by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 20, 2001
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I have always loved Christmas, which may be asurprising admission for a Jewish woman to make.
While others grumble about the inundation of Christian imagery, or lament the holidays' rampant greed and commercialism, or snarl about having to listen to those damned songs and television specials again, I've always loved the idea of having a special time marked off for giving gifts, greeting people, lighting up the streets and houses, and filling my mouth with the crisp skin of a still-warm turkey.
Tidings of comfort and joy! Peace on earth and good will to all! God rest you merry! Lovely sentiments. This year, however, is different. It seems that on Sept. 11, Pandora opened her box again, and every nasty, mean-spirited and destructive creature inside it was set free to torment the world.
In the Greek myth, only hope remains inside when Pandora closes the box. Putting on a good face on the story, interpreters say it means that hope will always be with us. I think it means that hope is locked away in darkness, and it is evil's time to come out and play.
Even with the remarkable heroism and community spirit we have experienced in the wake of the tragedies, everywhere I look I see sadness, anger, paranoia, and death.
For example, last week I saw the documentary "Jung (war): In the Land of the Mujaheddin," which was made in 1999.
There were children with their legs and arms blown off by land mines, young boys (but not girls) begging for an education, women in ragged burquas begging for food for their families.
But despite all the suffering that surrounded them, the warriors - anti-Taliban fighters - kept saying, "They have defiled our land. They have defiled our honor. We must fight to the last drop of blood."
Now that the United States has killed so many more people in Afghanistan, and the dreadful Taliban is on the run, how many drops of blood are left? Will this awful fighting ever end? Even if it does, the land mines will remain.
And now we hear that India is threatening war on Pakistan. And hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians are escalating every day. Meanwhile, the American army is searching for Osama bin Laden. My guess is that this spoiled millionaire brat hasn't been in Afghanistan for weeks. What a charmer! Invited to visit by a hospitable people, he brings as a house gift enormous devastation, and then runs away.
While my heart is filled with sadness for the people of Afghanistan, it is also mourning the firefighters, policemen, bond traders, short-order cooks, secretaries, pilots and passengers who were lost on Sept. 11. Their families are facing an especially difficult holiday season. There is more than enough grief to go around.
We in America feel frightened and vulnerable. But my sadness gives way to fear when I think about the way the American people are being manipulated into a state of rabid and paranoid frenzy by the government and its apologists in the media. Hate and suspicion are everywhere. As William Norwich wrote in The New York Times on Sunday, "Conformity, confused with solidarity, has been the rage this autumn."
In Sacramento, for example, the publisher of The Sacramento Bee, Janis Besler Heaphy, was giving a commencement speech at California State University when she was heckled off the stage. Why? She was warning against racial profiling and the loss of civil liberties in the United States. "This was a message about... our acceptance of differing points of view in American society ... one that emphasizes the need to continue to embrace the traditions of liberty that are at the core of American democracy," Heaphy said.
In West Virginia, a 15-year-old girl is fighting the state's supreme court because she was expelled from her high school for wanting to start an anarchy club, and for wearing a T-shirt that says, "Against Bush. Against Bin Laden," and "When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on tv, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God bless America."
The court upheld her suspension.
Peace activists have been kept from boarding planes. Planes have been grounded because a few passengers "looked Muslim." We don't even know how many Muslim or Arab men and women are being held in custody without due process.
We've even seen repercussions here in quiet southern Vermont. While we don't know all the details yet, my guess is that two startling recent events - the arrest of a photographer from the local newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, for taking photos outside of the gate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, and police firing seven bullets in a church to kill a distraught man holding an open folding knife - will be found to have more to do with paranoia and fear than any kind of rational concern for security. "Like an Arab jihad against capitalism, the American jihad against terrorism cannot be won or lost," Lewis Latham wrote in the January 2002 issue of Harper's Magazine. "Nor does it ever end. We might as well be sending the 101st Airborne Division to conquer lust, annihilate greed, capture the sin of pride."
Have we been living in a dream world all these years, enjoying the relative freedom, bounty, safety and beauty of the United States? Has it always been an illusion? Is that why it can be so easily destroyed?
Over the centuries, the human race has gathered a few crumbs of wisdom to itself. Two wrongs don't make a right. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Turn the other cheek. All people are created equal. You have the right to free speech, free assembly, and an attorney will be provided for you if you cannot afford one. These ideas are all but abandoned now.
As Christmas approaches, the chorus of a cynical Randy Newman song runs through my head: "Bright before me/ The signs implore me/ To help the needy and show them the way/ Human kindness is overflowing/ And I think it's going to rain today."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics, economics and travel.