Sept. 15, 2001 (Vancouver Sun op-ed column)
One by one, 34 great silver birds, blown off-course by Tuesday’s American catastrophe, alight. One by one, 6,000 travellers emerge, to fill Vancouver International Airport with a babel of languages and a multicoloured polyglot of nationalities.
In the wake of the terrorist hijackings and destruction, it has become clear — as United States President George W. Bush will later say — we are engaged in “a monumental struggle of good versus evil.”
Moving within the crowd at the airport, I wonder which of these people epitomizes evil.
The Japanese were once deemed evil. During the Second World War, their pilots executed suicide missions using planes as bombs and we stripped North Americans with Japanese genes of homes and goods before detaining them.
Now, here, at the airport in a fresh time of fear, are 300 Japanese soldiers in full uniform, their Japan Air jet on the tarmac outside. But as their leader Colonel Koighi Isobe strives to find lodging for his men — waylaid from their trip to an American camp for training — they don’t look remotely evil. “There are no problems,” Isobe said cheerfully, watching his soldiers photograph each other before Bill Reid’s sculpture The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.
Evil seems absent among Australians. In a broad accent, Noel and Ronda Piper of Tweed Heads explain they don’t even mind that their flight to the U.S. was diverted, because their son, who lives there, is safe.
The Indians, too, seem all right, especially that Punjabi- speaking family in turbans and saris who smile as they lug their suitcases.
What of that middle-aged Chinese woman? A traveller between Beijing and Los Angeles, she defuses my fears by politely asking, in Mandarin and English, where she can find a hotel.
The Americans — with whom we Canadians often battle over lumber and fish — seemed merely sad and tired. An American Indian wearing a feather in his long hair sits wearily. Pale-faced businessman Marvin Rose of Phoenix, standing beside his wife Margarita, a Spanish-speaking woman from Colombia, sighs, “I should have been home in my bed six hours ago.”
These people don’t all look alike. They don’t worship alike. They don’t speak similar languages. Historically, they regarded each other with such suspicion that some went to war.
Today they have in common a franchised membership in the global community.
And today, they’re all marooned on America’s northwestern edge because of a new menace — a new kind of evil which sees fanatics undertake suicide missions in which pilots use planes as bombs.
It easier to demonize these fanatics than to struggle to find out why they carry out such evil deeds. It is easier to speak of punishment than to ensure that more children do not grow into a new generations of fanatics. It is easier to simply see them as alien, rather than understand why they do what they do.
“Other-ness” stalks the world. In Belfast’s Arodyne area this month, for example, Protestant men and women threw stones, bottles, grenades and even a pipe bomb at children going to school, because the children were Catholic.
“Other-ness” is rampant in particularly pitiful areas; in Jos, Nigeria, this week Muslims and Christians killed each other in hand- to-hand combat, and the world is watching Zimbabwe disintegrate as factions fight against those who are different.
But the fact that the Japanese, the Americans, the Spanish, the Chinese, once feared each other is passe. Today, they do business with each other, play sports with each other, marry each other.
Today, the feared Others are fanatics who cause carnage in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania. Theirs is, without doubt a truly evil deed, one that can be neither condoned nor tolerated. But to defeat them, and ultimately achieve the only true goal of never repeating such atrocity, we need to understand this Other.
This crucial task will be neither as black and white, as simply good and evil, as we would like. Within the frail bodies of men, women and children, both ours and theirs, the same hearts beat, the same cravings are felt, the same blood runs red. Yet we do not see each other as fellows on a shared small sphere spinning through space, each deserving of franchisement in our global community. They, and us, only see the Other.
We are indeed, as Bush says, engaged in “a monumental struggle of good versus evil.” But this battle will not be won easily or simply, not in the long term. We will only win when the Other has ceased to exist and has joined the babel of languages and multicoloured polyglot of nationalities.
Copyright © 2001 Deborah Jones
Originally published in The Vancouver Sun, Op-Ed, September 15, 2001