"You are either with us or you are with the terrorists."
With that post-September 11th statement, George W. Bush sought to suppress debate in our nation. And yet I, for one, am not with the President, his war, or mindless patriotism, and -- hear me well -- I am not with the terrorists!
I have spoken out for peace, and against the war efforts and U.S. foreign policy that helped bring these events upon us. Since then, I have received dozens of hate calls and some death threats. But I choose not to be silenced because a true democracy needs voices that test and challenge.
Democracy is not tested or proven in times of ease; it is tested and proven in times of crisis. Judging from the irate and threatening calls I have received, democracy in the United States is failing the test!
Let me address what I perceive as quite divergent worldviews from within white mainstream America and that of black Americans. I have preached in numerous black churches since the events of September 11th, saying that the Christian faith calls for us to seek alternative and less violent ways to solve crises. I have emphasized the basic Christian message, calling for us to "love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you," "blessed are the peacemakers," and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Black audiences have reacted with enthusiasm, while mainstream white audiences with great hostility. And I must ask: why?
Could it be because blacks are more familiar with the historical dirty deeds of the United States at home and abroad? We know about Cointelpro, U.S. involvement in the assassinations of Patrice Lumumba and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to name two. We have seen U.S. foreign policy favor colonial and neo-colonial powers.
Blacks know what it is to be insecure. We know too well cross burnings and church burnings. We know racial profiling and have never lived with the same degree of safety and well being most white Americans take for granted. Now, in this current crisis, our insecurity is largely unchanged.
Black Americans have reason to believe their government does abroad just as it has done at home -- many of its actions are neither fair, just, nor righteous.
I in no way wish to justify the crimes of September the 11th. But to give some perspective I point to U.S. support of anti-democratic and even fascist regimes around the world. The U.S. never addresses the genuine and legitimate grievances of poor and oppressed peoples in the world unless those grievances fit into the selfish political schemes of American capitalism.
And, yet for everything we do there is an impact, and a consequence. When American-manufactured arms oppress Palestinians, we help create a physical and mental environment where extremism can be born. When we prop up shahs in Iran, we help to create extremism. When we bomb poor civilians in Iraq, we help create a context for extremism. When the so-called "first world" treats the rest of the world as vassal states, we help create a context for extremism.
To make Americans feel safe and secure, the U.S. must address the grievances of the world's struggling, poor and oppressed populations. When we fail to do that, extreme and charismatic voices find fertile ground to organize.
The culprits of the crimes committed on September 11th should be prosecuted and brought to justice. But the U.S. must bring forth evidence before an international tribunal, and lawfully present its case.
What happened at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon is a crime, but it should not have been a cry for war. War only leads to war. Violence contributes to more violence. If our objective is to make people safe and secure, we need to pursue means that will bring safety and security. I believe that can only come through peaceful solutions developed in sane and reasoned ways.
This is Graylan Scott Hagler for TomPaine.com.