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How America can prevent self-destruction

By Ali Parsa
September 20, 2001
The Iranian

Like all of you, I was shocked and dismayed by watching the destruction of the World Trade Center. I was also shocked to watch the news that two Sikhs from India were shot in Phoenix by a patriotic American who assumed that these two innocent sikhs were followers of Osama Bin Ladin's terrorist group just because they wore turban! Here, I am not talking about an isolated incident. This kind of attack against immigrants-legal and illegal, their businesses and their families take place all the time especially after incidents like the tragic WTC. attack.

In the Middle Eastern fables punishing a blacksmith for the crime of a coppersmith just because both their names end with smith is considered a joke and a gross example of injustice. Shooting of the innocent sikh in Phoenix is equivalent of every foreigner thinking that every American is Ted Kezinski, the Unibomber or Tim McVeigh or any other American terrorist. The question is where is law-abiding America going? In other world, whither America, whither the world?

I disagree that the WTC tragedy has been the first attack on America. I agree however, that this attack is unique in killing the most number of innocent people and inflicting the heaviest physical damage in a unit time. I believe also that this deep wound on American body would be the last if and only if we identify its roots rather than giving it the usual mere band-aid treatment.

What is happening? What causes these clashes between the Middle East -- the ancient "Cradle of civilization" -- and America that I call the "Cradle of Modern Democracy"? Why aren't there such attacks against other world powers like Japan, China, Russia, British, French, Germans and the rest?

Let us not forget the universal wisdom that whatever befalls us, first and foremost it is our own making. Blaming others for our misfortunes is neither universal nor American. Let us also not forget that America was the first nation in the history of mankind that gave new meaning to this philosophy by starting as the first self-made, self-reliant nation that took charge of its own destiny by devising the government of the people, for and by the people rather than forever blaming the British colonial power forever.

The truth is that we are bound to have many of these incidents if we do not try to discuss its genesis in order to prevent its further occurrence. We have to understand that the defense of freedom in America is not limited to the usual ceremonies such as outpouring of sympathy, candle lights vigils, tea shirt selling, singing of Amazing Grace and our National Anthem. We have to nip the terrorism in the bud and replace it with dialogue, not only in America but everywhere.

I love America and my insight into its history tells me that, like any revolution, the American Revolution has been under attack since its inception. Also, like any other government in ancient or modern history, the American government lost touch with the intentions of its founders, and what we see as attack on America are nothing but the consequences of that. For proof of that let us discuss this under three headings; namely, America that was, America that is and America that can be.

What made America unique and great in the world was its government of the people, by and for the people. The great founders were well aware of the fact that efficacy of the government of the people was, first and foremost a function of an informed public. My hero for that recipe for mobilizing a free people is Thomas Jefferson who said "enlighten people and tyranny of body and mind will disappear like evil spirit in the dawn of day." Jefferson's greatest service to America in particular and mankind in general was making public education the birthright of every individual instead of education for the elite only. Jefferson's philosophy of public education illuminated the whole world like no other time in the history of mankind. Jefferson believed that education could convert the destructive thoughts into constructive ones.

I must also add that the word education to the founders was effective education that included ethics and example. I call these the three e's as opposed to the three r's-standing for reading, 'riting and 'rithmethics as if the one who devised this acronym did not know how to spell! The founders were aware of the fact that mere technological achievement without ethics would be suicidal for mankind. No one was more concerned about this than Ralph Waldo Emerson who predicted that "The end of human race will be that it will die of civilization." And in more recent times Theodore Roosevelt said "To educate a man in mind and not moral is to educate a menace to our society. Albert Einstein warned us that "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

The founders so steadfastly stuck to these principles that they fought tooth and nail to preserve them and some got involved in duels and paid the supreme sacrifice to prove their point, stress the distinction between right and wrong, and safeguard this nation from the onslaught of hypocrisy. In sum, it was the truth that made this nation free and not falsehood. In 1790. J.P. Curran said, "The condition upon which God has given us liberty is eternal vigilance."

Jefferson also said "Those who expect to be ignorant and free, expect what there never was and never will be." It was the impact and echo of such messages that made America the undisputable leader of the free world. Hypocrisy, excess greed and injustice were kept at bay by the watchful eyes of citizens who exercised their participatory democracy. In some cases clean and noble private enterprises suppressed the unjust global ambitions of federal government in fighting unpopular wars and offending some cultures by even paying the federal government not to engage in such unkosher acts.

Last but not least, this nation came to be known as the Nation of Immigrants, starting with the Native Americans and continuing up to present time.

Although relatively speaking, America still remains as one of the best places to be, it is fast losing that status and contrary to public opinion it is threatened more from within than from without. This is nothing new in the history of nations. In fact Thomas Jefferson warned us that "An empire collapses more from within than from without." Not surprisingly, the conditions that are contributing to demise of this great country are the reverse of the conditions its founders set forth for its preservation and survival.

Chief among these are increasing public ignorance and erosion of ethics as opposed to effective public education that was first devised in America. This is aggravated by the television programs the net effects of which is distraction of students from learning and releasing them from parental influence. The mainstream media ignores the fact that almost all unsupervised and immature children will be more influenced by corrupting programs than the good ones they offer. This is so devastating that it can hardly be counteracted by any measure no matter how much money is thrown at education. Many attributes that have made America great are no longer instilled in the children who are the best assets for the country and that is a greatest cause for concern.

Watered-down education invites ignorance, indifference, apathy and lack of participatory democracy to the point that less Americans bother to vote than almost any other country including the developing ones. After all, how can the students become civic and global minded and a part of global economy if they have not even the knowledge of history of their own country- much less that of the world? This condition does not hurt even the most honest politicians who could get elected by reaching a smaller number of voters. Even the intelligence agencies lack experts and linguistics for other cultures and languages.

Lack of passion for learning also invites the heaviest substance abuse so that America, with some 7% of the world population, consumes about half of the illicit drugs in the hope of getting the high that they could have achieved by effective education. For the same reason, America has a higher number of criminals behind bars than any other industrialized country.

The grave financial consequences of lack of awareness is the public and private spending beyond their means both on an individual and government scale. One gets confused that at one time the menace of public debt is publicized, followed by the highest surplus in the history and again by deficit and the need to dip into social security funds to pay the government bills. These confusions and contradictions contributes to more apathy and indifference. Most Americans have found it easier to not exercise their voting rights than get involved and observe dishonesty.

This lack of educated manpower is forcing the private enterprise to either import foreign trained labors or export jobs to other countries where they get more bang for their buck, so to speak. And yet there are voices within the United States that are blaming the immigrants for "taking jobs away from the Americans" instead of educating Americans to lower their expectations, reconsider their luxury consumption and economy of waste

Lack of knowledge of other languages and cultures even at diplomatic core creates cultural clashes and loss of global business to the American competitors who do the opposite.

The only ways America can prevent what amounts to self-destruction are the following:

* Show interest in other people. America is the most generous nation on earth and continues to be so even if it is not getting reciprocity and recognition for this. This, by itself is an additional credit in their favor. However, there is a cautious and hidden resentment against America that is quite complex to explain. One could attribute some of this to sheer opposition that goes against any superpower. But the most important factor, to me, is lack of interest in culture and language of others that to most foreigners, right or wrong is taken as arrogance or bullying that threatens their cultures. In view of most countries this is so repulsive that dwarfs the generosity of the Americans. Evidence to this is that some other world powers who show interest in language an culture of others and give far less financial aids get more respect and in many instances more business from those countries. And, yes, many foreigners yearn to come here but that is mainly for making more money in less time and return home where their hearts really are.

* Treat effective education as national defense because American system of government is tailored for the most informed and educated people. Public ignorance will invite more chaos in America than in developing countries. Some may ask me that in spite of all these criticisms of education system, why does America has the highest number of noble prize winners, inventions and patents. The answer is that many of these inventors are foreign scientists who directly or indirectly contribute to the scientific pool of America for the good reward they get in return. Such scientists are self-motivated and some especially the foreign ones have attended schools that are far worse than the worst schools in America. The issue I have raised here is the deterioration of public education that is supposed to educate the majority.

* Make ethics an integral part of education. This does not necessarily mean teaching any particular religious dogma. Effective education by itself, to a great extent instills ethics, passion for learning and respect for life in general.

* The media must play a much bigger role in public education especially in the absence of parental involvement in public education. Media must at least ease up on their programs that corrupt the youth rather than effectively educate them.

* People and particular leaders must set examples in balancing their words and their deeds. This is very important both domestically and globally. The latter means that there should be no preferential treatment on the basis of money and power, alienating certain countries and toppling their leaders that do not play our game.

* Quit creating tyrant leaders. This especially means that we should stop spending our resources to create monsters and tyrants and then spending even more in the name of getting rid of them. The root of terrorism at home or abroad is to deprive people of their basic human rights. If we do this other countries will stop terrorism and their problems will rarely get to our borders.

* We need leaders who, when asked what is the difference between right and wrong, will not answer "It all depends of what the definition of IS, IS." Such answers are nothing but ethic cleansing that is just as bad as "ethnic cleansing".

In summary, it is said that American salespeople are so good in their profession that they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos! The question is that when it comes to foreign policy why shouldn't we know more about our foreign clients's culture, language, mind set and operate on mutual respect to at least sell them like our competitors do?.

We can continue to blame the Middle East for all of our problems if we want. But let us remember that thousands of years of culture there have coined a term for this. It is called "planting a thorn bush and expecting to harvest dates." We must not forget that if we take no action to remedy this situation we will:

-- Breed more terrorism both at home and abroad.

-- Reach a point where the only way to survive would be creation of a police state.

-- Energize the repressive regimes to do the same. That lack of hope for freedom will backlash and will pose more danger for freedom and democracy than ever before.

-- Erase all our hopes for dividends of technology in making our lives easier and more affordable. And that will be the end of American- individual rights, privacy, freedom and democracy as we have known.

Let us not forget that with the exception of a small minority with genetic defects, all human beings have inherent characteristic and common denominator of responding in kind to kindness and mutual respect. Let us not brand a whole nation as barbarian, terrorist and anti-American just because they want to be independent and free. Let us not turn Abraham Lincoln's dream of America as "the last best hope of mankind" into a nightmare.

In the government of the people, first and foremost, it is up to We the people to initiate any change and not up to the government. In the government of the people no individual should feel insignificant and use that as an excuse for inaction, apathy and complacency.

As Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

I close by quoting Langston Hughs who said:

Let America be America again-

The land that never has been yet.

And yet must be

The land where every man is free.

I modify this by saying:

Let America be America again,

The land that was intended to be.

And again must be,

A land where everyone is free.

And I end with one of my own:

Educated, you perceive what you see,

So you never go on a binge or spree.

You are a slave if not enlightened,

Even if born in the Land of the Free.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer Ali Parsa


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