Editor’s Page

Editor’s Page

This special issue, long in preparation, concerns bloody business-although not Osama bin Laden’s. It grapples, as Nicolaus Mills writes, with “the moral and political issues raised by the widespread mass killing and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, Rwanda, and East Timor.” These “New Killing Fields” may have been displaced by Afghanistan in the news; their memory and the problems they pose must not be. Dissent offers some forceful takes on this past fall’s painful events in a separate opening section.

Since September 11, I’ve pondered repeatedly a passage by Max Weber. You have a calling for politics, he wrote, only if you won’t “crumble” before a world that seems “too stupid or too base” for what you want to offer it. A formidable warning. Nowadays it should trouble anyone who identifies him- or herself as “left.” No, my politics hasn’t transmuted. I’m “left” because I believe that liberty, equality, and solidarity-linked together sensibly if fitfully-should regulate any morally intelligent politics. But I also think that the responses to September 11 by parts of the left-Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Alexander Cockburn, the “critical” minds who are always predictable-threaten to dissociate the word “left” from morally intelligent politics. One almost expects them to explain that bin Laden’s crew attacked the World Trade Center because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves (sold to him, undoubtedly, by “Zionists”).

A rhetorical tactic is at play: always change the subject. Censure terror? Well, let’s talk about “the real issue,” globalization. Ask about a crisis within Islam? No, that’s bigoted, let’s discuss the “real” issue, Orientalism. n Hasn’t the left been through something like this before-and been discredited by it? Confront Stalinist atrocities? Ummm. . .let’s address “the real issues,” czarism, capitalism, and imperialism. Changing the subject signifies evasion. Sometimes it’s evasion of what means imply for ends and sometimes of the fact that the world doesn’t always present to us comforting choices.

The Tobin tax was never the rational kernel within al Qaeda’s murderous cells. Global inequalities, corporate power, social suffering, religious and racial bias-these are real, urgent issues. But if you treat terror as little more than an invitation, albeit irksome, to talk about them, you won’t, and should not, have credibility. George W. Bush, under cover of the war, is facilitating profoundly regressive economic policies. We need credible critics. The attorney general, a zealot, is fashioning some disquieting measures in the name of security. They cannot be challenged credibly by anyone who treats terror and public safety as non-issues, distractions from what he or she wants to offer the world.