There was a run on American flags. One hundred US senators most of whom still had bitter thoughts about an impeachment proceeding that was less than three years old and a recent presidential election decided by the judicial branch, convened and sang a popular ode to their nation. It was not the time to condemn a single fact of American life. It was a time to celebrate our values, values that were so clearly under attack.
In the next few months, years, opinions that should have earned the respect of no one, earned a comfortable place in the mainstream: racial profiling, government surveillance, torture. When in 2002, Steven Spielberg, a bellwether of American centrist liberalism, promoted Minority Report, a science-ficition thriller about the perils of government surveillance, he made it a point to defend the Bush Administrations's stances on civil liberties.
Everyone was shocked by the first photos from Abu Ghraib. This was not us. This is not what those American flags stood for. Where the hell did this come from?
We are now raising French flags. My Facebook friends are covering their photos in the blue, white and red. We speak of solidarity, and I'm sure in France, on this day, there is much talk of solidarity as well, and of all the wonderful things France stands for that the terrorists hate. It may be rude, mean to issue a warning at this moment of mourning. But I will say this: Dear France, dear Europe, dear US, and dear world: now is not the time to make the indefensible defensible, now is not the time to deny basic decency to refugees from genocide or to talk of racism's good points. If you let such opinions become respectable, you let the terrorists win.