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COLUMN

A Hidden Agenda

Guest Column
John Reed

In the aftermath of the worst single act of terrorism in history, there is an urgency to take appropriate action to prevent any repeat. We’ve now seen that destructive powers which were previously unleashed only by states can also be released by loosely knit, private groups. This is something we’ve known was possible for a long time, but somehow we’ve never accepted it in the absence of a real-life example. Now that it has happened, there is a rush to make up for the lack of preparation.

Given the enormity of the crime, it’s imperative that a just and effective response be formulated; things will have to change.

On this point there is probably universal agreement.

Of course the consensus breaks down dramatically while dealing with the specifics of how to respond and why. Many honest attempts have been made to explain why this attack happened and how the U.S. should respond. Did this attack occur because of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, or because of fanatical hatred of America’s freedom, religious tolerance, and wealth?

Should the U.S. declare war on countries where terrorists might live? Lift the ban on assassinations? Try to secure justice through international courts and diplomacy? Stop favoring Israel so much? Sincere people may disagree fiercely on these issues, but at least the relevance of the debate to the disaster is clear -- assuming that Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalists carried out the attack, which no one seems to dispute at this point.

Sadly, there seem to be others who are like circling vultures attempting to exploit this horrendous tragedy for their own personal agenda. These parasites attempt to somehow relate their own causes to the catastrophe with the hope that their plans will be carried along by the wave of change which will likely follow. They attempt to focus the hatred and fear generated by the atrocity onto unrelated policies and people they disagree with or dislike. Perhaps the most notorious example of this was when the televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said that liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters bear partial responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

The blaming of feminists, homosexuals and abortion rights supporters is too ridiculous and despicable to even dignify with a response.

At first glance it appears that their criticisms of civil liberties groups might hold some validity, since it’s not totally implausible that excessive privacy rights could have made America more vulnerable to attack. Privacy protections may have assisted the terrorists in maintaining their cover and in executing their sinister plot.

But Falwell and Robertson weren’t referring to efforts by civil liberties groups to protect privacy rights. They were referring to their support for the separation of church and state as well as defense of unpopular free speech. It’s quite a stretch to claim that the separation of church and state facilitated this attack. Also, freedom of speech clearly has no relevance, since the sleeper agents who mounted this terrorist attack certainly weren’t exercising their right to free speech. In fact they were doing the exact opposite -- lying low and attempting to blend in. Hence it seems pretty likely that Falwell and Robertson were simply using this horrendous tragedy to vilify groups and policies they disagree with. Regrettably, a similar strategy for smearing policies and people one disagrees with has reared its ugly head here at MIT. I personally experienced it in a letter to the editor written by Michael Rolish ’04 where he tried to connect the terrorist attacks with an opinion column I wrote on economic policies. Furthermore he called me an “enemy within” who must be defended against along with foreign terrorists.

There was only one grain of truth contained in his otherwise false, hateful, and totally irrelevant letter: “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Let us remain vigilant for all threats to freedom, including those posed by demagogues who further their agendas by exploiting horrible tragedies.