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Algora Publishing - Fear Drives the Making of a Secret Government
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
Fear Drives the Making of a Secret Government
Michael Paulson The Boston Globe

BOSTON The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provoked a flood of religious responses. Americans flocked to churches, synagogues and mosques seeking to make sense of tragedy. And, as the United States sought to avenge the attacks, many religious leaders blessed the country's response.

Over the course of the year, the few audible voices that publicly questioned the quasi-official narrative of Sept. 11 have been ridiculed and criticized, often harshly.

But now, a year after the attacks, a small number of scholars are again suggesting that there are other ways of looking at what happened last year, that perhaps the attacks weren't so shocking and the response not so justifiable.

"We academics are paid to sit on our butts and think, and yet we mainly underwrite the sentimentalities that the culture desires when we're supposed to be telling the truth," said Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School. "I find the lack of dissenting voices to the current outrage of Americans about Sept. 11, and the resulting attack on Afghanistan, to be absolutely horrendous."

Hauerwas and Frank Lentricchia, a professor of literature at Duke, have edited a new collection of writings, "Dissent from the Homeland: Essays After September 11," published Wednesday in a special edition of The South Atlantic Quarterly. In the journal, 18 theologians, philosophers and literary critics speak out against the war on terrorism.

The publisher, Duke University Press, acknowledges in a foreword that the journal "is bound to cause trouble," suggesting that some may even call for the firing of Hauerwas and Lentricchia. The journal includes a disclaimer from Hauerwas and Lentricchia, who write that "intolerance of political dissent in the United States at the present time makes it necessary to say" that "we, also, abominate the slaughter of the innocent, even as we find it unacceptably childish that Americans refuse to take any responsibility for Sept. 11."

But Hauerwas, a pacifist who resigned from the board of the journal First Things because he disagreed with their response to the war on terror, said the dissenting professors weren't looking for trouble. He said understanding the seriousness of the events of Sept. 11 does not require abandoning critical thinking about what happened next.

The religious response has shown how deeply American Christianity is just that - American - and so much that has happened in the name of God has been nothing short of idolatry," he said. "The identification of God with America as a nation unlike other nations is just shocking from a theological point of view. All this 'God Bless America.' Well, God blesses Afghanistan too you know."

The scholars who agreed to write under the label of dissenters offer a variety of critiques of the way Americans have understood what happened on Sept. 11.

Many of the scholars question the language used by the United States to describe its plight - particularly the use of words like "war," "terror" and "evil."

"The point at which we need to show more footage of collapsing towers, of people jumping to their death, when we raise the temperature by injunctions never to forget - that is when something rather ambiguous enters in," writes Rowan Williams, who since writing his essay has been named archbishop-elect of Canterbury. "Bombast about evil individuals doesn't help in understanding anything. Even vile and murderous actions tend to come from somewhere."

Several scholars question the motivation of the United States in launching its war on terror.

Americans show "that we know the 'war on terrorism' is the code phrase for the preservation of our interstates, cars, suburbs and the petrochemical octopus that feeds and clothes us," writes Susan Willis, associate professor of English at Duke.

A critique of the complicity of religious leaders is a recurrent theme. One academic, Fredric Jameson, chairman of the literature program at Duke, goes so far as to say that "What is called religion today" is "really politics under a different name."

The Boston Globe