[OPE-L:5998] Article from The Nation

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Sun Sep 23 2001 - 03:43:10 EDT

you put my point much better than i had. 

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October 8, 2001

Put Out No Flags
by Katha Pollitt

My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World 
Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely 
not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me 
I'm wrong--the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no 
to terrorism. In a way we're both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only 
available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by 
Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that 
have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and 
boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings, from simple, 
dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has 
already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and 
harassment on New York City streets and campuses. It seems impossible to 
explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War 
of J!
kins's Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people 
half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a 
flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that's hers, 
but the living room is off-limits.

There are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really 
needs--equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence. The 
red flag is too bloodied by history; the peace sign is a retro fashion 
accessory. In much of the world, including parts of this country, the cross and 
crescent and Star of David are logos for nationalistic and sectarian hatred. 
Ann Coulter, fulminating in her syndicated column, called for carpet-bombing of 
any country where people "smiled" at news of the disaster: "We should invade 
their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." What is 
this, the Crusades? The Rev. Jerry Falwell issued a belated mealy-mouthed 
apology for his astonishing remarks immediately after the attacks, but does 
anyone doubt that he meant them? The disaster was God's judgment on secular 
America, he observed, as famously secular New Yorkers were rushing to volunteer 
to dig out survivors, to give blood, food, money, anything--!
 was all the fault of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and 
the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People for the American Way." That's what 
the Taliban think too.

As I write, the war talk revolves around Afghanistan, home of the vicious 
Taliban and hideaway of Osama bin Laden. I've never been one to blame the 
United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World, but it is a 
fact that our government supported militant Islamic fundamentalism in 
Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The mujahedeen were freedom 
fighters against Communism, backed by more than $3 billion in US aid--more 
money and expertise than for any other cause in CIA history--and hailed as 
heroes by tag-along journalists from Dan Rather to William T. Vollmann, who saw 
these lawless fanatics as manly primitives untainted by the West. (There's a 
story in here about the attraction Afghan hypermasculinity holds for desk-bound 
modern men. How lovely not to pay lip service to women's equality! It's cowboys 
and Indians, with harems thrown in.) And if, with the Soviets gone, the vying 
warlords turned against one another, raped and pillaged and murdered the!
ivilian population and destroyed what still remained of normal Afghan life, who 
could have predicted that? These people! The Taliban, who rose out of this 
period of devastation, were boys, many of them orphans, from the wretched 
refugee camps of Pakistan, raised in the unnatural womanless hothouses of 
fundamentalist boarding schools. Even leaving aside their ignorance and 
provincialism and lack of modern skills, they could no more be expected to lead 
Afghanistan back to normalcy than an army made up of kids raised from birth in 
Romanian orphanages.

Feminists and human-rights groups have been sounding the alarm about the 
Taliban since they took over Afghanistan in 1996. That's why interested 
Americans know that Afghan women are forced to wear the total shroud of the 
burqa and are banned from work and from leaving their homes unless accompanied 
by a male relative; that girls are barred from school; and that the Taliban--
far from being their nation's saviors, enforcing civic peace with their 
terrible swift Kalashnikovs--are just the latest oppressors of the miserable 
population. What has been the response of the West to this news? Unless you 
count the absurd infatuation of European intellectuals with the anti-Taliban 
Northern Alliance of fundamentalist warlords (here we go again!), not much.

What would happen if the West took seriously the forces in the Muslim world who 
call for education, social justice, women's rights, democracy, civil liberties 
and secularism? Why does our foreign policy underwrite the clerical fascist 
government of Saudi Arabia--and a host of nondemocratic regimes besides? What 
is the point of the continuing sanctions on Iraq, which have brought untold 
misery to ordinary people and awakened the most backward tendencies of Iraqi 
society while doing nothing to undermine Saddam Hussein? And why on earth are 
fundamentalist Jews from Brooklyn and Philadelphia allowed to turn Palestinians 
out of their homes on the West Bank? Because God gave them the land? Does any 
sane person really believe that?

Bombing Afghanistan to "fight terrorism" is to punish not the Taliban but the 
victims of the Taliban, the people we should be supporting. At the same time, 
war would reinforce the worst elements in our own society--the flag-wavers and 
bigots and militarists. It's heartening that there have been peace vigils and 
rallies in many cities, and antiwar actions are planned in Washington, DC, for 
September 29-30, but look what even the threat of war has already done to 
Congress, where only a single representative, Barbara Lee, Democrat from 
California, voted against giving the President virtual carte blanche.

A friend has taken to wearing her rusty old women's Pentagon Action buttons--at 
least they have a picture of the globe on them. The globe, not the flag, is the 
symbol that's wanted now.

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