NYTimes.com Article: Eastern Middle School

khare@w3.org khare@w3.org
Wed, 3 Oct 2001 03:09:52 -0400 (EDT)

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by khare@w3.org.

An excellent reminder: fundamentalism can abuse jetliners, but never manufacture them! That civil society -- PTAs and trade shows -- are more important than political society! --RK


Eastern Middle School

October 2, 2001 



I recently attended meet-the-teacher night at Eastern
Middle School, my daughter Natalie's school in Silver
Spring, Md. The evening began with the principal noting
that Eastern, a public school in suburban Washington, had
40 different nationalities among its students. Before the
teachers were introduced, the school's choir and orchestra,
a Noah's ark of black, Hispanic, Asian and white kids, led
everyone in "God Bless America." There was something about
the way those kids sang together, and the earnest, if not
always melodious, way the school orchestra pounded out the
National Anthem, that was both moving and soothing. As I
took in the scene, it occurred to me how much the Islamic
terrorists who just hit America do not understand about

Their constant refrain is that America is a country with
wealth and power but "no values." The Islamic terrorists
think our wealth and power is unrelated to anything in the
soul of this country - that we are basically a godless
nation, indeed the enemies of God. And if you are an enemy
of God you deserve to die. These terrorists believe that
wealth and power can be achieved only by giving up your
values, because they look at places such as Saudi Arabia
and see that many of the wealthy and powerful there lead
lives disconnected from their faith. 

Of course, what this view of America completely misses is
that American power and wealth flow directly from a deep
spiritual source - a spirit of respect for the individual,
a spirit of tolerance for differences of faith or politics,
a respect for freedom of thought as the necessary
foundation for all creativity and a spirit of unity that
encompasses all kinds of differences. Only a society with a
deep spiritual energy, that welcomes immigrants and
worships freedom, could constantly renew itself and its
sources of power and wealth. 

Which is why the terrorists can hijack Boeing planes, but
in the spiritless, monolithic societies they want to build,
they could never produce them. The terrorists can exploit
the U.S.- made Internet, but in their suffocated world of
one God, one truth, one way, one leader, they could never
invent it. 

Lord knows, ours is hardly a perfect country. Many times we
have deviated from the American spirit or applied it
selfishly. But it is because we come back to this spirit
more times than not, in more communities than not, that our
country remains both strong and renewable. 

Why can't we convey that? In part, we're to blame.
President Bush denigrated Washington during his campaign
and repeated the selfish mantra about the surplus that
"it's your money - not the government's money." How
thankful we are today that we have a Washington, D.C., with
its strong institutions - FEMA, the F.A.A., the F.B.I. and
armed forces - not to mention a surplus to help manage our
way out of this crisis. 

In part we don't talk about these issues so we don't
embarrass our autocratic allies in the Middle East. But
this negative view of America as a nation that achieved
wealth and power without any spiritual values is also
deliberately nurtured by governments and groups in the
Middle East. It is a way of explaining away their own
failures to deliver a better life for their own people: The
Americans are powerful only because they stole from us or
from others - not because of anything intrinsically
spiritual or humane in their society. 

A society that will dig until it has found every body in
the World Trade Center rubble - because at some level it
believes every individual is created in the image of God -
a society that raises $600 million for the victims in two
weeks, is a godless, spiritless place? Guess again. 

These terrorists so misread America. They think our
strength lies only in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon - the twin pillars of our wealth and power - and
if they can just knock them down we'll start to fold: as if
we, like them, have only one truth, one power center. 

Actually, our strength lies in the slightly dilapidated gym
of Eastern Middle School on parent-teacher night, and in
thousands of such schools across the land. That is where
you'll find the spirit that built the twin towers and can
build them over again anytime we please. 

So in these troubled times, if you want to feel reassured
about how strong this country is, or what we're fighting to
preserve, just attend a P.T.A. meeting. It's all there,
hiding in plain sight. 


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