The horrific attack against America on September 11, 2001 offered us citizens an opportunity to engage in serious national self-examination about our government’s foreign policy in our name, and whether it contributed to such violent aggression. But the Bush administration was not about to engage in or encourage any soul-searching. Instead of introspection, we got projection. We got knee-jerk, flag-waving, distraction-inducing unreflective patriotism. “No threat, no threat,” President Bush immediately reacted, “will prevent freedom-loving people from defending freedom. And make no mistake about it,” he emphasized, “this is good versus evil. These are evil doers. They have no justification for their actions [italics added]. There’s no religious justification, there’s no political justification. The only motivation is evil.” (“International Campaign Against Terror Grows,” Remarks by President Bush and Prime Minister Koisumi of Japan in Photo Opportunity,” The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
Self-examination is fundamental to our individual and national security. A healthy response to any personal or nation-wide tragedy or loss includes asking how our own behavior may have contributed to it. Self-examination is one of life’s first and most
essential lessons: learning from our mistakes and misfortunes and misconduct by being open to our own possible involvement in helping to bring them about. Being guided by cause-and-effect is critical to assuming responsibility for our behavior and becoming responsible, democratic social beings. Self-examination leads to self-understanding and thus helps prepare us to understand, respect and live with other persons in our society and in the world. Conversely, anti-introspective tendencies, i.e. resistance to examining one’s own behavior in conflict and crisis, may lead to self-justification with its denial of any personal responsibility and projection of blame on others, dooming a person or nation to repeat and intensify destructive self-defeating behavior.
The fifth anniversary of the violent 9/11 attack on our country is an especially important time for us Americans to engage in self-examination. It can lead us to identify and thus protect ourselves from the “evil doers” close to home.
Since religion stresses soul-searching, one assumes it would be an integral part of the behavior of a self-professed man of prayer and piety like President Bush. When asked during a 2000 presidential campaign debate, “what philosopher or thinker” he most identified with and why, he replied, “Christ, because he changed my heart.” (“George W. Bush,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Bush’s “change of heart” involved recognizing that he was a “sinner.” In a 2000 campaign interview, he stated that awareness of himself as a “sinner” influenced how he approached government. “I treat people with respect. I don’t feel I’m better than anyone else . . . I respect other people, and that’s what’s needed in Washington, D.C. right now.” (Beliefnet.com, editor-in-chief Steven Waldman’s interview with Bush, Oct. 2000)
During the 2000 presidential campaign, President Bush stressed the importance of soul-searching in his “walk” with his god. “I’ve got a lot of imperfections like anyone else,” he told Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steven Waldman. “And the more I get into the Bible, the more the admonition ‘Don’t try to take a speck out of your neighbor’s eye when you’ve got a log in your own’ [Jesus’ admonition] becomes more and more true, particularly for those of us in public life. . . . You see,” Bush explained, “if you believe that we’re all sinners, as opposed to you’re a sinner and I’m not, then I think it helps you. . . bring people together, and that’s what is needed on some very practical issues that the country faces.” (Ibid)
President Bush repeated the same teaching of Jesus on self-examination in another 2000 campaign interview. “A Bible verse that is important to me,” he said, “is one that says I shouldn’t try to take a speck out of someone else’s eye if I have a log in my own. I like that verse,” Bush continued, “because it reminds me that we’re all sinners. When you admit you’re a sinner, it is recognition that there is a need. And that need, for me, was met through Christ.” (“God and the Governor,” Charisma Magazine interview, Aug. 29, 2000)
President Bush’s religious soul-searching was apparently motivated by political vote-getting. Winning the presidency in 2000 evidently proved to be a far more “transforming” experience than his self-professed “we’re all sinners,” “I don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else,” humble, “walking the walk with Christ”-on the campaign trail. With the violent wake-up call of 9/11, national soul-searching was thrown overboard and self-justification took over to “stay the course” of the ship of state. Bush became so blinded by the “logs” in many “neighbors” eyes that he declared an unending “global war on terrorism,” rather than lead us Americans in examining any “log” in US foreign policy. Evidently the understanding of others he gained from his own “Christ”-inspired conversion as a “sinner” applied only to [voting] neighbors across the street not to neighbors around the world.
The president diverted attention from soul-searching even any national “speck” of our own by telling us Americans how great we are. On September 11, 2001 he said, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world.” (“Test of Bush’s address,” CNN.com/US, Sept. 11, 2001) In his September 22, 2001 radio address, Bush continued to turn our attention away from any national soul-searching with, “I want to remind the people of America, we’re still the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and no terrorist will ever decide our fate.”
President Bush repeatedly reminded us Americans how great and thus how “speck”-free our nation is. In September of 2002, he continued to take our minds off any self-examination with, “We differ from our enemy because we love. We not only love our freedoms and love our values, we love life, itself. . . . I believe we can cross any hurdle, climb any mountain because this is the greatest nation on the face of the earth, full of the most decent, hard-working, honorable citizens.” (“President Bush Calls on Congress to Act on Nation’s Priorities,” The White House, Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility, Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 23, 2002) Similarly, in an address to the staff of the newly created Homeland Security Department, resistance to any national introspection continued to be reinforced by Bush: “There is no doubt in my mind that this nation will prevail in this war against terror, because we’re the greatest nation, full of the finest people on the face of this Earth.” (“President Bush Addresses New Homeland Security Workers,” CNN.com, Feb. 28, 2003) Not even a “speck” here. If we citizens are this great, obviously our political leaders must be great, too.
President Bush saw only “logs” in his apparent attempt to prevent us Americans from becoming aware of the oppressive foreign policy his administration continued to do unto far-away “neighbors” in our name. He quickly discouraged any discussion of what may have motivated the 19 Muslim men to hijack the four passenger jets and use them as missiles to kill nearly 3000 people. In his September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, he said “Americans are asking ‘why do they hate us?'” Bush knew why, without identifying who “the terrorists” and their supporters were or ever talking with any of “them,” nor presumably talking to anyone else who has talked to them. “They hate our freedoms,” he answered rhetorically, “our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” (“Transcript of President Bush’s address,” Sept. 20, 2001)
The importance of us American people asking, “Why do they hate us,” and entering into a real national discussion was immediately shot down, and still remains in the ruins of 9/11, a victim of stereotyping and demonizing and mindless patriotism. Throwing any cause-and-effect out the window, President Bush declared, “The people who did this act on America, and who may be planning further acts are evil people. . . . They are flat evil. That’s all they can think about, is evil.” He then further discourage any national soul-searching: “And as a nation of good folks, we’re going to hunt them down, and we’re going to find them, and we will bring them to justice.” (“President: FBI Needs Tools to Track Down Terrorists,” Remarks by the President to Employees at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Headquarters, The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
President Bush stifled any effort to really entertain the question, “Why do they hate us?” He warned, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” (“Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people,” The White House, Sept. 20, 2001) He cautioned, “If you harbor a terrorist, if you aid a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as the terrorists.” ( “International Campaign Against Terrorism Grows,” Remarks of President Bush and Prime Minister Koisumi of Japan, The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)
The president’s threatening “either . . . or” rhetoric appears to have intimidated many in American mainstream media from investigative studies and reporting on who the so-called “terrorists” really are and the reasons they give for hating us that may have contributed to 9/11. The fact that US government-identified enemies often show up as “terrorists” in newspapers and on the airwaves of mainstream media has helped the Bush administration to use the tragedy of 9/11 to gain support for a “global war on terrorism,” which precludes any real national soul-searching and thus prevents us Americans from seeing any “specks” and “logs” in our government’s foreign policy in our name, the knowledge of which provides the necessary basis for justice and peace-making. President Bush’s constant stereotyping and demonizing of other human beings, and ensuing fear-and-war-mongering in the name of “freedom” and “peace,” are believed to indicate that he is the one who “hates our freedoms.”
“Why do they hate us?” A reality check is contained in the 2004 report of the Pentagon’s own advisory panel, the Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications. The report states that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies” including America’s “one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf States.” Thus “when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.” The report cautions about seeing only “logs” in the “eyes” of these “neighbors”: “In the eyes of the Muslim world, . . . American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (The New York Times, Nov. 24, 2004; “They hate our policies, not our freedom,” Canadian Content, Aug. 19, 2006)
Columnist Helen Thomas picked up on the Pentagon’s advisory panel’s report, revealing its invitation to national soul searching which apparently threatened President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Thomas noted that former President Clinton’s advisor Sidney Blumenthal was quoted in The Guardian as saying “the 102-page report was not made public in the presidential campaign but instead was ‘silently slipped on to a Pentagon web site on Thanksgiving eve.'” (“Insurgents Hate Our Policies, Not Our Freedoms,” WCVB-TV Boston 5 ABC, Dec. 17, 2004)
Helen Thomas pointed out the “log” in President Bush’s eye, represented by the Pentagon’s advisory panel’s report: “The administration got it all wrong, the report indicated, since the Arabs were not yearning to be liberated except from the authoritarian regimes that the United States is supporting.” She continued, “It’s silly for Bush to keep saying ‘they hate freedom,’ referring to the insurgents in Iraq. It makes me think he’s looking for a new rationale for the war, his earlier reasons having been discredited.” She said that “Bush has played into the hands of the radical jihadists by trying to tie the attacks on the World Trade Center to Iraq.” And she ends by encouraging soul-searching: “The reality is that the Iraqis hate the conquest and occupation of their country, just as any people with pride in the world would [italics added]. (Ibid)
“Why do they hate us?” Another “log”-revealing response is presented by Michael Scheuer, a 22-year CIA official who, from 1996 to 1999, headed the bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, and authored “Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America.” Interviewed by Ken Silverstein, Scheuer was asked if the US were “safer or more vulnerable” as “the five-year anniversary of 9/11 attacks” approaches. Scheuer answered, “In the long run, we’re not safer because we’re still operating on the assumption that we’re hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we’re hated because of our actions in the Islamic world.”
Michael Scheuer revealed the need for national self-examination: “There’s our military presence in Islamic countries, the perception that we control the Muslim world’s oil production, our support for Israel and for countries that oppress Muslims such as China, Russia, and India, and our support for Arab tyrannies.” He stressed, “Publicly promoting democracy while supporting tyranny may be the most damaging thing we do. . . . We use the term ‘Islamofacism’-but we’re supporting it in Saudi Arabia, with Mubarak in Egypt, and even Jordan is a police state.” He concluded by emphasizing the importance of introspection: “We don’t have a strategy because we don’t have a clue about what motivates our enemies.” (“Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security,” by Ken Silverstein, Harper’s Magazine, Aug. 23, 2006)
“Why do they hate us?” President Bush would have us Americans believe that “we are different from our enemy because we love . . . life, itself.” He seems so oblivious to the 12 years of US-controlled UN economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, until the invasion, that resulted in the deaths of some 500,000 Iraq children under the age of 5 between 1991 and 1998 alone. (UNICEF report on the devastation caused by the sanctions, Aug. 12, 1999) Then there is the unprovoked, lies-based invasion and report of ensuing deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children, in the first 18 months of the war. (“Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” by Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, Gilbert Burnham, The Lancet, Oct. 30, 2004) And the US occupation and resulting widespread sectarian violence bordering on civil war, which was recently verified by a Pentagon report and denied by Bush. (“Warning issued on sectarian violence: Pentagon says threat is growing,” by Robert Burns, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Sept. 2, 2006) And Bush recently allowing Israel’s air force to devastate Lebanon, even speeding up delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, under the guise of holding out for a “sustainable peace.”
“A Bible verse that is important to me is one that says I shouldn’t try to take a speck out of someone else’s eye if I have a log in my own. I like that verse because it reminds me that we’re all sinners.” These are the words of a president who resists admitting making a mistake never mind being a “sinner.”
“Islamic fascists.” Evil doers.” “All they can think about is evil.” “Flat evil.” “Killers.” “Murderers of women and children.” “Terrorists.” Lenin and Hitler” types. A never-ending “global war on terrorism.” “They want to create a unified totalitarian Islamic state and destroy the free world.” “A struggle for civilization.” These are the words of a man driven by projection not guided by introspection.
Similar judgments may be made about President Bush and his administration’s policies. In his Hitler-like case, “the big lies” are sanctions-weakened, defenseless, non-threatening Iraq’s “mushroom cloud”-threatening weapons of mass destruction and ties to the 9/11 attacks against America. In his case, it is the use of the invaders’ “shock and awe” bombs which led to the resistance’s use of roadside improvised explosive devices. In the case of many of his evangelical fundamentalist supporters, it is their Christocentric fascism that led them to support the invasion, seeing it as an opportunity to convert Muslims to “Christ.” And in his case, it is the use of “freedom” and “democracy” as code words to disguise, for public consumption, spreading American imperialism “to the darkest corners of the world.” In his case, we may well be fighting “enemies in the streets of our own cities” precisely because his administration committed state terrorism in invading and occupying “the streets of Baghdad.”
In President Bush’s case, it is appealing to “a higher Father.” As he planned his administration’s pre-emptive war against Iraq, he prayerfully said, “We go forward with confidence because this call of history has come to the right country [italics added].” He proclaimed that “the liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” (The New York Times, Jan. 29, 2003) The war-mongering calling of “a higher Father.” Bush continued to declare, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world” to justify his administration’s war of choice against and occupation of Iraq. (Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) Bush used his god for self-justification and not for soul-searching. And we Americans are far less safe because of the enemies our government continues to create in our name.
President Bush is “walking the walk” with “Christ”? Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” ( Matthew 5:9) Tragically, Bush is waging war in the name of peace. Jesus said, “Love your enemies . . . so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; and sends his rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44, 45, RSV and NRSV). Bush has so demonized our country’s enemies that it is almost impossible for many Americans to see them as human beings who, as columnist Helen Thomas wrote, “hate the conquest and occupation of their country, just as any people with pride in the world would.” [italics added]
The fifth anniversary of the horrible national wound of 9/11, and our own security, call for examining the “logs” in our government’s foreign policy in our name. The greater struggle we Americans face is not about “good versus evil” but about “overcoming evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) America’s war on terrorism should begin at home. The most dangerous enemies we face are those who would have us sell the soul of our humanity for a mess of “national security” potage. It is time to see the “logs” in the eyes of our country’s own fear-and-war-mongerers and remove them from office-for the sake of our children and grandchildren and all children and grandchildren everywhere.
Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.