The left is now so animated by the belief that President Bush is the greatest menace in the world today that it's become morally bankrupt. How else to explain the Not In Our Name campaign, which crystallizes the left's reaction to both the atrocities of Sept. 11 and our government's response.
NION (www.nion.us) has issued a statement opposing war with Iraq that has been published in newspapers across the country. Those behind it include academics (such as Harvard's Richard Lewontin and Stanford's Joel Beinin), entertainers (such as John Cusack and Danny Glover), writers (such as Russell Banks and Barbara Kingsolver) and aging '60s radicals (Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden protesting together again!). They all reject what they call the Bush administration's "simplistic script of 'good versus evil.' " Instead, their simplistic script is about how all the world's horror flows from the United States.
The "brutal repercussions" of the administration's war on terror "have been felt from the Philippines to Palestine," the statement says. The Philippines? Apparently the signers are offended that the U.S. is providing military assistance to the Philippine government in its efforts to root out the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. This is the Islamic terrorist organization that specializes in slaughtering Christians and beheading tourists.
The petition also deplores our war against the Taliban, which resulted in the liberation of Afghanistan from one of the world's most brutal regimes. Feminist Gloria Steinem, Vassar College President Frances D. Fergusson and Harvard women's studies director Juliet Schor have signed the petition. Are they troubled that Afghan girls can now leave their homes and go to school? That women are not publicly executed for such crimes as infidelity? That females can show their faces?
NIONists seem to have a special abhorrence for democracies. Besides the United States, the only other country that receives their opprobrium is Israel. Again, in some unexplained way, the administration's response to Sept. 11 has resulted in "Israeli tanks and bulldozers [leaving] a terrible trail of death and destruction." Never mind that Yasser Arafat walked away from a Camp David peace deal in 2000 to oversee his society's embrace of suicide bombing.
The petition has a blithe, even solipsistic view of human misery. The statement says, "Peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers." Apparently Saddam Hussein's use of his military to determine his people's destiny is of no concern to the signers. NION has no references to Hussein's terror state, where political prisoners are persuaded to confess by seeing the eyes of their children being gouged out.
While the statement repeatedly returns to the theme of repression, the repression these people with tenure at universities or Hollywood production deals seem most concerned with is their own. "Dissident artists, intellectuals and professors find their views distorted, attacked and suppressed," they write. Well, to the artistic soul, being criticized must feel as bad as having your eyes gouged out. Their charge of suppression is perhaps undercut by the wide publication of their statement.
Want to see "lip service" defined? Read NION's condemnation of Sept. 11. The signers "mourned the thousands of innocent dead," of course, but while the buildings still smoldered, their minds were immediately drawn, the statement says, to memories of "the carnage" of American military action in Iraq, among other places. In this they concur with the man actually responsible for Sept. 11: Osama bin Laden. In his statement of purpose, "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," Bin Laden declares, "We -- with Allah's help -- call on every Muslim who believes in Allah and wishes to be rewarded to comply with Allah's order to kill the Americans" -- in part because we stopped Hussein's march across the region 12 years ago.
NION also has an unusual perspective on just how to characterize Al Qaeda and its ilk. In describing Bush's "deadly trajectory," NION writes, "Groups are declared 'terrorist' at the stroke of a presidential pen." Others might say it is masterminding the smashing of planes into buildings that declares a group "terrorist."
Certainly, there are cogent arguments to be made against war with Iraq. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), for one, argues that an Iraq war would distract us from our fight to dismantle terror networks like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. But such cogent arguments are not made by those who are more acutely affronted by their imagined repression by Bush than they are concerned about monstrous acts committed by monstrous people.
Emily Yoffe is a contributing writer to slate.com.