Let me make something perfectly clear right up-front: I hate terrorism and terrorists. I was shocked and horrified and saddened as much as anyone at the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. My heart bleeds for everyone who lost loved ones on that awful day, and my heart aches for all Americans who were made to feel frightened and confused and terrorized. I celebrated, like everyone, stories of heroism and bravery; I cried a thousand tears at the stories of lives cut short by fanatics and their hatred. I would be devastated if people who know of me thought that I felt any differently. Unfortunately, a few people with their own agendas have misrepresented things I have said about America since 9/11 and branded me anti-American, when I am anything but. So I am here now to set the record straight.
It began when the London Independent asked me to pen an answer to the
question "What has changed since September 11th. It seemed a simple request. Thousands of people were asked to do the same: writers, businesspeople, politicians, actors, thought leaders -- every newspaper had pages filled with thoughts and opinions on this subject. Including mine.
Perhaps naively I assumed that my opposition to terrorism and my grief at the devastating human loss went without saying, since so many had said it so much more eloquently than I could have in the intervening 12 months. So I wrote a few hundred words on just one aspect of what I thought has changed in America during the last year: the erosion of civil liberties. I wrote about how the United States government is acting in what I perceive as a very un-American way by
weakening the Constitution in the name of patriotism. And I couched my comments very clearly in the context of my love for America and Americans.
I said that, from the bottom of my heart, I fear for citizens in a country where SUSPICION of terrorist activity alone is grounds for detention without legal counsel and without benefit of knowing the evidence against you. I worry for people who now again live in a country in which their own government has given itself the privilege to tap private telephone lines and intercept email, and which recruits its own citizens to spy on their neighbors. I am concerned for the vibrancy of a nation whose citizens are told to fall in line behind the government without question, or to be branded terrorists.
My grandparents who emigrated to America more than a century ago. They were wide-eyed, as I still am today, at what an extraordinary country America was and is, celebrating diversity and welcoming strangers to its shore, heaping on one and all freedoms that could not have be imagined anywhere else. My father was an American, born in New York City. My roots in America are deep and abiding, and my love for it limitless.
And that is precisely why I am distressed by what I see happening to America under Bush & Co.
Yet now I -- like Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Susan Sontag and even the American Civil Liberties Union -- am being branded anti-American for expressing these fears.
Certainly those Americans who approve of what Bush & Co. have done, or who believe open-ended war and a wholesale rollback of the Constitution are justifiable under the circumstances, will disagree with my opinion on these matters. To them I say: good on you for exercising a precious freedom to think independently and defend what you believe. But to those people I also say: What about when you disagree with your government some years down the line? What about when you find yourself on the other side of the fence, and you are no longer allowed to speak your mind freely and openly? Will you still believe the freedoms you gave up today were worth the price?
It is worrisome to think that some people -- Americans especially -- would prefer there not be open debate about these hard subjects, or deep questioning of the things being done in the name of freedom but the service of repression. This seems to me to be an extension of Bush's worrisome pronouncement last September that "[y]ou're either with us ... or with the terrorists" or his spokesman's spooky warning that people had better "watch what they say, watch what they do."
Was Benjamin Franklin un-American when he said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"?
Those who have called for my head and encouraged a boycott of The Body Shop because they disagree with me may believe they are defending America, but is intimidation, retaliation, and suppression of ideas really what America is about? I don't believe it.
My outrage and sadness in these times is precisely because I love America. I am deeply sorry if a few Americans took personal offense because they misunderstood me or were misinformed by right-wing commentators who quoted me out of context, but I stand by my sentiment.
America can survive criticism -- that is one of its most admirable qualities. Whether America can survive a lack of criticism, that I doubt.