In a state of horror and indignation over the incomprehensibly violent terrorist attack Tuesday and the pain of a relentlessly growing death toll, the USA is seeking ways to protect itself against the threat of a future nightmare and to punish those responsible for the unprecedented carnage. Judging from officials’ and experts’ recommendations and from public opinion as reflected in opinion polls, two main trends seem to be surfacing. One minority opinion supports an immediate reaction; the other, shared by 75 percent of Americans, calls for self-restraint and a sober search for the culprits. The hardline position does not just suggest strikes against all states which have, in one way or another, backed the terrorists; it also requires US allies to consent to the suggestion, however underlying, that the fight against terrorism must take place in an unorthodox way, ignoring the commitments and restrictions imposed by the international legal system on the activity of organized and civilized countries. It is indicative that this hardline position has been embraced by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as well as other renowned commentators. The more moderate position does not imply, of course, that justice should not be dispensed. It does assert, however, that any premature military blows could target civilians and, on the other hand, could turn the terrorists into heroes and martyrs in the eyes of those who will suffer the US attacks and who already see the USA not as the bastion of democracy but as a hostile imperium. According to this view, international coordination and mobilization should avoid a blind response and should rather involve a search for the real culprits. If this is actually about a clash of civilizations, then the forces of democracy and light are called upon to prove their difference from the dark ones. There is an understandable tension between feelings of rightful indignation and desire to retaliate against blind violence, and the need for strength by the victim to restrain himself and subsume any rage to the principles of his own culture. Fortunately, the majority of US citizens are showing that they can summon this admirable courage.

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