The Cookie Jar

by Cari Oleskewicz

What is the best way to punish a child who has his hands in the cookie jar? Over and over you’ve told him not to eat the cookies, and not to go near that cookie jar. You know he understands what he is doing is wrong, because he’s sneaky about it. He grabs for the cookies when you’re not looking, and then he lies about it when you confront him. When he’s caught, he has stories and excuses and justifications. Obviously, the child needs to be punished.

Would you punish the child by giving him cookies?

Because that’s what the United States and its allies are doing with the Taliban and the terrorists.

The hypothetical cookie jar situation is probably too simplistic for an issue of this magnitude. However, the model we are following is still questionable. Punishing acts of war with further acts of war is nonsensical. We’re saying their violence is wrong, but ours is not. We’re insisting they started it. We’re acting like children, as if we do not have the benefit of history or foresight.

We are waging war on people who love violence. They admire killing, they welcome death, and they celebrate conflict. Terrorists have been working for decades to bait us into a holy war. We’re playing their game, and no matter who has the biggest bombs and the most guns, we’ve allowed them to make up the rules.

If the United States really wants to win the war against terrorism, we, the peace-loving people of the civilized world, need to keep the struggle on our own terms. Rather than fearing them and stooping to their level, we need to remind the world that terrorists are insignificant. We need to keep them off our televisions and out of our newspapers. We need to reduce their effectiveness by neglecting their existence. We must refuse to acknowledge them.

This is hard to do when they are blowing up landmarks and killing thousands of our own people. It’s hard when we’re angry and hurt and shaken and afraid. It’s called the High Road, and the High Road is never easy. But with our missiles and our military assault, we have elevated Osama bin Laden and his network to a new and frightening level of legitimacy and power. War and violence are the only methods through which they can achieve attention and respect. We’ve handed them exactly what they’ve asked for. Why shouldn’t they continue their terrorism when we respond with such unmitigated eagerness to join the game?

Theirs is a culture and a social structure we cannot possibly understand, let alone accept. Should we let their acts go unpunished? No. However, the style of punishment we are presently pursuing is something they understand as a reward. It is not rational. It is not helpful. It is not right. The terrorists rejoice in their war with America. This is their dream come true.

We need to eliminate the cookie jar from the child’s consciousness altogether.

It won’t happen this week or next year. It won’t happen until the next generation takes over, in our part of the world and in theirs. We think we can’t wait that long. But if we shift our attention and our efforts to the future, and not get muddled down in avenging the past, there just might be hope.

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