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Can There Be a Decent Left?

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 
Editor's Salon

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WILL BE PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING 2002 ISSUE OF DISSENT MAGAZINE.

<a href="http://www.dissentmagazine.org/wwwboard/wwwboard.shtml" target="_blank">Can There Be a Decent Left?
</a>

Michael Walzer

[quote]Leftist opposition to the war in Afghanistan faded in November and December of last year, not only because of the success of the war but also because of the enthusiasm with which so many Afghanis greeted that success. The pictures of women showing their smiling faces to the world, of men shaving their beards, of girls in school, of boys playing soccer in shorts: all this was no doubt a slap in the face to leftist theories of American imperialism, but also politically disarming. There was (and is) still a lot to worry about: refugees, hunger, minimal law and order. But it was suddenly clear, even to many opponents of the war, that the Taliban regime had been the biggest obstacle to any serious effort to address the looming humanitarian crisis, and it was the American war that removed the obstacle. It looked (almost) like a war of liberation, a humanitarian intervention.

But the war was primarily neither of these things; it was a preventive war, designed to make it impossible to train terrorists in Afghanistan and to plan and organize attacks like that of September 11. And that war was never really accepted, in wide sections of the left, as either just or necessary. Recall the standard arguments against it: that we should have turned to the UN, that we had to prove the guilt of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and then organize international trials, and that the war, if it was fought at all, had to be fought without endangering civilians. The last point was intended to make fighting impossible. I haven't come across any arguments that seriously tried to describe how this (or any) war could be fought without putting civilians at risk, or to ask what degree of risk might be permissible, or to specify the risks that American soldiers should accept in order to reduce the risk of civilian deaths. All these were legitimate issues in Afghanistan, as they were in the Kosovo and Gulf wars. But among last fall's antiwar demonstrators, "Stop the bombing" wasn't a slogan that summarized a coherent view of the bombing - or of the alternatives to it. The truth is that most leftists were not committed to having a coherent view about things like that; they were committed to opposing the war, and they were prepared to oppose it without regard to its causes or character and without any visible concern about preventing future terrorist attacks....<hr></blockquote>
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post #2 of 44
I don't agree with the premise of this piece. Who were all these people that opposed the war? Noam Chomsky and a couple of other people interviewed at anti-globalization rallies? What % of the American public opposed the war?

Either being against this war is not really characteristic of The Left, or the way The Left is defined here is to make them so extreme and obscure as to almost not even exist.

And where's the evidence that The Left changed their minds? I'd bet that the Leftists who felt strongly enough about it to be against the war still are against it - I'm sure Noam still is.

Uh oh, I sense several "Can there be a decent &lt;insert label here&gt;" threads coming on.
post #3 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by BRussell:
<strong>
Uh oh, I sense several "Can there be a decent &lt;insert label here&gt;" threads coming on.
</strong><hr></blockquote>

What can I say? I'm a trend setter.
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post #4 of 44
Noam Chomsky: a good linguist who should've stuck with his strengths. (maybe a hint of sarcasm, maybe)
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post #5 of 44
This is a glaring example of the "Straw Man" argument. The author has defined the Left in such an extreme, biased way that of course they end up looking stupid. A classic technique in propaganda wars (used by Liberals and Conservatives alike).

I consider myself overall somewhat left of center. I tend to be rather Liberal on social issues, but quite Conservative on fiscal issues I believe we (via the government) have an obligation to do what we can to help those in our society least able to help themselves. However, the solutions must be ones that will genuinely help them, and must be cost-effective. It is much more cost-effective, for example, to fix the social problems in the inner cities and elsewhere which breed criminals than to wait until the kids are totally screwed up and just build more prisons to lock them away.

Liberals have erred in the past by assuming the only difference between poor people and rich people is money - so if you give poor people money, their problems will be solved. We all know the result of that. Of course, there is never any "magic bullet" that will solve a major societal problem with one stroke - Left and Right have both been guilty repeatedly of proposing simplistic solutions to complex problems.

There were many valid reasons for opposing the war in/on Afghanistan. I respect the people who had the strength and courage to stand up for their opinions against overwhelming opposition. I reluctantly supported it myself because it seemed like the least evil thing that could be done in the situation.

War is never something we should rush into. Voices of opposition, however shrill or even absurd, at least make us stop and think a moment before we run off to go kill a bunch of people. One of the most un-American things to come out of the 9/11 tragedies was the attempt to silence (via job or physical intimidation) those who in good conscience declared their opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Telling people they have no right to express their opinions is an attack on the very foundation of our Constitution.

[ 03-15-2002: Message edited by: TJM ]</p>
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post #6 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by TJM:

<strong>This is a glaring example of the "Straw Man" argument...

There were many valid reasons for opposing the war in/on Afghanistan...</strong><hr></blockquote>

A "Straw Man"? Really? So where do these "many valid reasons" come from?

[quote]<strong>I respect the people who had the strength and courage to stand up for their opinions against overwhelming opposition...</strong><hr></blockquote>

"Strength and courage" aren't the words that immediately spring to mind.

[quote]<strong>War is never something we should rush into. </strong><hr></blockquote>

We didn't.

[quote]<strong>Voices of opposition, however shrill or even absurd, at least make us stop and think a moment before we run off to go kill a bunch of people. </strong><hr></blockquote>

The shrill and absurd ones don't. They are too easy to dismiss and tend to discredit their side of the debate.
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post #7 of 44
roger_ramjet:

"I detest what you have to say - but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

[ 03-15-2002: Message edited by: TJM ]</p>
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post #8 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by TJM:

roger_ramjet:

"I detest what you have to say - but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire<hr></blockquote>

Wait a minute. I'll break out the champagne.
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post #9 of 44
TJM, your exactly the type of person we need more of on this board

We didn't.

How many days were there between when the planes hit and when Bush was speaking of "bringing justice to the evil doers and the evil doers to the justice" (I LOVE that quote )

"Strength and courage" aren't the words that immediately spring to mind.

No, its hard to think of your opposition as strong and curageous eh? Much easier to belittle them as knee jearkers and extremists. The trick is not to, becasue if you do you are just as bad as them.

So where do these "many valid reasons" come from?

Have you even been reading the boards? There are MANY valid reasons there, and more pointed out by others through out the media.

And where's the evidence that The Left changed their minds?

EXACTLY. The left didnt change their minds, they just shut up because they knew that it would be futile.
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post #10 of 44
[quote]Originally posted by The Toolboi:
<strong>TJM, your exactly the type of person we need more of on this board

</strong><hr></blockquote>

well, gawrsh - 'tain't nuttin... <img src="graemlins/embarrassed.gif" border="0" alt="[Embarrassed]" />

There are two things that frighten me most about this response to dissent about the Afghanistan war:

1) This is exactly the kind of public attitude encouraged by the Nazis back in the '20s and '30s that led to Hitler gaining power. Not that I'm accusing the anti-dissent crowd of being Nazis, but the desire to suppress all dissenting viewpoints is on the road to fascism. The key to a successful democracy is not that simply "majority rules", but simultaneous protection of the rights of the minority from the tyrrany of the majority.

2) The anti-dissent crowd doesn't seem to understand this (or worse, perhaps, doesn't care).
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post #11 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by The Toolboi:

So where do these "many valid reasons" come from?

Have you even been reading the boards? There are MANY valid reasons there, and more pointed out by others through out the media.<hr></blockquote>

TJM described Mr. Walzer's argument as a "Straw Man". (BRussell is of the opinion that the opposition amounts to nothing more than Noam Chomsky and a couple of people interviewed at anti-globalization rallies.) I don't see a nickel's difference between what's in the article and what's been on these boards. In other words, TJM's description is nonsense. And I notice you didn't take the time to recount even one of the "MANY valid reasons." That may have something to do with why I don't think of the opposition as "strong and courageous."
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post #12 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by TJM:
<strong>
There are two things that frighten me most about this response to dissent about the Afghanistan war:

1) This is exactly the kind of public attitude encouraged by the Nazis back in the '20s and '30s that led to Hitler gaining power. Not that I'm accusing the anti-dissent crowd of being Nazis, but the desire to suppress all dissenting viewpoints is on the road to fascism. The key to a successful democracy is not that simply "majority rules", but simultaneous protection of the rights of the minority from the tyrrany of the majority.

2) The anti-dissent crowd doesn't seem to understand this (or worse, perhaps, doesn't care).</strong><hr></blockquote>

What was that you wrote earlier about shrill and absurd? And toolboi, you might want to explain to TJM the importance of seeing one's opposition as "strong and courageous."
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post #13 of 44
[quote]Originally posted by roger_ramjet:
<strong>

What was that you wrote earlier about shrill and absurd? And toolboi, you might want to explain to TJM the importance of seeing one's opposition as "strong and courageous."</strong><hr></blockquote>

You seem to be going out of your way to be quite belligerent. I suspect that there is nothing I could say that would matter a fig to you. I really don't see how debating with you is going to be worth my while - I have better things to do than to be your punching bag.
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post #14 of 44
oops - double post; sorry

[ 03-15-2002: Message edited by: TJM ]</p>
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post #15 of 44
I disagree with the article because I don't think people against the war were very representative of the average left leaning American.

I for one thought we should have done something about Afghanistan long before September 11th. Why, because of the horrible human rights violations of the Taliban. I also think we should be doing everything we can to ensure a democratic government with a sound constitution runs the country. Additionally I'd like to see us do everything we can to help build up their infrastructure, ie schools, hospitals, farm equipment.
post #16 of 44
I think that this article is missleading, as hass been stated. Many poeple that are left-o-center and even more so, were in strong support of the actions in afghanistan. I for one was.
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post #17 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by TJM:
<strong>
You seem to be going out of your way to be quite belligerent... </strong><hr></blockquote>

Right. You're the one who sees on the other side of the debate "exactly the kind of public attitude encouraged by the Nazis back in the '20s and '30s that led to Hitler gaining power." But of course, I'm the one who is going out of my way to be belligerent. That's a pretty good working definition of the word "hubris."
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post #18 of 44
Roger, are you this obnoxious to everyone around you in real life, or just online forums? Do you 'let go' when you come here, or do you seriously act this way in your day to day doings?

Because if you do, you are one serious asshole to be around.

(I can see it now: "I'm a serious asshole... because I'm right?" )

I'm referring to your posts and this thread in general, not the one above.

And AFA your above post, which responds to a post with valid points you choose to evade, what's the point of arguing with you? Or is that the idea? Drive everyone away, so that roger_ramjet can have the last word in?

[ 03-16-2002: Message edited by: stimuli ]</p>
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post #19 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by stimuli:

<strong>Roger, are you this obnoxious to everyone around you in real life, or just online forums? Do you 'let go' when you come here, or do you seriously act this way in your day to day doings?

Because if you do, you are one serious asshole to be around.</strong><hr></blockquote>

This thread posed the question, "Can there be a decent left?" By your response the answer seems to be, "No."
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post #20 of 44
Again, avoid the valid points, get the last word in.
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post #21 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by stimuli:
<strong>
And AFA your above post, which responds to a post with valid points you choose to evade...</strong><hr></blockquote>

What valid points? What evasion? My post responds to a post in which TJM complains about my belligerence. That's all he did in that post. I'm supposed to respond to something he didn't write?
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post #22 of 44
[quote]There are two things that frighten me most about this response to dissent about the Afghanistan war:

1) This is exactly the kind of public attitude encouraged by the Nazis back in the '20s and '30s that led to Hitler gaining power. Not that I'm accusing the anti-dissent crowd of being Nazis, but the desire to suppress all dissenting viewpoints is on the road to fascism. The key to a successful democracy is not that simply "majority rules", but simultaneous protection of the rights of the minority from the tyrrany of the majority.
<hr></blockquote>
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post #23 of 44
Thread Starter 
Is that supposed to be an answer to my questions? I specifically addressed that remark. Besides, that comment was part of another post, not the one in question. Tell me again. Who is it that's being evasive?

[ 03-16-2002: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
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post #24 of 44
So let me get this straight, AFA that post, you believe suppression and attack on dissent is not unhealthy for democracy? Because by using that as an example of TJM's apparent "belligerence", that is what you imply.

The second part now edited falls under the 'wasting my breath' category. Some got it, some don't.

[ 03-16-2002: Message edited by: stimuli ]</p>
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post #25 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by stimuli:

So let me get this straight, <hr></blockquote>

Is that what you are trying to do?

[quote]AFA that post, you believe suppression and attack on dissent is not unhealthy for democracy?<hr></blockquote>

No, it's a bullshit charge - the suppression part that is. As far as attacks go, that comes with the territory. If you're not willing to defend a point of view, why should anyone else care what you have to say?

[ 03-16-2002: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
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post #26 of 44
[quote] And that war was never really accepted, in wide sections of the left, as either just or necessary.<hr></blockquote>

The charges the author makes are untrue. He has no facts to back up the charge that the 'left' did not support the war. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the 'left' was definitely in support of the war.

Of course, they never let the facts get in the way of good story.
post #27 of 44
I sure wish I could get into this argument, but I just can't figure out what's going on.

However, although I detest what you're saying, I defend to the death your right to say it! Well, not to the death. Maybe until someone gives me a mean look. But I do detest what you're saying!
post #28 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by Fran441:
<strong>
The charges the author makes are untrue. He has no facts to back up the charge that the 'left' did not support the war. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the 'left' was definitely in support of the war.

Of course, they never let the facts get in the way of good story. </strong><hr></blockquote>

He didn't say the left did not support the war. He wrote that "wide sections of the left" didn't support it. And what do you mean by "they"? Walzer is a leftist. He's an editor of Dissent and has been published in The American Prospect. This article is a criticism of those on his side of the political spectrum.

[ 03-16-2002: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
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post #29 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by BRussell:
<strong>I sure wish I could get into this argument, but I just can't figure out what's going on.

However, although I detest what you're saying, I defend to the death your right to say it! Well, not to the death. Maybe until someone gives me a mean look. But I do detest what you're saying!</strong><hr></blockquote>

<img src="graemlins/lol.gif" border="0" alt="[Laughing]" />
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post #30 of 44
[quote]He wrote that "wide sections of the left" didn't support it. <hr></blockquote>

Again, he has no evidence supporting this statement. There were no 'wide sections of the left' that were against the war.
post #31 of 44
Let us not assume that all of the "Right" was in support of the war. I don't have facts at my finger tips, but knowing the isolationism and absurd revolutionary ideas of the extreme right I would guess that they were too busy plotting their own anti-government warfare plans to rally around the flag . . .

Anyway, if you accept that there is an equivelent left extreme then there is also a right extreme
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post #32 of 44
Ok, Im starting to get a little confused about just WHAT were arguing, but...


That's a pretty good working definition of the word "hubris."


Please clarify this, how is this a case of thinking oof ones self as greater than their place?
In truth with our modern societies this word doesnt actually have any meaning...


you might want to explain to TJM the importance of seeing one's opposition as "strong and courageous.


Im sure that he sees his opposition as strong and courageous, I think the point is just that he doesnt see YOU as such

1) This is exactly the kind of public attitude encouraged by the Nazis back in the '20s and '30s that led to Hitler gaining power. Not that I'm accusing the anti-dissent crowd of being Nazis, but the desire to suppress all dissenting viewpoints is on the road to fascism. The key to a successful democracy is not that simply "majority rules", but simultaneous protection of the rights of the minority from the tyrrany of the majority.

2) The anti-dissent crowd doesn't seem to understand this (or worse, perhaps, doesn't care)


1) I couldnt agree more. I felt this especially with regards to posts such as the "Muslims are backwards and corrupt" articles posted, and a lot of the hatred thats been going around lately. However what really scares me is the possibillity of this war being used to back another agenda. It REALLY would be easy to push an alternate agenda right now (not saying that they are, but the point is that you shouldnt even give them the chance).

2) One thing I have to give the Bush government is that they've done what Ive been saying was needed for a long time. America needs an enemy, people are getting too... bored for lack of better words. A common enemy unites people REALLY well, better even then a common cause. Every society needs a figgure to hate and a figgure to love. The problem is that while Osamma is a great figgure to hate (though now muslims as a race are getting mixed up in this as well), I really do not think that Bush is a great figgure to love.
The real problem here, which is the problem whenever you have a common enemy is that a lot of people know what to hate, they just cant see what to do about it.

I don't see a nickel's difference between what's in the article and what's been on these boards

Well, depends. There are a lot of posts (including many by me) which are no better than that article (its amazing how stupid you can be when your frustrated). However there are also some very good posts (including many by me ) which give good reasons not to be in this war.
However I dont see how this helps your defense of this article not being a strawman argument.
Though I must admit (insert his name here) made a good comment on him expressedly talking about a certain portion of the leftwing, its just that your use of it was quote unquote strawman.
(I hate philosophy terms )
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post #33 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by The Toolboi:
<strong>
Please clarify this, how is this a case of thinking oof ones self as greater than their place?</strong><hr></blockquote>

Bitching about my belligerence while seeing those that disagree with you as proto-NAZIs. It doesn't get much more presumptuous than that. Not surprising you don't get it. You are perfectly okay with his rhetoric.

[quote]<strong>I'm sure that he sees his opposition as strong and courageous, I think the point is just that he doesnt see YOU as such</strong><hr></blockquote>

In other words, you'll complain about me but reserve a lower standard for your side.

[quote]<strong>Well, depends. There are a lot of posts (including many by me) which are no better than that article (its amazing how stupid you can be when your frustrated). However there are also some very good posts (including many by me ) which give good reasons not to be in this war.</strong><hr></blockquote>

If you don't want to list them again, how about a link? Something!

[quote]<strong>However I dont see how this helps your defense of this article not being a strawman argument.</strong><hr></blockquote>

Let's see. He said that the author had defined the Left in an "extreme, biased way." That the author is himself a Leftist means that TJM's charge of bias may be true but not in a way he intends. And how is the Walzer's depiction of the anti-war left more extreme than this rhetoric about NAZIs?

Pfflam, you are right. There are some on the right opposed to the war. Harry Browne for one. I don't know of any others off hand but there's nothing I've written here that I wouldn't apply to them as well (where applicable).
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post #34 of 44
[quote]Originally posted by BRussell:
<strong>Either being against this war is not really characteristic of The Left, or the way The Left is defined here is to make them so extreme and obscure as to almost not even exist.

</strong><hr></blockquote>

That's the Left, though. Extreme and contradictory.
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post #35 of 44
[quote]Originally posted by finboy:
<strong>That's the Left, though. Extreme and contradictory.</strong><hr></blockquote>And obscure.

I actually went back and read roger's article, and it's not bad. It tries to present a coherent philosophy.

I just can't get past the idea that the left was against the war, then sometime in December, they were for it again.
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post #36 of 44
Thread Starter 
<a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/000/892fjgtb.asp" target="_blank">My Fellow Lefties...</a>
Stop it with the American-bashing.
by Michael H. Shuman
02/18/2002, Volume 007, Issue 22

[quote]THE REV. JESSE JACKSON says that an eagle can only soar with two wings. But what if one wing refuses to fly? From September 12 onwards, the left-leaning press - magazines like the Nation and the Progressive and alternative newspapers like the Village Voice and the Bay Guardian - have fed their readers a steady diet of antiwar opinion. Now that the first phase of the war against terrorism is over, I believe it's time for my fellow lefties to engage in a truly radical activity - serious self-criticism.

The Left's first reaction after the September 11 attacks was to suggest that America was finally getting its just deserts. Bill Blum, an author of anti-CIA books frequently quoted by the undergraduate Left, argued that the terrorist hijackers "had a political purpose: retaliation for decades of military, economic and political oppression imposed upon the Middle East by The American Empire." Similar sentiments were expressed by Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, and various British columnists like John Pilger and Robert Fisk.

Even if one is critical of American foreign policy, as I am, the timing and the tone of these comments were obscene, in that they reflected more sympathy for the terrorists than for the victims. Moreover, they suggested that those who seek political change through violence against innocents are entitled to have their demands met - certainly a bizarre position for proponents of nonviolent change.

While the World TradeCenter site continued to smolder, a new slogan began to circulate: "Justice, Not Vengeance." This at least had the virtue of not making common cause with Osama bin Laden. Yet, the formula was intended to suggest that any use of force was tantamount to revenge and therefore unjustified.

By "justice," the Left meant that the United States should employ diplomatic tools, such as the World Court or an embargo, to press the Taliban to hand over the al Qaeda fighters. But this suggestion ignored the fact that bin Laden was moving ahead with his publicly declared war against the infidel United States, and that we were - and are - in a race to stop him or else become victims of his next biological, chemical, or nuclear attack.

Nine out of ten Americans wanted justice another way: through use of force to capture and justly punish the al Qaeda perpetrators. Progressives, who were so unwilling to condemn the use of force by terrorists, were eager to condemn any use by the victims, before a single shot was even fired. This was, again, a slap at the American people. Most Americans didn't want revenge. Indeed, strikingly little popular anger poured onto Main Street, and every responsible opinion leader, Democrat and Republican alike, condemned attacks on Arab Americans...<hr></blockquote>

[ 03-21-2002: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
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post #37 of 44
So there you have it from Mr. Last Word.

Oops. Sorry Rog. I blew it. Post another one.
post #38 of 44
damn ramjet, you're such an asshole you make debate a chore rather than a joy.
post #39 of 44
Thread Starter 
[quote]Originally posted by janitor:

<strong>damn ramjet, you're such an asshole you make debate a chore rather than a joy.</strong><hr></blockquote>

Twice now in the same thread - someone who has never before addressed any of my posts responds to me by resorting to name-calling. Debate? Who are you kidding? You weren't interested in debating me.

[ 03-21-2002: Message edited by: roger_ramjet ]</p>
shooby doo, shooby doo
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shooby doo, shooby doo
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post #40 of 44
[quote]
<strong>Bill Blum, an author of anti-CIA books frequently quoted by the undergraduate Left, argued that the terrorist hijackers "had a political purpose: retaliation for decades of military, economic and political oppression imposed upon the Middle East by The American Empire."</strong><hr></blockquote>

Hmm. I actually think this analysis is (partly) right. I think it has been shown that Bin Laden turned against US when the war against Iraq started :confused: Whats wrong about saying that?
"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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