TCS Daily

Blame Shame

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - May 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Michael Berg finds himself in the horrible position of outliving his own child. As the world now knows, a video shows one of the world's most wanted terrorists -- Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a high-ranking al Qaeda leader -- hacking off the head of Berg's son, Nick. As Berg screamed and bellowed in sickening agony, the terrorists who butchered him blasphemed the Deity of the world's great monotheistic religions by shouting "Allah-hu-akbar!" "God is great!" in celebration of Berg's savage murder.

Like any father, Michael Berg grieves for his son. Like any father, he wonders why he was made to outlive his child. It goes without saying that I cannot possibly fathom his sadness.

But strangely, Mr. Berg failed to place the primary responsibility for the death of his son where it belonged. Instead, he placed that responsibility on leaders of the U.S., whom he somehow believes bear at least as much -- if not more -- guilt on their shoulders for Nick Berg's death as do the terrorists who actually killed Nick Berg.

Perhaps at first, these comments could have been given a pass as being the result of Mr. Berg's understandable grief and sorrow. But with the writing of this editorial, Mr. Berg renders what one has every reason to believe is his considered judgment regarding his son's death, and the circumstances surrounding it. His comments deserve a response.

Mr. Berg starts out his editorial with a startling and incredible statement:

"People ask me why I focus on putting the blame for my son's tragic and atrocious end on the Bush administration. They ask: 'Don't you blame the five men who killed him?' I have answered that I blame them no more or less than the Bush administration, but I am wrong: I am sure, knowing my son, that somewhere during their association with him these men became aware of what an extraordinary man my son was. I take comfort that when they did the awful thing they did, they weren't quite as in to it as they might have been. I am sure that they came to admire him. I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nick's breath on his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my son's eyes and got at least a glimmer of what the rest of the world sees. And I am sure that these murderers, for just a brief moment, did not like what they were doing."

The glee the terrorists took in hacking off Nick Berg's head, while shouting "Allah-hu-akbar!" belies any contention that the terrorists weren't "quite as in to it as they might have been" or that the killers "did not like what they were doing." The terrorists didn't care who Nick Berg was. They only knew that he was an American, and thus an enemy. It is perhaps a parental instinct to believe that the world will see one's children in the same light as a loving parent does. But Nick Berg's killers lacked that sense of humanity, and for Michael Berg to believe otherwise is simply self-delusional.

Mr. Berg continues:

"So what were we to do when we in America were attacked on September 11, that infamous day? I say we should have done then what we never did before: stop speaking to the people we labelled our enemies and start listening to them. Stop giving preconditions to our peaceful coexistence on this small planet, and start honouring and respecting every human's need to live free and autonomously, to truly respect the sovereignty of every state. To stop making up rules by which others must live and then separate rules for ourselves.

"George Bush's ineffective leadership is a weapon of mass destruction, and it has allowed a chain reaction of events that led to the unlawful detention of my son which immersed him in a world of escalated violence. Were it not for Nick's detention, I would have had him in my arms again. That detention held him in Iraq not only until the atrocities that led to the siege of Fallujah, but also the revelation of the atrocities committed in the jails in Iraq, in retaliation for which my son's wonderful life was put to an end."

Contrary to Mr. Berg's statements, the State Department offered to get Berg out of Iraq. Berg refused the offer. This does not make Berg responsible for his death. But it certainly doesn't make the Bush Administration responsible. Indeed, let's take this a step further: No American President -- whether Republican or Democrat -- should be held primarily responsible for the deaths of Americans at the hands of terrorists. A President's response to terrorists is a legitimate issue for debate and discussion, but Nick Berg's blood is on the hands of terrorists, not the Bush Administration, or any other administration.

Mr. Berg, of course, believes that our response to terrorists should involve having us "start listening" to those we have labeled our "enemies." Does Mr. Berg not understand the depths of al Qaeda's hatred for the United States and the West? Osama bin Laden is well known for lamenting what he calls "the tragedy of Andalusia." This "tragedy" refers to the conquest of the Muslim kingdom of Granada by Spain over five hundred years ago. Does Mr. Berg really believe that "listening" to the likes of those who hold a murderous grudge for half a millennium will actually do anything to bring such grudges to an end? Will bin Laden and his cohorts forgive and forget "the tragedy of Andalusia" and forego their vengeance merely because people like Mr. Berg choose to "listen" to murderers instead of fight against and resist them?

Why is it necessary to respond to statements such as those made by Michael Berg? Because it represents an appalling moral equivalence between leaders of this country, and butchers of the worst kind. And Michael Berg is not the only person making such misguided comparisons. Regarding the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Senator Edward Kennedy -- who ought to know better -- said recently that "Shamefully we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management." Without excusing those abuses, there is a difference between American abuses (which are being investigated with punishments being doled out) and abuses performed by Saddam's regime (which were rewarded).

Maybe three years after the September 11th attacks we are losing our sense of perspective and outrage. If so, we need to regain it quickly. Blinding ourselves to the implications of the war on terrorism, or as to the nature of our enemies is a sure way to defeat. While we fight a military war abroad, we need to continue to fight the battle of ideas, not only with the terrorists, but with those who misunderstand them as well. We may have once taken it for granted after September 11th that people would automatically understand what is at stake. But some people do not. And we cannot afford to back away from the debate with them.


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