Change policies - or get used to checking your tweezers

October 23, 2001|By Thomas L. Friedman

WASHINGTON - We've all had a Eureka moment in recent days when we realized the new world we're living in post-Sept. 11. For me it came at National Airport the other day when, while checking in for the Delta Shuttle to New York, my small overnight bag was searched and the security agent found my tweezers.

"I'm sorry," she said. "You have to check this."

For a moment, as I stared at the tiny red tweezers, my mind drifted forward: I imagined myself returning to the check-in counter and telling the Delta agent, "I would like to check these tweezers to LaGuardia, please."

She would then ask me: "Did you pack these tweezers yourself? Have they been in your possession at all times?"

I would nod and then watch as she wrapped a Delta luggage tag around one arm of my tweezers, while I wrapped my name tag around the other. Then she would delicately lay my tweezers on the conveyer belt, next to all the big suitcases, and they would head off to the plane like a mouse among elephants. I would then claim them at LaGuardia, waiting patiently as they came down the luggage carousel.

But what if they didn't arrive? I thought. What if I had to go to lost baggage and say, "Excuse me, I checked my tweezers in Washington and they didn't arrive." What would I tell the lost-luggage agent when she asked what model they were? Samsonite or Louis Vuitton? And I would have to answer: "Rite Aid Pharmacy."

With such thoughts in mind, I just checked my whole overnight bag - tweezers and all. But this is not a column about tweezers. It's about the world we now live in, which can make tweezers so dangerous.

We have moved from a Cold War system to a globalization system. And in this new networked, integrated world without walls, a pair of tweezers in the hands of the wrong person can turn an airplane into a missile, which, if it hits the right building, can set off dominos that destabilize the whole world. Being poor or uneducated no longer means being weak. Because this new system is an incredible force-multiplier that can super-empower evil people so they can destabilize a superpower.

How do we deal with such a world?

First, we need to eliminate the Osama bin Ladens, who are dedicated to using any sharp instrument to super-empower themselves to do us harm. We will not get the backing of our Arab allies by winning an argument with them about the necessity of this war. We will win their backing and respect if we win the war and uproot bin Laden and the Taliban.

Second, we need to toughen up. Shame on Speaker Dennis Hastert for closing the House of Representatives because of the anthrax scare. We have U.S. troops in the field all around Afghanistan. It can't be easy duty. But the House is running scared. Just what the terrorists wanted. The House members should be meeting on the Capitol steps, popping Cipro if they have to, telling America's troops and America's enemies that nothing - N-O-T-H-I-N-G - will derail our democracy.

Third, we need to start changing hearts and minds abroad. I'm not talking about the people who are angry at us for what we do. People are entitled to oppose us for what we do. I am talking about the growing number of people who are being taught to hate us for who we are - "infidels" who don't share their faith.

This requires a multi-pronged approach. On one track, we need to understand that so many of these angry people are living in failed states, with rotten, repressive regimes tacitly supported by the United States. America needs to triple its assistance and begin taking seriously the task of improving governance in these failing states, where too many young people are being taught an angry version of Islam and no life skills.

But we cannot succeed without Muslim allies. We need political leaders ready to provide an ideological alternative to the politics of resentment that is peddled by bin Laden - leaders ready to look their own regimes in the mirror, not just use the mirror to deflect their people's wrath at them onto America.

We also need Muslim spiritual leaders who will vigorously challenge those who insist that Islam is about jihad and martyrdom - not a religion with a long history of enriching, and being enriched by, different faiths, cultures and ideas.

If we don't do our part, and if our allies don't do theirs, this will become a war of civilizations - and that's a war we cannot win: Too many angry people. Too many tweezers.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times.

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