Posted by: josephsiry | September 3, 2011

Sweet land of liberty . . .

In determining the origins of the United States, scholars have called this union “Nature’s Nation,” A country “invented by reason,” or “democracy in America” as a socially embedded desire to self-govern if not always exercise self-control.
This author, Terry T. Williams, in a series of essays based–on her unwelcomed remarks at a graduation ceremony given at an invitation to speak in her native state of Utah–is just one of the many stories associated with the brutal events of September 11, 2001. [A link to stories]

On that day when the nation awakened to terror, terrifying images and a confused response to attacks on our: airlines, New York City’s financial hub, and center of military power in Washington, emotions engulfed reason. Despite the confusion the nation’s vulnerability was self-evident in a country that runs on electronic media and automatic pilot. A wave of repression, torture, and military adventurism unsurpassed since the Civil War (1861-1865) swept the nation.

Williams recoiled, as did many writers, from the justifications for a war on terror that silenced differences in a sea of quiet conspiracies to spy on, search, and question citizens about their loyalty, ethnic identity and religious practices. For a Mormon woman, the signals were all too clear that we as a people were on the verge of reverting to prejudice, bigotry, and uncontrolled fear in pursuit of an internationally widespread and timeless “war on terror.”

Recall that Mormons throughout their history had been driven out of their farms in places east of the Mississippi River for their faith and social contract that seemed so divergent from the national Protestant norm. Mormons were not tolerated in the decades before they discovered refuge and settled on the Great Salt Lake.

This author also feared that under the label of “eco-terrorism” that those acts of civil disobedience to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of our natural heritage would be swept up in the frenzy of arrests. People who had tried to stop logging of old growth forests were incarcerated as terrorists because of their destruction of property. Those who professed an allegiance to wildlife and resisting pollution were targeted along with “enemy combatants” as threats to the security, safety, and exploitive hunger of the nation to allegedly protect our values against an “International Islamic jihad.”

Wild lands once protected for their scenic, biological, and functional integrity were now thrown open to mineral exploration in the name of “freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.” We nonetheless consumed imported oil at record levels throughout the war on terror (2001-2009) which Congress endorsed to the point of even creating a new national bureaucracy ominously call “Homeland Security.”

To many loyal and environmentally aware people the tone, the actions, and the consequences of excessive rhetoric were combustible fuel to an ongoing use of excessive force. That excessive use of military forces led to authorized invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan which have now been counted as the longest, if not most inconclusive, wars ever fought by the US.

In such an atmosphere of mounting alarm, creeping surveillance, and growing distrust, Williams addressed the graduating class of the University of Utah calling for sobriety in the use of our language, restraint in the use of our mortal powers to destroy entire neighborhoods, and a recovery of our national tradition of tolerance.

Only she was met with anger, disbelief, and accusations. Many people think that Williams made traitorous remarks and expressed anti-American sympathies in her speech. In contesting her loyalty and devotion to duty Williams was forced to continue the conversation in writing articles to further explain her motives and message.

“The Open Space of Democracy” is the collected justification for her reminding us about the importance of minority rights, the enduring necessity for tolerance in times of critical actions, and the sanctuary equally afforded all people by the natural heritage of the nation’s accessible preserves of land, air, and water.

648 words
J. V. Siry
Saturday, September 3, 2011


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