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Confronting the mind-set of the new terrorists
by Jane Eisner
Philadelphia Inquirer
August 8, 2004

So on Monday, a day after the terror threat was ramped up, I sent my two high school-age children on a train to visit their older sister in Lower Manhattan. Stay away from Wall Street, I jokingly told them. Otherwise, just be careful.

This is supposed to be the American response to the war on terror, isn't it? Our new vigilance is not to curtail our enjoyment of travel and learning, and we're told to greet each change in the warnings with the same mixture of concern and nonchalance that we give to the traffic light at the next intersection.

Only we don't expect it to be green anytime soon.

Like most Americans, I was horrified by the terrorist attacks, satisfied that the war in Afghanistan was right and appropriate, vaguely supportive of the war against Iraq and now - in light of the falsehoods that justified the invasion and the utter incompetence that followed - consider it a terrible mistake. And, like most Americans, I have believed that the terrorists' war is a madman's assault on our civilization, on our cherished liberty and freedom, on who we are.

Which is why, as a civilian, my best response is to continue to be who I am, even if that means a mother who sends her kids to Manhattan during a heightened sense of threat.

But what if this isn't a war on who we are, but on what we have done and continue to do? What if Anonymous is correct?

Anonymous, you may have heard, is the pen name of a senior analyst of the Central Intelligence Agency who has written Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a detailed and damning book on the terrorist threat and the Bush administration's failure to fight it.

For Anonymous, the answer to "Why is the West losing?" is direct and profound. Osama bin Laden and his terrorist allies will continue fighting and killing Americans "because of what we have done and are doing in the Islamic world and not because of who we are and how we run our political, economic, and social systems."

Anonymous has followed bin Laden for years and says the list of grievances against the United States has been consistent and clear:

Support for the state of Israel, especially its current government.

Occupation of Afghanistan and now Iraq.

Support for apostate Muslim dictators, such as the Saudi royal family, and nations, such as Russia and China, that persecute Muslims.

Demand for low-priced oil that keeps corrupt regimes in power and populations poor.

Bin Laden doesn't care if I wear pants and educate my girls. He cares that my government's foreign and military policy is an attack on Islam, and as a smart, pious and devout Muslim, he has no choice but to fight back by any means possible.

America has committed the first and most damaging mistake of war, Anonymous says, by willfully misjudging our enemy - willfully, because the information cited in the book has long been available and was cleared for publication by the CIA. Through our own ignorance and hubris, we've decided that the Muslim world needs only to be freed of its King George III and that liberty (and gratitude) will spontaneously follow.

But what if our brand of freedom is not a universal aspiration, especially when imposed from without? I view Afghanistan under the Taliban as one of the century's most oppressive regimes. For bin Laden and his multitude of followers, it is revered as the site of the only Muslim victory over the West in eight centuries, over the Soviet Union in the 1980s. We can argue over who is right, or we can accept the challenge to understand our enemy at least as well as he understands us.

Equally unsettling are Anonymous' proposed solutions: Dramatically change our foreign and domestic policy, or be willing to enforce it with a massive military operation that will result in more death than we've so far been able to stomach. Either choice makes the decision to visit Manhattan on an "orange" day seem benign.

We are hated for what we do, not misunderstood for who we are. That assessment pierces the very heart of the American outlook during this war with no green light in sight. I hope Anonymous is wrong. I fear otherwise.

Posted: August 14, 2004


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