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by William H. Benson

September 11, 2003

     Last week Newsweek reported that Osama bin Laden, hiding in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, spoke last January at the funeral of one of his daughters-in-law, who had died in childbirth, and he blamed America for her death.  He said, “I had enough riches to enjoy myself like an Arab shiek, but I decided to fight against those infidel forces that want to sever us from our Islamic roots.  For that cause, Arabs, Taliban, and my family have been martyred.”

        The Islamist extremists, such as bin Laden, are scathing in their denunciation of the United States and the way the American people live such shallow, casual, and undisciplined and irreligious lives.  Majid Anaraki, an Iranian, described the United States as a “collection of casinos and supermarkets linked together by endless highways passing through nowhere.”

     They are aghast that this corrupt and sinful culture through satellite television and the internet can infiltrate into what they see as the superior and purer Islamic nation and influence its citizens to abandon their committment to Allah and his prophet Mohammed.

     They are especially offended that Christian America and the Israeli Jews hold a measure of control over two of the holiest places in the Islamic faith: Mecca and Jerusalem.

     In 1998 Osama bin Laden told his followers, “The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousand of its troops to the land of the two holy mosques.” 

     He was referring to the first Gulf War when the ruling elite in Saudia Arabia allowed American soldiers to step on the land of Mecca and Medina in order to defend them against Saddam Hussein.  This was a humiliation from which the Islamic nation has never fully recovered.

     All of Islam is offended by the Middle East’s weak and powerless position and the backwardness of its people, for some one thousand years ago, the Middle East was vastly superior to both Europe and Africa which were seen as outposts of ignorance and barbarity.  And then Europe caught up and surpassed the Middle East, vastly outdistancing their civilization.

     Bernard Lewis in his book What Went Wrong makes the point that the works of Mozart, Voltaire, Shakespeare, Stravinsky, and George Orwell have traveled all over the globe.  But they stop at Islam’s borders, which has shown little interest in how others think, write, and compose.

     Just as easily as the Middle East can point out what is wrong with the West, the Western world can quickly point out what is wrong in the Middle East.  It is a closed society.  Religion is mixed up with politics.  Individual liberties are sublimated in order to maintain religious purity.  An open and liberal education is not readily available.  Women live lives as semi-slaves.  The society discourages the free flow of ideas, both political and religious.

     It is as if two men are standing on either side of a great gulf pointing an accusing finger at the other.  One is powerful; the other is weak.  One tolerates any religion; the other allows only one.  One guarantees personal freedoms; the other demands allegiance to Allah.  One is supposedly corrupted by his wealth and power; the other lives a religiously pure life.  One unleashes “shock and awe”; the other unveils terror.  And both think that they are right. 

     And the fault line that separates the two men runs through places like Ground Zero at the site of the former twin towers and at the Pentagon and in a wooded area in Pennsylvania.

     Bernard Lewis wrote that the Arab world is now continually asking itself pertinent questions, such as: Who did this to us?  What did we do wrong?  How do we put it right?  What has Islam done to the Muslims? or better yet–What have the Muslims done to Islam?

     Lewis makes the case that if the Middle East continues to follow the path the extremists demand, “the suicide bomber will become the metaphor of the Middle East and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression. The road to democracy is long and hard and full of pitfalls and obstacles.”

     Two years separate us now from the second bloodiest day in U.S. history (behind Antietam in the Civil War), when on Tuesday morning, 9/11/2001, just over 3000 people died at the hands of suicide hijackers.  The healing process, if there can be such a thing, is just beginning.