(Usually a professor of English, sometimes of political science or government, in his/her mid 50s ? their long questions require a very short answer.)
Q. Like some bull in a china shop, you charge into, as it were, some in fact quite complex issues of culture, race, class, and gender in the Middle East that simply cannot be resolved by brute military force used in a very unsophisticated, unfocused, and I must say frightening way that we saw only too well in Vietnam. We have foolishly spent much of the world’s sympathy accrued after September 11 in just the sort of unnecessary saber-rattling you so recklessly advocate. I have argued at length elsewhere that the United States must take very seriously complaints coming in from almost every corner of the Islamic world regarding its treatment of Muslims, from Palestine to Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and its predictable inability to hear the voices of those who by any reasonable definition are genuinely oppressed.
All too often we offer only the worst of our culture to those in dire need of basic necessities; if we must intervene in the internal affairs of others ? something in itself extremely problematic, and which I remain very troubled by ? it would be far better to craft a second Marshall Plan with no strings attached than to rain down bombs on children. September 11 was an unfortunate event, for which proper criminal and judicial measures ? albeit with special care to prevent the ominous onset of a police state ? must be addressed; but simply lashing out at suspected sympathetic governments will only compound the problem, and leave a legacy of hatred and impoverishment that will last for generations. By your logic we should bomb the havens of Boston or Frankfurt, where in fact terrorists were known to have lived quite safely.
A. Bin Laden would agree with almost everything you have said.
(Most often a student activist, and the most interesting of all the questioners, since he reveals instantaneously the erosion of the American educational system during the last three decades ? arrogance coupled with ignorance proving a fatal combination.)
Q. Why don’t you mention that the U.S. killed 2 million babies in Iran last year?
A. Wrong country, wrong number, wrong year ? wrong planet?