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Pet Sins November 2001 Issue
Attitudes towards foreigners pre- and post-9/11

Xenophobia is nothing new on this planet. In various times and places, it has waxed and waned. Its manifestations: indifference, mockery and open hostility shift in proportion depending on the political and social circumstances.

In times of relative peace, we humans are more or less content to fall back on indifference - simply ignoring "outsiders" whom we can't identify with, and not giving them the same attention or access that we would give those we consider our own. When we are feeling more feisty or bored, we migh resort to mocking the Other to amuse ourselves. For instance, names like "towel head", "chink" or "bean-eater" all serve to emphasis the Otherness of individuals that some Americans regard as having no right to be in the same space as they are in.

In times of stress, some of us turn violent and take out our hostility on the Other. Xenophobia, not just against Muslims and Arabs, but against people of color in general, has existed in America prior to 9/11. But it is possible that the tragedy of 9/11 may be a factor in bringing out the worst in some Americans. If we allow this to being out the worst in us, we will be perpetuating the tragedy.

In the days following 9/11, news commentators cried pit for revenge against Afghanistan for haboring the chief suspect Osama Ben Laden. These commentators openly advocated the bombing of innocent Afghani civilians because our innocent American civilians were bombed. Worse, more than 90% of people on an internet survey said that they want to hurt someone as revenge for this assault on our nation, even someone innocent. I wouldn't have been too surprised if it was just a couple of controversial commentators whose ratings and publicity depends on their incendiary speeches, but have 95% of us likewise lost our minds?

Every nation has the right to self-defense, but when "self-defense" turns into hurting innocents, invariably our intentions backfire. Morals aside, there are practical reasons for not bombing innocent Afghani civilians. Our aim is to stop terror against the U.S. Bombing innocents will not stop that. In fact, such measures have often turned neutral people into our enemies. Remember Iraq? After our air raids hit civilian targets, Iraqi civilians, even women, swore to fight and kill American soldiers. Those previously unwilling to be involved in the war joined the forces of Saddam Hussein. When Israel hit civilians by accident while attacking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, people who didn't support the Hezbollah before rushed to join the Hezbollah because of perceived Israeli brutality. If we hit civilian targets, we may kill a few terrorists but in the process we create more extremists out of previous moderates. These angry individuals whose families and neighborhoods were destroyed by our bombs may become future terrorists. This only feeds terror against America. We claim to be so much better and more civilized than the Islamic nations. Then why are we sinking to what we say is their level by proposing the slaughter of civilians?