What We Must Defend, IMO


There were two great articles in print media this week, each of which helped me answer at least one of the questions recently plaguing me: how to move forward from the ISIL attacks on Paris and other terrorist attacks in the world, including not only Beirut but now Mali, as well.

The first was in today’s Star Tribune, an editorial from the November 21st print edition of The Economist: How to Fight Back. The Economist is an English-language weekly newspaper owned by the Economist Group and edited in offices in London. I find reading it gives perspective on my usually (both positively and negatively) American-biased POV. Here’s the paragraph from the editorial that clinched it for me, this time:

Remember that the West has two things to defend: the lives of its citizens, and the liberal values of tolerance and the rule of law that underpin its society. Where these are in conflict, it should choose policies that minimize the damage to values in order to make large gains in protection. Sadly, in the scramble for security, that principle often seems the first thing to go.

So we are frightened, of course, by these terrorists and the awful things they do. But the good guys do stuff too. Two things we do best, even if only, sometimes, in our loftiest imaginings:  maintaining a rule of law, and tolerating different cultures, religions and political points of view.

The meaning of “rule of law” is so entirely engrained and taken for granted in our American psyche that I didn’t even know what it meant until I went abroad and saw what happens without it: peoples’ businesses derailed by bribery and corruption, their property taken away without recourse, whole governments with widespread and clearly institutionally ingrained refusal to enforce the collection of income tax. These are just a few examples of the kinds of chaos that burgeon in places without the rule of law.

For the tolerance piece, we here in the USA come up short in a zillion ways but less so, I propose, if you think about what we’re trying to do, which counts for something. Consider the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, a piece of public art I associate so entirely fondly with wind-blown ferry rides and sunny family outings of my youth. It is a statue which, of course, was given to us by the French:

The copper statue, designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, was built by Gustave Eiffel and dedicated on October 28, 1886. It was a gift to the United States from the people of France. (from Wikipedia, “Statue of Liberty”)

The inscription on the statue, which was added later, in 1903,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

is actually only a part of a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Regardless of how we don’t always get this idea of tolerance perfectly right, three of my four grandparents were greeted by the Lady (as my dear dad called her) and these final, five iconic lines of Emma Lazarus’s poem.

That counts for a lot.

But we have to mean it.

Which brings me to the second article I read this week which helped me figure stuff out, an editorial in the Ogden, Utah Standard Examiner, about how we are not only to welcome Syrian and other refugees but put some muster (i.e., money) behind it. I happen to know the woman who wrote the piece (she’s my daughter!), and that she wrote the first draft of it BEFORE the Paris attacks.

Unfortunately, the world changed between draft #1 and draft #2. But here’s the thing: the good guys don’t change their values. To refugees the world over, we still say: It’s not easy, and you’ll have to take your place in line. But if we check you out, as we will, and find that you’re just like us–people looking for a place to breathe free–we will do our best to welcome you.





  1. I need to restate that– I know you have a conclusion and a mostly concrete opinion, but I see that you also realize work through the issues also sometimes say “I don’t know.” At least that’s what I perceive! (From last week’s too.) Am I making sense?

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