November 30, 2001 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

Tolerance for Terrorists?

How many times in the last several weeks have you heard or read sentences that begin, "If we've learned nothing else since Sept. 11, we've learned …?"

We've learned a lot. About Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. About anthrax in the mail. About "smart bombs" and the geography of countries half a world away. About keeping a closer eye on those we let on airplanes, whom we teach to fly, whom we allow in the country.

Some in the education establishment have drawn different lessons. Judith Rizzo, deputy chancellor of New York City schools, says she "learned" from the events of Sept. 11 that we need to teach children more about multiculturalism because our ignorance of other cultures helped bring these tragedies upon us.

In Maryland, an elementary school student asked a teacher why America was attacked. "Because," the teacher told the class, "America is bossy and has all these weapons and thinks it can push everyone around."

Educators should be promoting "tolerance, peace, understanding, empathy, diversity and multiculturalism," the National Association of School Psychologists says. The National Education Association has developed a "Patriot Package" that includes a list of books about Arab lands and culture and suggestions on emphasizing multiculturalism in war-related discussions.

Never mind that, with half of high-school graduates unable to start college without significant remedial work and the achievement gap between poor and rich students unchanged despite 36 years and $105 billion of federal tinkering, the goal of educators perhaps should be something other than tolerance for terrorists.

And never mind the absurdity of the claim that a greater understanding of others would have prevented those commercial planes from being turned into guided missiles on Sept. 11 -- that if we'd only known more about Osama bin Laden and his followers, we all might have become friends.

The fact is, we expect our teachers to provide correct information. And to suggest moral equivalence between the actions of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 tragedy and unspecified high-handedness by the U.S. government is to be radically incorrect.

America did not bring the events of Sept. 11 on itself. America had done nothing that justifies the murder of thousands of innocent people.

Here, we honor human life and human rights, the pursuit of happiness and the freedom to speak our minds. Our adversaries, on the other hand, answer dissent with torture or worse. They bar women from attending school. They use children as mine sweepers. Their rules are what their leaders say they are -- today, anyway.

You don't have to be American or religious or even sympathetic with the West to acknowledge that our approach to human life and human rights is morally, socially and ethically superior to, say, the Taliban's. No one's saying we're perfect, but we do try hard -- and we largely succeed -- at getting these important questions right.

We're right to give women as much of a shot at education and opportunity as men. We're right to have government serve the will of the people -- rather than the other way around -- and to remove barriers to pursuing the career of one's choice. We're right to hold that faith is a personal decision, not something to be imposed by those who govern us.

And that's why it's wrong to act as if we just need to work a little harder to understand countries that deny basic human rights, that terrorize their own people, that delight in -- indeed, publicly celebrate -- opportunities to inflict suffering on those who dare to think, act or believe differently from them.

Teachers have a responsibility to teach what is correct and what is right. And teaching that America should blame itself for those innocent deaths flunks both tests.

Jennifer Garrett is a researcher in domestic policy studies for The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Jennifer Garrett Research Associate

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