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Thursday, December 31,2009

A look back at the Aughts

By Pamela White

2001: 9/11

Hatred kills thousands. Who is to blame?

Sept. 13, 2001

Boulder Weekly staff arrived at work on Sept. 11 to the shocking news that two hijacked planes had collided with the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers. While the nation and the world reeled in shock, Publisher Stewart Sallo called an editorial meeting to brainstorm how the paper should cover the story. For him, it boiled down to one critical question: Why is America so hated that people would do something like this?

Pamela White, who attended the meeting as a freelancer, took up the challenge of seeking answers to that question. She spent the next 24 hours interviewing experts about the United States and its interactions with the other nations and cultures of the world.

David Barsamian, host of the nationally broadcast program Alternative Radio, told her that risk to American lives comes as a result of rage generated by U.S. foreign policy. But he went on to say the United States also aggressively exports its own culture through Burger Kings, Starbucks and Hollywood films to places where such things are unwelcome and offensive.

Ira Chernus, a CU professor of religious studies, said U.S. policies designed to protect American citizens often extend far beyond U.S. borders, with the result that America is seen as trying to “organize the world.”

Joel Edelstein specifically tapped U.S. policy regarding the Middle East as a source of hatred toward the United States, while activist Scott Silber pointed to economic policies that enrich U.S. corporations at the expense of the poor in other nations.

The article that grew out of those interviews was titled, “Why are we so hated?” It received a flood of letters from around the world, some of them accusing the paper of bashing the United States, the other half praising the paper for addressing the horror of 9/11 in a meaningful way.

“Looking back, I take a lot of pride in how the paper approached 9/11,” White says. “The first thing you want to think about in the wake of a tragedy is how to prevent it from happening again — if you can. When our government takes an action, that action sets other things in motion. That’s not to say that the United States deserved to be attacked or that the attacks are America’s fault. The terrorists are to blame. But Americans who are concerned about our position in the global community can’t continue to be ignorant about foreign policy or to assume that we have the last word when it comes to the politics of other nations or regions of the world.”

In the weeks that followed Sept. 11, the United States had the sympathy of the world. But that was not to last, as hardliners in the Bush administration saw the attacks as an opportunity to launch a neo-conservative political agenda.

“I see the months after Sept. 11 as a wasted opportunity for the United States to take the high road,” White says. “Unfortunately, fear prevailed over reason and compassion, polarizing American society and sharpening the edges between the United States and other nations.”

In the coming weeks, as the nation mourned, the paper turned to the topic of healing in “Love and kindness in troubled times: finding peace through conflict resolution,” before moving on to an issue that would dominate much of the rest of the decade: the Bush administration’s War on Terror and its consequences.

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