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Understanding a Terrorist's Inner Child By: Joseph J. Sabia
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 20, 2002


In the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, hundreds of university professors around the country made outrageous statements concerning the root causes of terrorism. These academicians made excuses for Islamists slamming planes into buildings, alleging that America herself had created an environment conducive to such attacks. One year later, these professors' statements have largely been forgotten. This forgetfulness is dangerous inasmuch as it permits liberals to escape accountability for outlandish, naïve, and absurd analyses. Consider the case of Dr. James Garbarino.

Dr. Garbarino is the E. L. Vincent Professor of Human Development at Cornell University and is the co-director of the Family Life Development Center. His research focuses on parenting and child development. Last September, just days after the 911 massacres, Dr. Garbarino issued a statement on how responsible parents should react to the terrorist assaults so as to send children a "proper" message.

Writing from the safety of his academic office — far from the wreckage of Ground Zero, the Pentagon, or Shanksville — Dr. Garbarino informed the nation's parents:

The coming days and weeks will teach children and youth a great deal about justice, compassion, and revenge. They will learn lessons from what our government does on our behalf. Our goal should be to teach them at least three lessons: First, compassion and understanding are founded in strength not weakness. Let us celebrate the helpers and those who speak and act for justice and due process rather than for blood revenge.

In these remarks, Dr. Garbarino drew a sharp distinction between his view of United States military action ("blood revenge") and his ideal vision of justice and compassion. As it turns out, the Bush Administration's policies over the past year have shown that justice and compassion were best served through the use of military force. The "helpers" were the U.S. Special Forces that destroyed al Qaeda's training camps, killed or captured terrorist leaders, made the United States a safer place in which to live, and liberated Afghan citizens from Taliban rule. President Bush even sanctioned the dropping of food and medical supplies to the Afghan people as a show that America was a friend to the oppressed people.

Next, Dr. Garbarino — like all good liberals — played the Japanese internment card by warning parents not to blame innocent Arabs for the attacks on America:

Second, protecting the stigmatized from scapegoating and guilt by association is an important goal of public institutions in a time of national crisis. In the wake of the first Pearl Harbor at the start of World War II we rounded up Japanese-Americans and detained them as suspected enemies of the state. We must guard against that mentality if it is indeed Arabs and Muslims who are to blame for the catastrophe of September 11.

Why was Japanese internment the first thing on his mind after Islamists murdered 3000 innocent Americans? What normal people think this way? Of all of the lessons to gain from World War II, why was internment at the top of Dr. Garbarino's list? What about the dangers of appeasement, the importance of defending liberty, or the indispensability of moral leadership?

As we now know, Dr. Garbarino's hysterical fears were misplaced. The Bush Administration has bent over backwards to assure Muslims of the world that we are not at war with Islam. Indeed, no matter how many adherents to the Religion of Peace were burning American flags and chanting "Death to America!" President Bush spoke of their wonderful religious traditions. There are no internment camps, no dead bodies of Arabs strewn along the nation's major highways. Like most liberals, Dr. Garbarino underestimated the American character as well as our nation's adherence to the rule of law.

Then, in his most outrageous admonition to parents, the distinguished professor advised:

Third, understanding and compassion in the face of hate and fanaticism are virtues, not something to be afraid of. It is more than a matter of our good and their evil. Dehumanization is the enemy. Each individual has a story to tell, a human story. Terrorists typically are caught up in their own scenarios of revenge and retaliation. Often they have experienced personal suffering or family loss, or historical victimization, and are seeking a way to give meaning to that suffering through acts of violent revenge.

During the war in Afghanistan — and in the current showdown with Iraq — President Bush's moral clarity has been the rallying cry to defend "our good" against "their evil." In contrast to Dr. Garbarino's discredited philosophy of moral relativism, America's focus on absolute right and wrong has kept defenders of freedom focused on the great moral purpose of the war on terrorism.

Academicians tend to bristle at any mention of morality or any reference to Western Civilization's objective superiority to other cultures of the world. Instinctively, they retreat to a psychotic worldview in which Hitler and Mother Teresa are neither all good nor all bad, but rather "each [with] a story to tell."

Dr. Garbarino warned against the "dehumanization of the enemy" and, unfortunately, this advice was heeded by far too many. Liberals obsessed with protecting "innocent civilians" convinced many Americans that Islamic fundamentalists are an oppressed people to be pitied. This is the type of wrong-headed thinking is going to get us all killed. During the Second World War, the State Department produced war posters that accurately depicted Japanese, German, and Italian military men as merciless inhuman savages, hell-bent on world conquest. We could use a few of those posters today to remind us of the new Satan threatening our way of life.

But this Ivy League professor was not interested in demonizing the new Satan. Instead, he was focused on understanding the inner child of Mohammed Atta.

Dr. Garbarino intimated that the war on terrorism would send a bad message to our nation's children. At best, he was tremendously naïve. At worst, he was using his position of authority to brainwash young minds with a discredited ideology. Regardless of his intent, the facts of the last year have proven him wrong.

The war on terrorism has taught our nation's youth that that America is the greatest country in the history of mankind. Our children now understand that America will defend liberty against the onslaught of Islamic totalitarianism, that we will never allow evil to triumph, and that our patriotic spirit will always burn brightly.

"Our kids are watching and listening," cautioned Dr. Garbarino. Thankfully, they were watching and listening to President Bush and not the good professor.


Joseph J. Sabia is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Cornell University.


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