As I mentioned before, I am rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, both because it is a fantastic show, and because I want to pay close attention to certain themes the show tackled back in the 90s and how they hold up in a post-9/11 world. Toward the end of Season 2, we are introduced to the Maquis, a rebellious group of Federation colonists and Starfleet officers living in the Cardassian-Federation demilitarized zone. The Maquis, in a two-parter eponymous episode, blow up a Cardassian freighter at DS9, bringing the characters into the greater conflict of their fight for survival and freedom, Federation be damned.
In part II, Sisko returns to the station after learning that his old friend Cal Hudson is now the leader of the Maquis, who are fighting to stop the Cardassian from smuggling weapons into the DMZ, in violation of the treaty with the Federation. In typical Sisko fashion, he can see the larger picture and both sides of the issue, putting him in a tough spot: he can understand why the Maquis are fighting, but his duty is to bring to justice what amounts to, in the Federations’ eyes, a terrorist group. It is with this curse of insight that Sisko delivers one of the best speeches in the series (the video starts a few seconds before to give context):
SISKO: Do you know what the trouble is?
SISKO: The trouble is Earth.
SISKO: On Earth there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarised zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints, just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive whether it meets with Federation approval or not.
One of the things I most like about DS9 is that it isn’t afraid to poke at the myth of the Federation without tearing it down. Utopia may have been achieved on Earth, and the Federation’s mission might be to selflessly share that Utopia with the galaxy, but Utopia doesn’t come for free. Earth all but tore itself apart in wars before reaching the enlightened point at which the Federation was possible, but it was so long ago that it seems many have forgotten what the price of Utopia is.
In this and other DS9 episodes, we see that Sisko is far more aware of pre-Federation issues that plagued Earth than most of his contemporaries, possibly the reason why he has such insight and empathy. In essence, Sisko is here expressing understanding for the actions of what amounts to, at best, peasant partisans, at worst, terrorists. He doesn’t condone what’s happening, but he gets why it’s happening.
Would this speech have been cleared for airtime had this episode aired ten years later, in 2004? If it had, would it have been well received? If we replaced Earth with the USA, Starfleet headquarters with Washington DC, the Demilitarized zone with the Middle East, Maquis with any insurgent group in the area, and Federation with American, how would you respond to the speech? Would you have been able to ponder the question back in 2004, just three years after 9/11? What about now, could you ponder it in relation to Daesh? Or let’s make some further changes and talk about white America and black America, or rich America and poor America, or liberals and conservatives, or the masses of disgruntled predominantly-white Americans that elected Trump and those still wondering how the hell did that happen, could you ponder the question then?
Can we stand to look at the other side and try to understand their whys? Even if (especially if) we oppose the other side, can we still try to understand their reasons why?
This is what Sisko teaches us as viewers, the issue we’re to think about. Even though it is an ugly situation Sisko and company find themselves in, the idealism of Star Trek still shines through as it shows us to consider the bigger picture and seek to understand the other. I will be the first to admit that pondering the questions Sisko brings up, that seeking to understand the other in some of the examples I brought up above, like in the case of Daesh or Trump-supporting America, does make me somewhat uncomfortable. The alternative, however, is willful ignorance and hatred, and I cannot and will not let those take a hold of me.