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Turning peril into peace

Kamaria Porter | Monday, September 15, 2003

Since our founding, Americans have used historical events to draw inspiration or insight for current circumstances. We, like all socialized communities, transform our triumphs and disasters into symbols.

The Revolutionary period exemplifies our traditions of independence and courage. When thinking of World War II, American resilience and determination comes to mind.

In our time, Sept. 11, 2001 has become one such occurrence. Although how it will be remembered is still being constructed by Americans today, the mere mention of this tragedy has the power to incite as much emotion as other events of years past. I remember vividly where I was when the first airplane crashed into the first World Trade Center tower – on a bus headed for downtown Chicago – and how I felt as the horrific events unfolded. America changed that day, and we all have a story.

Now, two years later, as individuals and a country we are trying to decide how best to remember Sept. 11 and extract some lesson to add our definition to what it means to be American.

Much of how Sept. 11 is and will be remembered depends on the words and deeds of George W. Bush. As President, we looked to him that day for guidance on how to feel and proceed. Looking at his actions since the terrorist attacks, I feel Bush has misused the memory of Sept. 11 to divide our nation, erode the constitution and justify an extensive program for war.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the outpour of patriotism and nationwide concern showed the best of our citizens. George W. Bush and company dismantled that solidarity and replaced it with an exclusionary form of nationalism while increasing nationwide anxiety. In a population already obsessed with violence, Bush created new fears of not only the ambiguous “evildoers,” but also other Americans. Anyone could be a terrorist; of course, Arab-Americans living peacefully became the easiest examples. Color-coordinated alerts informed us on how paranoid we should be each day. In Bush’s America, everyone is either a potential victim or perpetrator of terrorism.

As part of the war on terror, Bush invoked the memory of Sept. 11 to launch an assault on the Constitution – the root of our freedom. With the U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed 45 days after the attacks, the Bush administration dismantled the most basic liberties guaranteed to Americans for centuries. The act grants the FBI access to library, student and medical records without a warrant or probable cause, lessens oversight of the judicial branch in terrorist investigations and broadly defines a terrorist group to be any body of people acting to influence government policies.

Patriot II, an extension being debated currently, proposes the creation of a DNA database of deemed terrorists, gives local police the go-ahead to spy on political and religious organizations and threatens loss of citizenship to Americans considered dangers to homeland security.

With such malleable definitions of domestic terrorism and invasive practices, concerned citizens taking to the streets or organizing privately to question U.S. policy become enemies of the state. Patriot I and II violate Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 14 and turn undue suspicion on people engaged in one of our nation’s most valuable pastimes.

Throughout history, protesters have brought about the greatest national advancements, including female suffrage, civil rights for African Americans and increased environmental awareness. To suppress such individuals is completely obtuse to our goal of preserving the United States as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.

Perhaps the greatest license Bush has taken with Sept. 11 is his declaration of an unbounded and unspecific war on terror. In order to prevent future attacks, the United States had to dismantle all of our possible enemies while producing mounting civilian and infrastructural casualties. Using a need for justice as vindication for violence is nothing new. Inflicting pain on another is the most primitive and illogical form of reconstruction after tragedy. Bush’s combination of secrecy, urgency and vengeance has entrenched our soldiers and tax dollars in an ambiguous conflict which has alienated America from other nations and many of its citizens.

George W. Bush’s rhetoric of tragedy has obviously proved cancerous to American democracy and international stability. We must reclaim the memory of Sept. 11 immediately with a new program of homeland stewardship.

On Sept. 11, 2003, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu spoke here of ways to turn calamity into genuine peace. Looking to South Africa as a model, we need to set aside Bush’s lust for vengeance and concentrate on bolstering education and health care, eradicating the U.S.A. Patriot Act, and relieving unemployment. How we live today will be an example to future generations on how to emerge from great hardships. We owe it to them and ourselves to preserve an America that embodies its creeds and works for lasting peace.

Kamaria Porter is a sophomore history major. Contact her at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily The Observer.