Sixty-eight years and two days ago, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor awakened what Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto called a “sleeping giant.” Nearly 60 years later, the attacks that turned civilian airliners into weapons made Sept. 11, 2001, a second day of infamy. Americans were shocked and outraged.
The pressing question is where has that outrage gone? And outrage applies not only to Americans. It applies with a vengeance and validity to more than a billion Muslims whose religion has been and is being hijacked by a small group of zealots and like the Americans before Dec. 7, 1941, are either asleep or indifferent to this danger.
For Americans, that second outrage was short lived. Perhaps that was because the assault into Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden failed. And the subsequent invasion of Iraq served only to topple Saddam Hussein and not redress either the causes of Sept. 11 or indeed improve the stability of the region. Now, entering the ninth year of the Afghan war and the seventh of Iraq, Americans have become war weary.
Still, a little outrage and anger could be a good thing. Consider three worthy lightning rods for outrage. The first for Americans is homeland security — itself an unfortunate term conjuring up notions of fascist and authoritarian states that made frequent use of the term “homeland.” The second is the state of development and aid to Afghanistan — a case study of waste, incompetence and abuse. The third is broader.
This nation has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to assure our security. Every time Americans enter an airport they are subject to intrusive searches. Think of the billions of times shoes have been removed. And to what end?
The nation desperately needs an audit to see what it has received in terms of real security improvements for the money spent. As the responses to Hurricane Katrina and less so producing swine flu vaccine on a timely basis vividly show, we ain’t got our money’s worth. Before another real catastrophe strikes — and one will — surely an objective and intrusive assessment of the state of homeland security is needed.
Regarding Afghanistan, as this column has repeatedly argued, the bulk of development and aid monies has been wasted. Many reasons — few good — explain why. One is that the U.S. Agency for International Development was allowed to atrophy. As a result it has become a contracting agency. With so few government employees, oversight and auditing could never be done properly. The war in Iraq likewise compounded these problems.
The response, if the nation were truly outraged, is a commission not unlike that chaired by Sen. Harry Truman that went after the procurement excesses and criminal conduct by contractors during World War II. Afghanistan is a difficult and possibly irresolvable problem by itself. But without a modicum of effectiveness, Afghanistan can never become a viable state without development and aid.
The third area where outrage is sorely needed is among Muslims. It is inexplicable that hundreds of thousands or even millions of Muslims can protest a Danish cartoon that allegedly makes fun of the religion. How many Muslims have protested the outrageous acts of terror committed in the name of Islam?
Osama bin Laden and his henchmen frequently issue “fatwas” or religious edicts some compare to papal bulls. But what nonsense! Bin Laden has absolutely no religious credentials. Yet, where are the expressions of outrage and protest?
In Pakistan, the Taliban have taken to bombing mosques and other religious gathering points in addition to marketplaces and schools where many women and children routinely congregate. Yet, Muslim clerics around the world have been slow to condemn this violence in which Muslims target and kill other Muslims.
In Pakistan, the media far prefer to invent conspiracies and false stories to attack their leaders and government. While the insurgency worsens, more Muslims are being killed and maimed by other Muslims. The only real conspiracy is one of silence. That is an outrage.
One reason why the Pakistanis turned against the Taliban in Swat was a video that showed the beating of a young girl. The image of that barbarism was not quite a Pearl Harbor or Sept. 11. It was enough, however, to anger and mobilize most Pakistanis.
More than another disaster that leaves thousands dead, there is a better way of invoking outrage. It is called leadership. Leaders must invoke and convey this sense of outrage to their publics. In the United States, we should be outraged at our failure to make good on critical actions to protect ourselves and to accomplish the job in Afghanistan. In the Muslim world, it is time for outrage over the hijacking of the religion by zealots, radicals and the unworthy. Only then will we be safer and more secure.