New York Times
As the Senate prepares to consider an economic stimulus package, the atmosphere is much different from earlier this year, when it passed President Bush's unaffordable and unfair tax cuts. Back then many moderate Republicans and Democrats voted for what they saw as a popular program to share the surplus with the taxpayers, despite their own quiet misgivings. Now there is a sense of crisis, demands for sacrifice, a realization that the federal surplus is gone and a determination to pass something that will actually boost the economy. Unfortunately, the stimulus package being put together by the Republican Senate leadership fails in every way to address the new circumstances.
The full package is to be unveiled today by Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. The advance indications are that its centerpiece is an acceleration of all the top-bracket tax cuts that were to have been phased in by existing law. This is an almost shocking proposal, by some estimates transferring more than half the tax cut to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers. Not a single American is unaware that the United States faces a long and potentially costly new era of spending on security needs at home and abroad. Cutting taxes for the wealthy in the next fiscal year does nothing to stimulate the economy now and undercuts the whole idea of equity in the tax system.
The business tax breaks being readied by the Finance Committee Republicans are in some respects not as bad as the ones passed in the House, whose stimulus package was so weighted down with corporate giveaways that the Republican leadership could barely shove it through. But the Grassley proposals would still not take effect in time to stimulate the economy. The business tax cuts would also have an adverse impact on state budgets. Many states base their own tax receipts on federal corporate tax rates. Dozens of states are facing deficits and cutbacks next year, and they cannot afford a Congressional tax cut that forces states to raise taxes or cut spending.
The Republican proposals are attempts to push the stimulus plans in the wrong direction. Moderates in both parties need to put together a package that does more than reward the campaign donor class. Many moderate Democrats are now aware that, in going with Mr. Bush's program earlier this year, they were hoodwinked because the package that finally passed was filled with gimmicks and tricks disguising its truly regressive identity. They, and the country, cannot afford to be fooled again.
Already, after only three weeks of bombing, the whispers are beginning. Why is the Taliban still in power? ... You haven't killed anyone important yet ... Why aren't ground troops in there? ... Ramadan is coming. You can't bomb then ... We'll lose support if we keep killing civilians ... Bombing doesn't do anything; why are we still doing it? ...
Criticism of the conduct of a war is inevitable in a democracy, even important. But as questions arise about American action in Afghanistan, critics and everyone else need to keep two thoughts prominently in mind:
War is a blunt instrument. It does not often follow a straight line. The path from engaging the enemy to whatever kind of victory may be achievable in this shadowy conflict will almost certainly take unexpected and unfortunate turns. We need to understand that.
These decadent thugs have already killed some 4,000 of us in a sneak attack that was specifically intended to kill civilians. It is unfortunate that our bombs are killing innocent Afghans, and we should do what we can to avoid those deaths, but they are not the story. Lower Manhattan is the story.
Strategies may need to be adjusted or changed as the fight against terrorism continues, but as President Bush has said from the beginning, we need to be in this for the long haul. Three weeks is not a long haul. Even three years may not be a long haul.
Frankly, given the brutality of the Sept. 11 attacks, it's hard to believe that Americans would find their taste for fighting back diminished in so short a time. Indeed, recent polls suggest the nation is clear-eyed about the threat, which Sen. Charles Schumer put into a chilling context earlier this month. If Americans lose heart for this war, he said, the terrorists will gain the time they need to develop more sophisticated weapons, possibly including nuclear or deadlier biological ones, thereby opening the door to even more devastating attacks.
The issue is particularly timely, as the Taliban resists collapse and calls for a significant infusion of ground troops increase, creating the risk of American casualties.
Most Americans say they are ready for the kind of commitment this fight is almost sure to require. A poll conducted this month by Zogby International showed that 89 percent of respondents would be "very" or "somewhat" supportive of a war that lasted six months to two years, while 80 percent felt the same about a conflict of two to five years. The country may need that kind of courage.
If Americans are impatient now, what if soldiers begin coming home in body bags? What if troops are captured in Afghanistan, then publicly tortured or executed? Those, too, are possibilities, ones that Americans must steel themselves to withstand. As difficult as such eventualities might be, the terrorists have already shown us what to expect if we don't act to defend ourselves. We shouldn't have to learn that lesson twice.
Last Tuesday, the Irish Republican Army announced it had begun to put its weapons "beyond use," a fact verified by international arms inspectors.
Not to minimize the importance of the IRA's gesture -- the step was a huge one for the Northern Ireland peace process -- but the arms in question already had been rendered useless six weeks earlier.
After terrorists crashed planes into the Pentagon and the towers of the World Trade Center, toppling America's sense of security, the reality must have begun to sink in to IRA leaders that their tactics no longer would be tolerated. Many of the IRA's supporters in the United States no longer have the stomach for indiscriminate deaths, now that terrorism is no longer something that happens far away. And in the war on terrorism, in which Britain is playing a lead role, Osama bin Laden's al Qaida may sit at the top of the list, but the IRA was right up there.
The IRA felt other pressures, to be sure. The arrests in August of three IRA suspects believed to be training leftist rebels fighting the U.S.-supported government in Colombia was an embarrassment that riled the U.S. government. And the IRA finally may have realized its decommissioning was the only missing piece in the peace process and that it would be blamed if the pact collapsed.
Now, the day many people thought would never come has arrived.
The IRA's bold move threw a lifeline to a joint Protestant-Catholic government put in place by the 1998 Good Friday agreement. The government would have been suspended or would have collapsed on Thursday without the IRA's historic action, likely forcing a return to Britain's direct rule of Northern Ireland.
Britain responded promptly, dismantling two army watchtowers, an army base and an observation post in Northern Ireland. And, it announced that neither Britain nor Ireland would seek extradition of members of the IRA and other groups observing cease-fires for offenses committed before the Good Friday agreement.
One could be excused for a feeling of elation, but plenty of roadblocks remain. None of the loyalist groups yet have offered to disarm, and they should. Some of the other anti-British groups have promised to pick up where the IRA has left off, and they shouldn't.
The peace process is moving again, but the journey toward amicable coexistence for Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland will be a long one.
Let this be a journey without more violence.
Dallas Morning News
Oddly enough, the act of terror that provoked the United States to make war has prompted other combatants around the world to make peace.
Immediately after Sept. 11, some observers speculated that an attack on the United States might inspire other great powers to intensify their efforts to crush elements within their own countries that they see as engaging in terrorism.
In at least two cases, the opposite is true. When Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein -- the political arm of the Irish Republican Army -- recently called upon the IRA to disarm as a way of restarting stalled peace talks with Britain over the fate of Northern Ireland, Mr. Adams acknowledged that one reason for the plea was his sense that, in light of the events of Sept. 11, the Irish rebels would be getting less support from sympathizers in the United States.
The IRA fell in line, announcing that it will dismantle its arsenal. The British reciprocated with their own act of good faith -- moving security and surveillance equipment out of Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, in Russia, in what may be the most significant move toward peace in Chechnya since that separatist war began more than two years ago, the leader of the guerrilla army signaled his willingness to begin talks with the Kremlin on ending the war.
It appears that President Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected to lead the Republic of Chechnya in 1999, made the overture at least partly in response to a post-Sept. 11 ultimatum from the United States to purge his movement of extremist elements. Also a factor may have been the new Russian-American alliance that sprang up as a result of the Sept. 11 attack. Since the coming together, U.S. leaders have seemed less willing to make waves over the Russians' heavy-handed response to the Chechen rebels.
Whatever the reason for Mr. Maskhadov's overture, it would be wise of Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept it and sit down at peace talks.
These curious events show that what happens in the United States still resonates around the globe. They also show that the flower of peace can sprout up at unexpected times, and that there is some truth to the old saying about there being no bad from which some good does not come.
It's welcome news that U.S. propaganda broadcasts to Afghanistan have returned the sound of music to the lives of a people who have been denied this ancient form of human communication by a repressive regime.
Shortly after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, the Taliban Islamic militia banned music in all its forms. In addition to "executing" television sets, the Taliban made a big show of breaking audio tape cassettes and festooning the tape from trees.
If there is a culture on this planet that has no music -- either secular or religious -- in its traditions, we would be hard-pressed to name that sorry assemblage of human beings.
Since before the dawn of recorded history, human beings have used that most amazing instrument -- the human voice -- to convey a limitless range of human emotions and experience, and, later, as they progressed, a wide variety of instruments made by human hands to augment their expression.
Although Islam per se has no formal place for music in worship, neither is music forbidden to Muslims in their everyday lives. Indeed, the Muslim world has an impressive variety of musical traditions, from the intricate melodies of Arab countries to exquisite vocals that reverberate in the winding streets of Istanbul.
The role of music varies from one Islamic country to the other, and in some societies, music is a medium for teaching religious subjects. To Westerners, the muezzin's call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque may sound as though it is being sung but, in fact, the call technically is a high level of recitation, albeit highly stylized and beautifully uttered.
Some Muslims also recite the entire Koran in that fashion, which is "so beautiful to listen to," according to Mohamad Jodeh of the Colorado Muslim Society. "But it is not considered a song or singing."
Still, in some parts of the Muslim world, such as Egypt or Turkey, it would be unthinkable to forbid music or singing.
In denying music, it seems to us, the Taliban goes against the nature of the human soul: If God didn't intend for humans to sing, why would he have given so many this wonderful gift?
Earlier this month we suggested here that one of the most difficult problems of the U.S. campaign against terrorism was that some of the Arab governments considered allies of the United States themselves contribute to Islamic extremism. Egypt, we said, was a good example: Its autocratic ruler, Hosni Mubarak, "props himself up with $2 billion a year in U.S. aid while allowing and even encouraging state-controlled clerics and the media to promote the anti-Western, anti-modern and anti-Jewish propaganda of the Islamic extremists." Even as Egyptian officials hotly protested, we soon saw some excellent examples of just the kind of hostile propaganda we were talking about. They came in replies to The Post published by two government-controlled newspapers, Al Ahram and Al Akhbar.
Al Ahram's editor, Ibrahim Nafi -- who owes his position as editor of Egypt's most well-known newspaper to Mr. Mubarak -- called our commentary "deranged" and "barbaric," while Al Akhbar editor Galal Dewidar, a government employee, said it was "a lie based on deceit." That's okay; we would be the last to question another editorial writer's prerogative to dish it out. What's more interesting is what the two editors had to say about the nature of the American media and the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. According to Mr. Dewidar, not only do "American media submit to the directives of the Jewish lobby" but their "identity is American in theory but Zionist in practice." He added: "We have begun to view these mouthpieces as a media apparatus in the pay of ... the Zionist organizations and the apparatuses working clandestinely."
Mr. Nafi, who moved on from The Post to roundly condemn the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, also has a theory. "There were several reports," he recounted, that the food supplies dropped in Afghanistan by U.S. planes "have been genetically treated, with the aim of affecting the health of the Afghani people. If this is true, the U.S. is committing a crime against humanity." There's more, but you get the idea: anti-American, anti-Jewish diatribes mixed with flagrant pro-Taliban disinformation, all disseminated by the top editors of newspapers that faithfully reflect Mr. Mubarak's views (Al Ahram) or the official government line (Al Akbar).
It is not our idea that Mr. Mubarak or any other Arab ruler should suppress these views, which are no doubt widely held around the region. What Egypt and other Arab states need is not more censorship but a genuinely free press, where all political views could compete -- and where those who oppose Islamic extremism and support the U.S. campaign against terrorism could be clearly heard. In such an environment there might be Egyptian newspapers that criticize not just alleged Jewish manipulation of the American media but also Mr. Mubarak's refusal to allow free and fair elections in Egypt; not just American bombing in Afghanistan but also the torture and massacres used by Egyptian security forces to combat Islamic militants inside the country. As it stands now, those who broadcast anti-American and anti-Jewish libels are stroked and encouraged by Mr. Mubarak's government, while people who advocate peaceful democratic reforms and human rights in Egypt, such as the academic Saad Eddin Ibrahim, are unjustly imprisoned.
Mr. Mubarak may be a longtime American ally, as American and Egyptian defenders both insist. Unlike many Arab nations, Egypt has recognized Israel's right to exist. It allows more freedom internally than Iraq or Saudi Arabia. But those sad comparisons no longer seem sufficient grounds for accepting the unacceptable. The poisonous words encouraged by Egyptian officialdom, and the absence of other voices, run counter not only to America's interest but also, in the long run, to Egypt's as well.
Heather Mercer of Vienna, Va., is the kind of person who is always giving to those around her -- encouraging them, leading them and serving them. She once gave a shoeless impoverished woman on a street in Austin, Texas, her own shoes and walked away barefoot. Compassion, mixed with a zest for living, is characteristic of her. Perhaps that is why she felt pulled to help people a world away -- women and children in Afghanistan who were starving for food and for some spiritual alternative to the oppressive, hard-line Islamic regime of the Taliban. Now, she and seven other aid workers for the German-based relief group Shelter Now are trapped in a jail in Afghanistan. They have been threatened in turn with death and used as pawns by the Taliban to prevent the United States from bombing. Now, they are waiting for the Taliban's verdict as the bombs fall around their jail cells in Kabul. The United States has bombed Taliban training camps and arms bunkers. It has stopped terrorists from having access to their financial assets. But in at least one Kabul prison, the Taliban still reigns.
Miss Mercer, 24, and a fellow Baylor University alumnus, Dayna Curry, 29, of Thompson Station, Tenn., were arrested Aug. 8 on charges of spreading Christianity at the home of an Afghan family where private conversation had turned to religion. They have wrongly been written-off by some as "missionaries" who should have known the cost of talking about their faith. Instead, they should be commended for their bravery. Shelter Now is a relief agency that provides street children with food and gives nourishment and shelter to families impoverished by the Taliban regime, which has helped kill off the men in Afghanistan's civil war and forbidden the women from working or leaving their homes. Shelter Now has been allowed to work in the region for more than 20 years. During the time the Taliban has been in power, the aid agency has been mindful of its rules and culture, said Udo Stollte, the head of Shelter Now in Germany.
Regardless of whether the Taliban deems their private conversations in the home of an Afghan family a violation of its repressive laws, Miss Mercer and Miss Curry's bold gifts of service to the Afghan people must not be forgotten by the U.S. administration. American consuls have not visited the women since Sept. 13. Now their lawyer, who has seen the women several times, has not even been informed by the Taliban when there will be a verdict, a State Department official said. In recent correspondence with her mother, Miss Mercer said the bombing around her cell was so intense that her whole cell was rocked.
It is easy to forget two young women who have risked their lives to help the poor of Kabul when every day there is a new bombing mission to carry out. But lives forgotten could be lives endangered -- and another victory for the Taliban.
St. Petersburg Times
U.S. efforts to maintain Arab support for the war against terrorism have been complicated by the escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat both claim to be supportive of the U.S. campaign. They need to show their support, and their statesmanship, by pulling back from a crisis that threatens to erupt into all-out war.
Israel's partial military pullback from areas of the Palestinian-controlled West Bank is a step in the right direction. The Israelis should withdraw from the four other recently occupied cities under a credible security arrangement that requires Arafat to do everything in his power to stop the attacks on Israelis and arrest the militants who wage war from the Palestinian side.
The violence of recent weeks threatens to unravel the tepid support that moderate Arab states are giving to the U.S. war on terrorism. At least 22 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in a cycle of raids and reprisals that followed the Oct. 17 murder of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Raiding the Palestinian villages was a brute display by Sharon, but Arafat was all too willing to play along and allow more of his people to die for the Palestinian cause. These two need to be made aware that this deadly game of tit-for-tat weakens American public support for U.S. involvement in the Mideast.
Arafat has a responsibility to arrest the killers of Zeevi, but that is just a start. It's time for him to prove his own legitimacy to lead a Palestinian state. Arafat's refusal to keep Islamic radicals in jail and the complicity of his corrupt administration in fomenting anti-Israeli violence provide Sharon with political cover to act in the name of self-defense. According to reports, the two terrorists who shot four Israeli women dead Sunday were members of Arafat's own security forces. So much for Arafat's tiresome claim he cannot control the radicals.
Israel's partial withdrawal was a result of the pressure the Bush administration brought to bear at a critical time. Sharon defied for days a call by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for Israel to withdraw under a security arrangement that now appears to be taking shape. As important as an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is to long-term U.S. interests, Washington's immediate goal should be to foster a partnership in the war against terrorism with moderate Arab states.
There is no better recruiting tool for al Qaida or Hamas than the sight of Israeli forces asserting military control over Palestinian territory. Sharon has picked a bad time to test American allegiance, just as Arafat has picked the wrong issue to test American resolve. Arafat and Sharon face a similar threat from the same Islamic radicals that have brought a deadly dimension of the Middle East war to American soil. Palestinian and Israeli leaders should be working with the United States to lower tensions, revive a dialogue and isolate the radicals on both sides of their conflict.
Washington has worked hard in recent years to spare more people in the Middle East from the type of atrocity that befell thousands of Americans Sept. 11. It's time we expect the Israelis and Palestinians to return the favor.
Salt Lake Deseret News
Given the current climate, and the heightened state of alert, airlines and the government owe it to the public to screen all baggage that goes aboard and aircraft.
Right now, that only occurs with carry-on-luggage. Suitcases and other forms of baggage that are checked are not screened or X-rayed.
And that, according to Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and the majority of the other mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington is unacceptable. They're right.
What also is unacceptable is the position of the Federal Aviation Administration that full screening won't be possible until 2004 because it will take that long for manufacturers to produce needed X-ray machines and other screening devices. How waiting until 2004 for full screening can even be considered an option following the hijacking of four planes by terrorists on Sept. 11 is difficult to comprehend.
In the words of Philadelphia Mayor John Street, "Oh-four is totally, completely unacceptable -- not acceptable, not good enough for our family and friends who are getting on airplanes. The risks are too high."
The mayors adopted a resolution demanding such screening immediately. As Anderson noted, allowing the smuggling of bombs or hazardous material on board an airliner because luggage isn't checked doesn't make sense.
Anderson also pointed out another flaw that the airlines need to remedy. They need to take steps to make sure that passengers who check baggage either actually board flights or remove their luggage. That is not taking place now.
Granted, suicide bombers don't care whether they are aboard when a plane goes down, but not every terrorist attack is a suicide. If someone checks and bag and then stays behind, that ought to be a warning sign.
FAA spokeswoman Jane Garvey did say that she and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta are meeting soon to see if manufacturers of screening devices can speed production. They need to do more than that. They need to make sure it gets done much earlier than by 2004, even if it requires considerably more funding.
In the meantime, something needs to be done to help the mayors deal with their transportation challenges. The president of the Air Transportation Association of America, Carol Hallett, suggested that more use of dogs trained to sniff out explosives could be a helpful interim measure.
That is one help, but there needs to be more. The federal government may need to provide some financial assistance or personnel so that mayors can adequately protect their residents.
Every bag that enters an aircraft should be screened. If it can be done with a carry-on bag, there is no reason it can't be done with a bag that is checked.
A global refugee crisis of long standing is being aggravated by the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and the continued persecution of people in that country by the repressive Taliban regime. In that context, it's important that the U.S. government, even as it copes with staggering new challenges, continue to do all it can to relieve the suffering of those victimized by the war in South Asia.
Of immediate concern is the increased flow of Afghan people toward border areas with Pakistan. Thousands are fleeing as U.S. airstrikes endanger -- and in some cases kill or injure -- innocent civilians. Helping Afghans has been made more difficult by the Taliban's order forcing foreign relief workers to leave and its troops' looting of vital supplies from warehouses. Convoys of trucks are trying to deliver food, medicine, clothing and bedding to bulging refugee camps near the border, but even if the relief efforts overcome logistical hurdles, funds from governments and international public and private agencies are inadequate to meet mounting demands. Relief experts warn of an impending catastrophe unless the international community responds promptly and generously.
Even before Sept. 11, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees had been forced to make cutbacks in staff and programs because contributions to the agency had fallen $200 million short of the $1 billion it needs to help some 22 million people worldwide. Now the gap will grow wider unless rich countries and private donors that have cut back on funding reverse course, quickly. Beyond meeting immediate needs for refugees from Afghanistan, what's also needed is a coordinated international approach that rises to the heightened challenge.
A similar if less urgent problem is faced by the U.S. government, which has delayed the entry of an estimated 20,000 refugees already approved for refugee status in this country. Officials cite security concerns and a sharply increased workload for the delay. But many of these refugees are women and children from a number of countries -- Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine and Sierra Leone, among others -- now living in camps abroad in miserable conditions. All have had medical checkups, security clearances and personal interviews.
Further slowing the process is the Bush administration's failure to announce a refugee quota for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. l, a quota that the State Department, before Sept. 11, had proposed cutting from 80,000 to 70,000. One can understand the burden in meeting such a deadline; yet the fact that those people now in limbo have qualified for refugee status argues for a strenuous effort to ease their suffering as quickly as possible.
The president made a wise decision in putting off three missile tracking tests to keep on course a promising movement toward better strategic relations with Russia, erstwhile adversary of the Cold War. President Vladimir Putin, whom President Bush met for the third time in five months when both were in Shanghai earlier this month, plans to come to Washington and then visit the president's ranch in Texas in a little over two weeks.
Nothing was lost and much stands to be gained by holding off the anti-missile tests that the Russians see as part of a U.S. threat. Moscow has vigorously objected to Bush's planned anti-missile defense that, if technically feasible, would make obsolete much of Russia's aging nuclear arsenal. In particular, Putin objects to Bush's plan to withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972.
While in Shanghai, Putin and Bush indicated that they had come close to some sort of understanding about the ABM treaty and how to amend it. In a press conference, Putin said: "I believe we do have understanding that we can reach agreements, taking into account the national interests of Russia, the United States, and taking into account the necessity to strengthen international stability."
In a wider context, the United States, Russia and China are caught up in a triangular competition in which the United States seems to be holding the upper hand at the moment. In Shanghai, Putin was pointed in asserting that "our strategic priority is long-term cooperation and partnership" with the United States. He dwelt on "common values of one civilization."
With the impetus coming largely from China, Beijing and Moscow have appeared to have moved closer together in recent years. Even so, there is an underlying clash of empire that makes relations uneasy. The Russians have long worried about the Chinese pushing north into Siberia to relieve their ever-expanding population pressure. For Putin to play an American card against China is to his advantage.
For the United States, relations with China will continue to be testy as the Chinese seek to drive the United States out of Asia. Chinese officials, from President Jiang Zemin on down, never miss a chance to poke the United States about the question of Taiwan, the island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. Washington says the future of Taiwan must be determined peaceably and in accord with the wishes of the people on Taiwan.
All told, better relations with Russia is clearly in the interest of the United States. In delaying three missile tests, President Bush has paid a small price to move things along.
The big electronic listening post in Lourdes, Cuba, is to be closed, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced.
That will be a major change. For the past 40 years the huge facility was one of Russia and the Soviet Union's primary sources of useful information about the United States and the nation's military and political intentions.
A sophisticated array of antennae, aerials and dishes were aimed at the United States from Cuba to monitor and intercept every form of electronic communication they could pick up.
Russian computers would automatically record telephone calls made anywhere in the United States that contained trip words such as Polaris missiles, B-2 bombers or the names of important government officials.
The Lourdes center provided the Russians and Cubans with a bundle of important intelligence information during the coldest days of the Cold War. It may even have persuaded the Soviets that the United States had no intention of launching a first nuclear strike against the motherland. In that way Lourdes was useful to America.
Now President Putin has seen fit to order the listening post closed, he says publicly, to save the Russians something like $200 million a year. No doubt it will be replaced with satellites and other, more advanced spying devices.
Still, shutting down Lourdes, reportedly against the wishes of Fidel Castro, closes another chapter of those hair-trigger days during the Cold War when a misstep by either side might have resulted in much of the world being incinerated in an hour's time.
That is a welcome change, particularly at this time when the nation is under attack by another kind of enemy driven by blind hate rather than logic.
Omaha World Herald
A recent letter to World-Herald Square reflected the confusion that is rampant in parts of the Western world about certain aspects of the American war against terrorism.
The letter, which was insufficiently factual to warrant publication, said the United States is guilty of colossal hypocrisy because it is making war against the Taliban, an organization the writer asserted was established by the United States just a few years earlier.
Most versions of the Taliban's origins tell a different story. Consider this account from a 1996 CNN report:
"From students to conquerors, the Taliban Islamic militia have come a long way, and fast. In just two years, the Taliban have captured more than two-thirds of Afghanistan from the mujahideen warriors who had fought Soviet occupation. The Taliban's success has much to do with the unpopularity of the mujahideen in recent years.
"The Taliban emerged as a reformist force -- honest, fierce and devoutly Islamic. Most had gone as refugees to Pakistan, where they studied in religious schools. The Taliban are widely alleged to be the creation of Pakistan's military intelligence. Experts say that explains the Taliban's swift military successes."
America and the Taliban did not fight on the same side against the Soviets. The American-backed mujahideen warriors drove out the Soviet army in 1989. Osama bin Laden and other wealthy young Arabs were among the Muslims who came from other countries to fight the Soviets. The Taliban didn't come along until later. Three more years of fighting occurred as the mujahideen struggled against the Najibullah government that the Soviets had installed.
Eventually the mujahideen took control -- only to be pushed from power by the Taliban. By that time, U.S. attention had turned to trouble spots in southeastern Europe and Africa.
So it's true that the United States and bin Laden at one time fought on the same side. That fact has been used as ammunition by critics who call the Cold War foreign policy of the United States morally bankrupt and blame America for bin Laden's terroristic ways.
Still another aspect of the American self-loathers' argument says that the United States, having helped the Afghans throw off their would-be Soviet conquerors, is morally culpable for not staying around to build a democratic government.
Those are different arguments, each with its individual flaws. To use any of them as a basis for implying that the Taliban is America's creation, and therefore its responsibility, is a further leap into unreality.
Americans should celebrate daily reminders of what makes this country great.
With all the talk about anthrax and airline safety, some good news may have escaped public attention.
In case anyone hasn't noticed, Americans are back to doing what they do best -- celebrating and exercising their many freedoms.
Take a look around. Free speech is alive and well. Teary-eyed patriots speak passionately in support of the president's actions. Fiery anti-war speakers argue just as passionately against them. Front porches and office cubicles are awash in patriotic red, white and blue. Pacifist literature fills a table at Stone Soup Collective, an alternative library on South Orange Avenue in Orlando.
Any American who has an opinion is happy to express it -- sometimes elegantly, sometimes crudely. That's the beauty of this nation. Healthy free speech may not always be pretty, but it's protected.
People can rant against government policies. They can hurl nasty names at their political leaders. They may not make many friends, but as long as they're not plotting to commit a crime, they should have no fear of being hauled away by the authorities. A free press waits in the wings in case anything resembling repression should happen. It makes sure citizens know what their government is up to.
This nation's free market is in full swing, too. American flags drape hot-dog stands and T-shirt shops. Consumers may wince at salesmen using the national crisis as a device to hawk products, but isn't that the American way? The speed with which the private sector responded to current events has been awesome to behold.
Americans should take heart. They have much to celebrate. This nation remains vibrant, creative, exciting -- and free.
Americans' tendency to seek both convenience and risk-free living has been depressingly demonstrated by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's demand that a tanker carrying liquefied natural gas be kept from Boston Harbor because of fears of a terrorist attack. Thankfully, a federal judge has overruled the mayor's inadvertent alliance with Osama bin Laden.
There are no assurances in life -- except that mortality is always 100 percent -- but there are new rigorous yet reasonable security measures in place to responsibly let LNG tankers use major New England ports.
We must battle the paralysis that extreme concerns about security cause, abetted by demagogic politicians. And in this case, we might bear in mind that many New Englanders depend on liquefied natural gas.
(Compiled by United Press International)