Talk Story


Sunday, October 21, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Shouting ‘Fire!’ in
a crowded theater

WHILE Americans fight the war on terrorism in unlikely battles -- not just in Afghanistan but also in post offices, newsrooms, airports and bus stations -- most of the nation has basked in a healing glow of unity.

Two incidents have cast shadows on Hawaii, however. The first was a column in a Washington state newspaper that criticized island patriotism, noting that conversations in Waikiki after the Sept. 11 attacks "continued to focus on surfing and snorkeling conditions and tan lines." The newspaper later apologized.

The second was an anti-war forum at the University of Hawaii at Manoa last week. Hawaiian Studies Professor Haunani-Kay Trask chose that opportunity to lay the blame for the carnage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the feet of the United States. She should apologize, too.

"The United States is angry because somebody came back and blew up their World Trade Center," Trask said. "I would be angry, too. But what made them do that? It is the history of terrorism that the United States unleashes against native people all over the world."

TRASK'S statements were as predictable and trite as they were obnoxious. They are no more credible than those of Jerry Falwell, who blamed the attacks on a sinful America, gays, lesbians, feminists, pro-choicers and the ACLU.

Just as the rest of the country discounts Falwell's words out of hand as the cant of a religious bigot, Hawaii has become inured to Trask's insensitive ranting. After all, she's the one who called our senior senator a "one-armed bandit" and picketed the governor's mansion with a sign reading "F- - - Ben."

She brings Aesop's fable of the farmer and the snake to mind. The farmer found the snake freezing in the hills and, after the snake promised not to hurt him, brought it down to the valley.

When the snake warmed up, he bit the farmer. "Why did you bite me?" asked the farmer. "You gave me your word."

"Ah," said the snake, "but you knew what I was when you picked me up."

Hawaii knows what Trask is. Whatever her academic credentials, she is a one-trick pony, an outrider. We rely on her to stake out as outrageously as possible the furthest left position in any Native Hawaiian sovereignty debate. Locally, her public persona is cartoon villain. She's our Prof. Moriarty, Joker, Penguin.

UNFORTUNATELY, the rest of the country doesn't share our context. To them, she is a professor at Hawaii's leading university who spouts the rhetoric of real-world villains with real blood on their hands. As such, she brings shame on the state and its institutions.

Salman Rushdie made the case against Trask and her ilk, writing in The Guardian that "terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder.

"To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions."

Academic freedom is one of many privileges that Americans -- including Professor Trask --enjoy. To flagrantly test that privilege in the current circumstances tempts ugly overreaction and unintended con- sequences.

We have already witnessed the first in a rising flood of mail protesting Trask's heartless words.

In a democracy, the consequences reflect the will of the majority and the majority is incensed.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin