Around the world, right now, leftists of all sorts are engaged in arguments about the use of force. In our last issue, we focused on the question of humanitarian intervention, and all our writers, though they were a very diverse group, argued for the necessity of a military response to genocide and ethnic cleansing. In this issue, we are publishing a group of articles that address the question of what happens after the killing fields have, one way or another, been shut down. How can some form of political order be restored? How can justice be done? Who are the restorers and doers? Whose voice and hand should be authoritative? And how can the rest of us help? We can’t answer all these questions, only begin to think about them. For anyone who supports the use of force (sometimes), they are necessary questions. Once you intervene, you take on responsibilities.
September 11 raised a set of different but parallel questions, requiring a similar intellectual/political engagement. Terrorism is one way of using force; the “war against terrorism” is another. I am sure that there are alternatives to the first: even the fiercest and most fanatical of religious zealots can pursue their goals without planning mass murder. There are no excuses for terrorism; along with Benjamin Ross, I even doubt that there are any “root causes,” at least in the standard left use of that term, where a supposedly deep understanding of where the terrorists are coming from sometimes serves as an excuse for what they do.
But it is a question for us, in this issue of Dissent, whether there are alternatives to the “war against terrorism.” Iris Young and Daniele Archibugi argue that a globalist response, working through the United Nations, would have been better than the largely American or American/Afghan war. They differ, however, from other people on the left who defended a similar position (and who are criticized in my own piece and also in Jeffrey C. Isaac’s) because they take the security issue, the need to prevent the next attack, very seriously and respond in a concrete way. The dangers of American unilateralism are also addressed by Todd Gitlin, who has some fresh things to say about how our hegemonic power might be used in (mixing my metaphors) less myopic hands. Murray Hausknecht worries rightly about the effects on civil liberty and oppositional politics of the war at home. And Amy Burke, claiming that a national crisis is a time for solidaristic social policies, mourns the opportunity that George W. Bush is sure to miss.
For me, the highlight of this issue is Kanan Makiya’s brilliant essay-memoir, analysis, meditation-on September 11 and the Arab world. Read it.