Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2001 / 25 Tishrei 5762

Clarence Page

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Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism -- SAY, Osama bin Laden, is that a Made-in-the-USA digital sports watch on your wrist?

Watching the videotape that bin Laden released on the day America began to bomb Afghanistan, I could not help but notice the terrorist leader's wardrobe accessories.

As prominent as his beard, turban and camouflage jacket was his Western-type watch. (The New York Post guessed it was a most likely a Timex Ironman Triathlon.)

That's an interesting touch for a Yankee-hating mass murderer who denounces Western "infidels." Maybe he appreciates the Arabic numerals.

The ironies of bin Laden's terrorist movement do not stop at his wrist. After all, witnesses spotted his hijackers partying down on the night before Sept. 11 in a very non-Islamic style -- including vodka, video games and lap dancers.

Muslim fanatics drinking? Such contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism that bin Laden represents. Terror is not good Islam, any more than abortion clinic bombers and assassins represent good Christianity.

Bin Laden's terror network is part of a movement that feeds off a conflicted mix of admiration and resentment to which Americans have paid too little attention until now. We dare not underestimate him, but neither should we overestimate our ability to stop him or his fanatical movement with military might alone.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have said repeatedly, the military provides only one of many weapons that are needed to beat back the scourge of terrorism.

They're right. The initial pounding that America's cruise missiles made in Afghanistan failed to provide the national catharsis for which many Americans yearn after the terror catastrophe of Sept. 11. Fear of counterattack has many of us worrying about anthrax or some other biochemical threat and eyeing the skies - and our neighbors - warily.

An invisible war fails to satisfy our emotions or our minds with visible signs of success. Are we crippling the Taliban, we wonder? Or are we just disturbing the rubble left behind by two decades of earlier wars? A military solution is not enough, especially against an enemy that values suicide as a weapon.

If we think of bin Laden and his extremist henchmen as nothing but America haters, we oversimplify them and their undeniable appeal in some sectors of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

A majority of Muslims reject the violence of bin Laden and his organization. But bin Laden's words resonate on the streets, particularly among impressionable youths caught in the emotional contest between the ways of their parents and the world of MTV and ambitious materialism.

His movement feeds on the maddening mixture of envy, resentment, grievance, humiliation and loss that many in the Arab and Muslim worlds feel over their failure to win the benefits that democratic rule and economic development have brought to the West.

Bin Laden's video speech, apparently recorded earlier and released after U.S. air strikes began, showed his media savvy. In an effort to offset President Bush's division of the world into terrorists and the America-led alliance against terrorists, bin Laden redivided the world into the "faithful" who side with him and the "infidels" who don't.

That kind of talk sends a shiver through the royal family in bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia and other leaders throughout the Arab world. Bin Laden was bypassing them to appeal to long-simmering grievances felt by Muslims on the street, the sort of grievances that lead to violent uprisings by Islamic extremists.

Bin Laden uses our technology against us. That's how his people could knock down the World Trade Center with box cutters. We need to use his techniques against him.

Let's re-engage his part of the world in ways that will disprove his lies.

Let's also take advantage of the grand opportunity that the Bush administration's new anti-terror alliance offers. The administration can reverse its past isolationist policies as America and the world get to know each other better.

Before Sept. 11, the administration spurned international treaties, including one aimed at controlling bio-weapons. It walked out of the United Nations conference on racism and xenophobia in Durbin, South Africa. It let Israel and the Palestinians slug it out all summer at a cost of many lives without stepping in to help get the peace process back on track.

The United States has taken up arms repeatedly to aid Muslims in places like Bosnia, Somalia and Kuwait. Yet, bin Laden's fanatics see the United States as backing the wrong side too often in the Muslim world, not just with Israel, but also in favor of despots whose iron-fisted rule has slowed progress toward prosperity.

The Islamic jihad movement is the most fanatical front-line expression of a widespread discontent. To defuse it, the United States needs to reach out to moderates in the Islamic world and promote a new humanitarianism. We need to form partnerships that can help tackle terrorism at its roots. We need to work with those who want to share the benefits of the modern world while holding onto the healthiest values of their ancient traditions.

We can do it. We must do it. We don't need to look at our wrists to know that the clock is ticking.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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