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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card April 8, 2002

What Causes People to Become Terrorists?

"Of course it's wrong for the Palestinians to use terrorism," says the American Left, "but you have to understand the oppression that gave rise to it."

No, actually, we don't.

Here's why.

Right in our own country, we have a large population that has suffered far more oppression than Palestinians have suffered at the hands of the Israeli "oppressor."

From the end of Reconstruction until the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, America's black population suffered persecution that would make the Palestinians howl with terror even to contemplate it.

For decades, any black man in many southern towns (and not a few northern ones, too) had to watch where he looked, what he said, the tone of his voice, even his posture, his pace, the quality of his clothing.

Because if in any of the particulars he gave offense to a white person, male or female, he might be subject to ridicule or verbal abuse, if he was lucky; or he might be fired from a job, beaten up, robbed, or, all too often, hauled out into the woods and lynched.

When I first read about what lynchings were like and how common they were in those terrible years of Jim Crow, I could hardly believe that people calling themselves "American" could have taken part in such vile crimes.

Murder is murder, of course, but it was not enough for the white terrorists to kill the innocent black man who had become the target of their rage. Victims were tortured before hanging, and were burned during their death agony. Their bodies were mutilated after death.

And pervading it all was a spirit of revelry and celebration. White women and children were brought to watch, or at least to see the aftermath.

With lynchings as a constant danger, American blacks of every age and both sexes had to endure constant harassment. Segregation barred them from equal services and constantly set them apart from whites.

And that was in the South, where at least there sometimes were facilities for black people. In the North, there were no signs saying "Whites" and signs saying "Colored." It was simply assumed in many or most cities and towns that everything was for white people.

This came home to my wife when she heard the story of the time her mother, as a young woman, was in a traffic accident out in the American west. Thrown from the car, my mother-in-law-to-be suffered so much damage to her face that her swollen skin was black with road dirt and purple with bruising.

When the ambulance came, these would-be rescuers took one look at her, decided she was a black woman, and so ... they were going to leave her by the side of the road.

If her friend had not been conscious and able to tell them that she was white, my wife's mother would have died there for lack of medical attention. The nearest doctor that would have treated a black person was hundreds of miles away and would never have heard about her.

This is what American blacks faced for three generations, until, in the aftermath of World War II, whites and blacks who knew that this was wrong began to take the slow legal steps toward eliminating this evil system of persecution.

Here is the remarkable thing: During all those years of oppression, do you know how many acts of terrorism were committed by American blacks against their white persecutors?

Maybe I've missed a couple here and there, but my study of history has led me to find a remarkable total:


Here and there you might find a bit of resistance, but nothing remotely like what the "oppressed" Palestinians are doing to Israel.

Even as the weight of oppression began to ease, under the peaceful leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., and there were riots by American blacks in a relative handful of cities, the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement spoke out immediately to try to ease the tension.

They recognized that as long as the riots were going on, it would be impossible to make serious progress in moving American blacks up to full citizenship and equal rights. Rioters, to put it bluntly, are not citizens -- however justified their sense of rage might be.

Why, in all the history of race relations during the era of lynchings and Jim Crow, did American blacks not resort to the kind of terrorism that we see now in the Middle East?

Palestinians don't know what oppression is. Maybe some of our older African-American citizens could tell them what it looks like, so they'll realize they ain't seen it yet.


As for Israel's treatment of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, let's keep a few things in mind.

That is occupied, conquered territory, fairly won by Israel as they defended themselves against a simultaneous attack by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan -- the nations which, prior to 1967 war, ruled the territories that are now called "Palestinian."

Israel had about as much duty to return that territory as, say, Russia has to return Kaliningrad to Germany because it used to be "East Prussia."

When a country wages a war of aggression, and its would-be victim wins, that victim has a perfect right to determine the boundaries between those countries, in order to make it more difficult for their enemies to attack them in the future.

Five thousand years of history stand behind that view.

As conquerors, as occupiers, the Israelis have not always been as nice as, say, your friendly neighborhood policeman. But judged by the standards of all other occupying armies, their forces have behaved splendidly. Certainly better than the Palestinian Authority has treated its own citizens.

Indeed, Israel has treated the citizens of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights better than American soldiers have treated the citizens of, say, Okinawa, where our army of occupation remains in place 57 years after the end of World War II.

So here's my quandary. When the American Left tells us, "Terrorism is bad, but so is the oppression that causes it," I just can't see what they're talking about.

The Palestinians, who were never given national status by their own Muslim overlords prior to 1967, have suffered almost no oppression at all, compared to people in other occupied lands -- and compared to truly oppressed people like American blacks.

Yet the Palestinians, as a people, have embraced murder. They celebrate slaughter. They praise those who kill women and children and old people. They dance in the street when planes and buildings are blown up by terrorists. They proclaim to the world that they intend to go on killing Jews and Americans wherever they can find them.

Can you imagine what American history would have been like -- what America would be like now -- if American blacks had behaved like the Palestinians?

Here's the difference: American blacks were and are civilized human beings. Even when they were being treated as badly as human beings can be treated, they still recognized the humanity of their oppressors, and retained their own decency as human beings.

When the Palestinians discover human decency, they will be entitled to have their grievances heard. But while they still celebrate murder and embrace the slaughter of innocents, all the while whining about how evil Israel is to defend itself, we owe them nothing, not even the tiniest shred of sympathy.

You don't have to feed a rabid dog.

And you sure ain't gonna train it.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.

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