War against terrorism not an issue of good vs. evil
October 16, 2001
President Bush insists to the world that there are only two choices: you are either with "us" or with "them." Yet many people from the Middle East and Muslim countries stand opposed to both Osama bin Laden and Bush.
Both men speak of the conflict in striking Manichean terms: While Bush invokes the biblical language of "evil doers" versus the goodness that he ostensibly represents, bin Laden draws on the discourse of the 7th century wars between Muslims and pagans, whom he calls "infidels."
Many Muslims see both bin Laden and the U.S. government's acts over the years as immoral.
Why should Arabs and Muslims, who already fear the next stage of this ferocious "war against terrorism," go along with a war that is victimizing their brothers and sisters in one of the poorest countries of the world?
Some Americans greet scenes of the U.S. airstrikes with cheers and the rush of playing video games. Yet many Americans were sanctimoniously judgmental over a few scenes of a handful of boys in Palestinian villages who foolishly expressed pleasure after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Americans did not see the millions of people in the Middle East and many Muslim countries who reacted with revulsion at the Sept. 11 attacks. Who could justify the indiscriminate killing of more than 5,000 innocent citizens from some 80 countries?
Many in the Middle East who condemn the Sept. 11 attacks also see U.S. actions in the Middle East as reprehensible acts of terrorism.
They mourn the many Sudanese who died for lack of access to medicine because the United States bombed a medicine factory in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, in 1998 on the incorrect assumption that it was tied to bin Laden.
They grieve over the 5,000 Iraqi children who die every month since 1990 because of sanctions the United States insists that the United Nations impose. Meanwhile, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continues to live in luxury and comfort.
But perhaps the thorniest issue in the relationship between the United States and the Arab and Muslim worlds revolves around the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Scenes of Israeli F-16 jets -- which the United States supplied and paid for -- bombing Palestinian villages and towns are seen as proof of Israeli terrorism. But the United States calls on Palestinians -- not Israelis -- to "end terrorism," even though the overwhelming majority of victims in the last year of Arab-Israeli confrontations have been Palestinians.
Terrorism should be eradicated. But a war that singles out only Arab and Muslim countries and groups could inevitably produce more Muslim and Arab rage against the United States, rage that could breed future terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.
The United States should not reserve for itself the exclusive right to capture, punish and bomb, all in the name of fighting terrorism. And it must rectify the injustices of its foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim world.
Unless it does so, terrorism will flourish on both sides of the line that Bush has drawn.
As`ad AbuKhalil is associate professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus, and research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of the forthcoming "Bin Laden and the Taliban: The 'New' American War Against Terrorism" (Seven Stories Press)