I was sitting in a gay coffeehouse in Manhattan on Sunday, Oct. 7, when I first heard the news that American and British forces had begun bombing Afghanistan.
Images of Tomahawk missiles exploding in bursts of glare over the Kabul night flashed across a TV screen set up in one corner of the room.
The attacks did not surprise me, but the ferocity of the response from the other gay men surrounding me in the room did. As the trappings of war paraded across the screen, the gay crowd broke into cheers.
From the chants echoing off the walls, I felt as if we could all have been seated in a college football stadium.
"Whoo-hoo!" screamed one man with the fervor of a zealous sports fan. "Kick ass!"
As the shouts picked up momentum, my heart sank, for so many reasons.
Now is not the time for blind patriotism.
Patriotism, yes. Blindess, no.
Now that we are dropping bombs on foreign countries, it will be harder than ever to resist the urge to simply go along with government rhetoric and the attendant public sentiment of approval. We are all under siege, and in such times, the desire to be seen as banding together despite our differences will be overwhelming. The urge to be a full-fledged "member of the team" will be particularly tempting for gay and lesbian Americans precisely because we are so often the ones left out. What better time than now to "prove" we as gay men and lesbians are every bit as much like our fellow citizens?
Already, some of our community's most prominent thinkers and writers have assailed us as a group to wave the flag and brandish weapons in the name of solidarity with our fellow countrymen. Many have even asserted we have the extra duty as gay and lesbian citizens to support the war effort because our national enemies, such as the Taliban, deal harshly with their own gay and lesbian populations. The argument conveniently ignores the fact that governments of many of our allies in this new war...such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Pakistan...have similarly repressive policies against their gay and lesbian citizens, too.
Furthermore, the always difficult task of questioning authority will now be made that much harder by fellow Americans who would point an accusatory finger at anyone who raises doubts about our leadership, our tactics, our goals, our government's foreign policies. The doubters will be labeled traitors. And at a time like this, no one wants to be branded "un-American."
But precisely because it will be so rare and unpopular, skepticism will be more crucial than ever. And nothing could be more genuinely American. I urge all Americans to pause before joining the national chorus of glee that swelled up throughout the country as it did in the coffee shop that day.
Because of our own history, we as gay men and lesbians are particularly well suited to the task of skepticism, of questioning authority, of looking beyond facile public perceptions and asking the more difficult but ultimately more productive questions about the topsy-turvy world we now inhabit.
There are many questions that remain unanswered. The questions are scary ones, and so, too, may be the answers. I certainly don't pretend to know all the solutions. But even more frightening to me is the disquieting realization that too few of us are even asking the tough questions, much less unearthing the complicated answers.
We all want to stop terrorism and thwart any future attacks that could result in the loss of life, particularly on American soil.
But we have to ask: Is bombing Afghanistan the best way to achieve that?
The questions don't stop there. They merely begin.
Why doesn't the government show us even a small amount of what is apparently the mountain of evidence against Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators? If we are forced to simply take their word for it now, then when, if ever, will we need to actually see evidence?
When we're done bombing Afghanistan, what country will we hit next? If we do bomb, say, Iraq or Syria or Iran, what evidence will we ask too see to assure that our government isn't using the war on terrorism as an excuse to settle old political scores with regimes we find unsavory?
In whatever countries we target, how many civilian lives will be lost due to our bombs? How high of a body count...of both foreign civilians as well as American soldiers...are we willing to sustain during this war?
If we do bomb current governments out of existence, as we're threatening to do to the Taliban, what do we really know about the parties that could seize power afterwards, such as the Northern Alliance?
Perhaps the hardest question to ask is how terrorists like Osama bin Laden can apparently recruit thousands of Muslim foot-soldiers in his twisted war against America? Is it really because, as President Bush would have us believe, America is a beacon of democracy and freedom that all these warriors hate? Or might it be related to decades of American foreign policy that has propped up, and at times even forcibly installed, corrupt and brutal and oppressive regimes throughout the Middle East? And what, exactly, has been our foreign policy and involvement in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Gulf? What should it be? And how do our policies and the regimes we support, past and present, affect the lives of ordinary Afghanis and Pakistanis and Saudi Arabians and Iraqis?
Tough questions, all, and ones that cannot be answered in snappy, flag-waving sound bites. Nor simply by releasing bombs and aiming cruise missiles at elusive enemies.
But as difficult as it may be to ask these questions in the current atmosphere of surgingly blind patriotism, just think how awful the consequences of ignoring them could ultimately turn out to be.
Mubarak Dahir receives e-mail at MubarakDah@aol.com