart and nuclear weapons that can silence the world, but in the underworld of terrorism, nonconventional weapons can change the way we define the term security.

Flying, too, will never be deemed safe, for we are back to the 1970s, when skyjacking reached new heights. And even after we have taken enough measures to seem to guarantee safety, nobody will ever feel safe sitting in an office unless we inscribe the word peace into our humanhood.

Terrorist attacks, either by states or by fundamentalists, must be stopped. And it is the civil world that can show the way by preaching peace. The attack this time is not like the Pearl Harbor incident in which the United States was attacked, for on that occasion it knew its attackers. It knew where to strike back.

This time the attackers are not well-defined and are scattered all over. No bomb can silence them without sacrificing thousands of innocent lives.

Since the Nairobi bomb attack in August 1998, Kenyans have learned that mistakes can be made. Washington bombed and killed innocent people at a drug factory in the Sudan and today admits that it acted in error.

After the dust has settled, we would like to see a New World Order.

The skyscrapers of Manhattan did symbolize political and financial power. But, as one American newspaper said, “The carefree days are over.” Today the New York megaliths are no longer the symbolic declaration of American size, might, and reach. From their ruins we need to build a world that preaches equality of nations—even at the United Nations level—and just existence.

If the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor changed the world order, the deeper wounds left by last Tuesday’s attack must make Americans think about their future relations with the world. The usual housekeeping remedies will not work. Not even bombing Afghanistan to ostensibly punish Osama bin Laden will. It could even goad many other groups into staging another show of terror.

We should not underestimate terrorists’ resoluteness or mental capabilities. It is not money, military might, a well-funded Pentagon, or the CIA that will save America. Only thoughtfulness and respect for humanity will. The nation must come down and talk to all of us—poor nations and rich nations alike. If we bridge the equality gap, we can have a safer world.

America should no longer come first: World security should. To do this, the United States needs, above all, tolerance and compromise.

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