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September 11, 2001

September’s terror assault on the USA was a shocking, literally stunning event. My September, and perhaps yours too, has been black. But my September . . . and perhaps yours too . . . contained a few sunny days. The terrorists tried, but they couldn’t kill or harm all those Pick’n'Flick and I love. They couldn’t dim the joy we felt when our son Nose Candy married our beautiful new daughter-in-law Beth. They couldn’t prevent our happiness over becoming grandparents to Beth’s seven-year-old daughter Taylor. But these moments of happiness feel stolen. We’re lucky to have had them.

While we were at Nose Candy and Beth’s wedding reception in Las Vegas, four days after the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a friend and fellow hasher asked me why I hadn’t come out on the Hash List or the Half-Mind Catalog with a public statement about the attacks. I’m sure your reaction would have been the same as mine: “What could I possibly say?” Evil men committed unspeakable acts, acts so alien to my way of thinking I can’t encompass them, let alone understand them. Besides, others seem to have plenty to say, much of which I agree with. But then my friend said, “Like it or not, you’re a voice in the hash, and many of us respect what you have to say.”

Now you think I’m putting on airs. I’m not. I wish I did have something wise to say. Something George W. Bush or Tony Blair . . . or Osama bin Laden . . . could factor into the relentless algorithms of war. Something that would give comfort to those who’ve been hurt. Something that might lead us away from blind revenge and toward useful action. Something that would strike dread into the malformed hearts of those who crafted and committed the terror.

My opinion: The enemy isn’t the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Palestinians, the Taliban, or even bin Laden. Yes, they are proximate enemies, but defeating them won’t stop terrorism. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is fundamentalism, intolerance, hatred, tribalism: Ignorance . . . with a capital I.

If ignorance spoke, this would be its soliloquy: “My religion and culture grow out of the darkest impulses of human nature and they are one and the same. I envy you, and I hate what I envy. I oppose anything that makes men and women happy, or that brings people of different faiths and nations together. Beholding happiness angers me; punishing happiness pleases me. My institutions and laws, religious and civil, enforce misery and ignorance. I preach intolerance and hatred for those who are not with me and of me. My foreign policy is simple. If you are not of me and with me you are a foreigner. If you are a foreigner you are a heathen and an enemy. My god decrees your death at the point of my righteous sword. Death first, foremost, and always to the Jews. Then the Christians, the Hindus, the Buddhists, and the rest. The surest path to glory is killing heathens; whether those I kill be soldier or civilian, whether they be man, woman, or child is nothing to me, for they are all filth. And when I have killed all the infidels I will turn on my own tribe, ever narrowing my interpretation of the scriptures and killing those who do not comply, until only the holiest shall survive. And then I’ll have to find something new to hate . . . which won’t take me long.”

Ignorance has declared war on the First World: America and the West. It’s a war against our freedom to live the way we choose, to pursue happiness, to be free from compulsory religious belief. It’s a war against humanitarianism and progress. It’s a war against the very idea of overcoming tribal, national, religious, and racial differences in order to build prosperity and peace. It’s a war, ultimately, between two sides of human nature, between our lust for vengeance and our capacity for mercy.

Ignorance . . . superstition, intolerance, hatred of the different . . . is in our bones. It flourishes in poverty and shrivels in prosperity. Take the average overfed overindulged self-actualizing American down a couple of levels on Maslow’s pyramid . . . take away his SUV and cell phone and put him down at the level of worrying about food on the table and a roof over his head, and he’d be not that different from the average Afghani, Rwandan, or Serb. A certain level of ignorance and hate continues to exist in all Western societies, but we’ve built up enough of a foundation beneath our freedom and prosperity that it’s highly unlikely our own hate groups and religious fundamentalists will ever become strong enough to force us back into the Middle Ages.

That, sadly, doesn’t apply elsewhere. Does anyone remember Iran before the Ayatollah? It was a prosperous and peaceful country, almost totally Western in lifestyle and outlook. But there wasn’t much behind the facade, and when the Shah weakened, the entire nation returned to religious fundamentalism, hatred, and ignorance. Lebanon was another such country. I won’t say anything about the differences between Africa under colonialism and Africa today, lest I be accused of incorrect thinking, but I will risk pointing a finger at Indonesia, once a prosperous and truly multicultural society, now unraveling before our eyes. Give ignorance a chance and it comes back with a vengeance.

Certainly we must act against terrorists. Revenge (oops, I meant justice) aside, anyone who thinks the terrorists have played their best card is willfully blind. They will continue to attack us, in ways even more cruel and shocking than those they used in September. Now more than ever we must be decisive and relentless. We must seek out those who would kill us, leaders and supporters alike, and stop them. Kill them. Destroy their nests, no matter where they may be, and in the case of Iraq, perhaps we should be pre-emptive. We can’t co-exist with forces dedicated to our destruction. We have to destroy that which will destroy us.

It won’t be easy, and six months or a year from now it’ll be tempting to slide back into apathy and inaction. I hope the memory of the horrific events of September 11, 2001 will keep us focused on the fight. But although I’ll do whatever it takes to help my country prevail, I recognize that the most we can expect to win through military action will be battles, not the war. This is a war between natural enemies, and as with all such wars, much more than military action will be needed to win it.

And though the war will test us to our limits, I don’t doubt for a minute that we’ll ultimately win it. We . . . the West . . . will win this war the same way we won the Cold War. We’ll win by keeping our commitment to freedom, democracy, and progress. We’ll win by guarding and exercising our personal liberties. We’ll win by continuing to be prosperous and happy, continuing to improve our societies, continuing to insist upon respect for human rights in our own nations and in our dealings with other nations. We’ll be the world’s beacon, shining through the darkest night . . . because no matter what lies the dictators, ayatollahs, and supreme leaders tell their subjects, people the world over yearn to live as we do in the West.

We’ll win . . . because we can hash. Yes, we’ll win because we can hash. I hope that doesn’t sound trivial to you. It shouldn’t, because it isn’t. The hash embodies the freedoms we cherish. Think about it. Would the Taliban allow hashing? Is there a hash in the Sudan? In North Korea? We’ll win because we’re free to hash! Have you noticed all the cars with US flags? Have you noticed all the people wearing red, white, and blue lapel ribbons? Wear your On-On Feet, hashers!

I offer these comments in the hope they might help some of you deal with the challenges coming our way. I sincerely hope I’ve said something useful. In turn, I welcome your comments.

- Flying Booger

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