Jihad or Justice

Terry J. Allen

September 11, 2001 was a day of heartbreaking outrage and tragedy. "Why me?" "Why my loved one?" is on the lips of everyone blighted by the attacks. The answer, echoing though the sad smoke_filled air, is that innocent people suffered the random cruelty of the life, God's will, or the cold indifferent of the universe.

But, "Why me?" is not a question that Washington has a right to ask in the face of the September 11 attacks? The terrorism was repulsive, heinous, horrible, unforgivable, irrational. But it is not inexplicable.

It is neither chance, indifference, nor God's will that terrorists targeted America rather than, say, Canada. But the reasons George Bush has offered the nation are painfully inadequate. The terrorists
targeted America, the president said, because they "hate freedom." He then explained that the US is engaged in "a struggle between good and evil."

But while many across the world do hate America, it is not because they see Washington as a beacon of liberty. Rather, it is the opposite. Many around the world hold America responsible for much that is antithetical to democracy and freedom:

__for sanctions in Iraq that have devastated the population while failing to undermine Sadaam Hussein, a dictator the US armed and supported, even after he gassed Kurdish civilians;

__ for supporting Israeli policies that include occupation, assassination, illegal settlements, state_sanctioned torture and denial of the human and civil rights of Palestinians;

__for backing some of the world's most repressive regimes including in Saudi Arabia, and, before the Gulf War, Iraq.

__and for helping to create and back the Mujahidin during the Cold War struggle between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. After they defeated the USSR, these "CIA_backed freedom fighters," as Washington dubbed them, became Osama bin Laden's shock troops and spread around the world to fill a vacuum created by anger, humiliation and hopelessness. Bush has called Osama bin Ladin and his followers mindless evildoers. The world joins America in condemning the actions of the 9_11 terrorists as evil. But if the terrorism were simply mindless, Washington's options would be few: It must either surrender or wage a global extermination campaign that will inevitably diminish freedom and spark a bottomless spiral of hatred and revenge.

If, on the other hand, we recognize that even people who perform illegitimate actions may have legitimate grievances, there is hope that the world can respond in ways that smother the fires of extremism rather than fuel them.

The vast number of people around the world who distrust or hate the United States are not all mindless or terrorists. Like Americans who love their country, they denounce the attack on the World Trace Center as vigorously as they condemn the US bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, the Israeli_sanctioned massacres in refugee camps; IRA and Protestant bombings that kill schoolchildren, and the Palestinian suicide attacks on restaurants and buses.

It is likely that nothing will sway Osama bin Ladin and his minions from their fanatic campaign against "the West." His network is broad and his admirers legion. But there is still hope that people who sympathize with terrorists' grievances, but not their tactics, can be persuaded to withdraw aid and comfort. That will happen only if the world, and the US as its pre_eminent power, acknowledge and rectify the injustices that feed anti_ Americanism.

It is also only just that those who launched and supported the September 11 attacks be captured and punished.

But at this, the dawn of the 21st century, many Americans are demanding that their government__for they hold little influence over other states__stop the cycle of revenge and retribution by refusing to condone or contribute to the targeting of civilians, whether through sanctions that starve them or attacks that turn them into sorrow and ash.

Terry J. Allen is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Harper's and The Nation. She lives in Richmond VT, and can be reached at tallen@igc.org.

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