How military tribunals would abet terrorism.

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
Dec. 6 2001 12:10 PM

Perceived Injustices

(Continued from Page 1)

Second, to act as if all America-haters are impervious to reason is simplistic and borderline racist. You heard the same type of muttering after the O.J. Simpson trial, when opinion polls showed that an astonishingly high percentage of American blacks considered Simpson innocent. Indeed, the parallels between the post-Simpson muttering and the post-9/11 muttering are close enough to warrant exploring.

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In the Simpson case, the people most astonished by the number of blacks who thought Simpson innocent were mainly people who hadn't been paying attention. The handling of the case by police and prosecutors was hugely inept, a godsend to those inclined to think Simpson had been framed. (For example: The detective who took Simpson's blood sample at the precinct house didn't follow prescribed procedure to book it there as evidence. Inexplicably, he put the vial of blood in his car and drove it to the crime scene—exactly the place where investigators later said they'd found blood identified as Simpson's.)

Of course, given the diverse evidence of Simpson's guilt, you wouldn't seize on scattered signs of a frame-up had you not been suspicious of the justice system in the first place. Still, had there been no evidence of a frame-up, fewer blacks who were suspicious going into the trial would have been suspicious coming out. If you don't make stories of injustice plausible—by, say, holding your trials in secret—they'll have less valence. Besides, the suspicions that some blacks carried into that trial didn't take shape in a vacuum. The Los Angeles police (some of them, at least) were notoriously racist, and blacks across the country were familiar with the experience of being singled out for suspicion by police and private security guards.

The point of this little excursion isn't that whenever an ethnic group exhibits a psychology of oppression, it is justified. Typically there is a variety of grievances, ranging in legitimacy from very to not at all (ranging from, say, the complaint that the United States sponsored a coup in Iran that led to decades of brutal repression to the complaint that globalization is an American plot to rule the world).

The point, rather, is that a psychology of oppression is built up slowly, by a lot of little things, and it can be broken down only slowly, by a lot of little things. Some of these things we can't control, since some of the grievances won't bear any real correspondence to our behavior anyway. But some of them we can control—such as whether Muslims suspected of terrorism are tried behind closed doors and sentenced to death by a two-thirds vote of Army officers whose current assignment is to fight a war against terrorism.

President Bush was right when he said that the struggle against terrorism would be very long and would proceed on many fronts. Righter than he seems to realize.