Monday, February 1, 2010

NIMBY syndrome

Gail Collins had an excellent column in The New York Times the other day, as she usually does whenever she contributes an op-ed. This one was entitled "Another Inconvenient Truth" and it spoke of the sour, me-first attitude that seems to prevail in the United States today. The latest manifestation of this attitude is the mayor of New York's about-face on having trials of terrorists conducted in his city. Suddenly, it would be too much of an imposition, an inconvenience for the people of New York, to have such a trial held in their city and it would give the terrorists a "platform to air their views." Plus, it might make New York a target.

As if they and all of us are not already targets of fanatics who want to kill us.

On the contrary, it seems to me that the symbolism of having the trial in New York where the major part of the killing took place would be a powerful one. It would show the whole world that we are courageous enough to live up to our ideals and offer accused criminals, even those accused of heinous crimes, justice in an American court. I can't think of a stronger message or one that would do more to heal our broken reputation in the world. But Mayor Bloomberg and his lily-livered cohorts want no part of that honor.

They are not alone. Elected representatives from far-flung parts of the country have demanded assurances from the Federal government that detainees from Guantanamo will not be transferred to high security prisons in their states. Apparently, they feel that these men are so powerful that they might be able to walk right through the walls of the prisons or they are so charismatic that they will lead other prisoners in rebellion to take over the prisons and eventually to take over the state and the country.

This is so incredibly stupid, blind, and self-serving as to be entirely laughable. If there is one thing we know how to do well in this country, it is to keep people in prison. But this whole kerfuffle is just a symptom of a wider disease in the country. It's the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome and it is a manifestation of the fact that people in this country do not want to take responsibility for their democracy. They want somebody else, preferably far, far away to do it. They do not want to be inconvenienced in any way.

Until citizens and elected representatives again have the courage to uphold our principles and ideals and to accept responsibility for the duties of citizenship, this country will never deserve the appellation of "great." And that is, indeed, a very "inconvenient truth."

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