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  A View from the Arab World

  Terror, the United States, and the Middle East - once again


 Rami G. Khouri

Chief Editor, The Jordan Times


From the Jordan Times

 NEW YORK - The United States and the largely Arab-Islamic Middle East have been brought together again this week in a blaze of military violence, harsh rhetoric, and contorted emotions. The U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan is the central act in a drama that once again threatens to launch a long-term confrontation between America and "Islamic terrorists" or "fundamentalist Islam", as they are usually called here.

From the always amazing and enjoyable perspective of New York and the north-east American hinterland, the context of what is going on seems to me as fascinating as the particularities of the day- to-day events.

The U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan is the central act in a drama that once again threatens to launch along- term confrontation between America and "Islamic terrorists" or "Fundamentalist Islam", as they are usually called here."

This has been, even for contemporary America, a dramatic week, combining in one super-spectacle four seemingly different events - President Clinton's testimony before a grand jury and his televised admission of an inappropriate (sexual) relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the American missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan following the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, the attorney-general's revived assessment of whether Vice President Al Gore's solicitation of political contributions from within the White House was illegal, and - the event that will certainly prove to be the most historically durable - Mark McGwire's relentless drive to break the record of 61 home runs in a single baseball season (the added dramatic touch Saturday being the news that he takes a legal but controversial muscle- building drug).

What is most fascinating about these four issues - and what brings them together into a compelling and integrated reflection of American society is not the materialism, sensationalism, ideology, or sheer entertainment value inherent in all of them, in one way or another. It is, rather, the dimension of morality. The issue of right and wrong, of good and bad, runs through all these matters. In some cases the morality dimension is projected on its own, while in others it is juxtaposed with legal issues. Every case has two parallel dynamics: the behavior of the protagonist is held up for scrutiny, admiration or scorn, while at the same time the reaction of the American public at large or the government is also subjected to endless analysis and exhortation.

The common moral thread running through these and other events in the United States is impressive by any standards: it is, simply, that public figures should conform to both the law of the land and a high standard of moral behavior that shuns things like marital sexual infidelity, lying, and other such sins. Explicit in this emphasis on high morality is the assumption that people will sin now and then, but that they can be forgiven and redeemed if they admit their mistakes, explain the reasons for their behavior, apologize, repent, change their behavior, and return to the righteous life.

The American stress on morality is sincere, widespread, endlessly entertaining, very profitable for the mass media, and only slightly hypocritical; it is also a critical key for Americans who wish to understand why their government's attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan were not widely supported around the world.

The prevalent reaction in the United States to the bombings of two American embassies in Africa has been to see a sort of cultural-religious assault on the American way of life by a group of Islamic fanatics who are driven by raging, often irrational hatred, fear or other troubled emotions. The tone and substance of the many statements and background briefings by U.S. government officials this week have centered on the idea that the American attacks against facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan were the start of a long war that would last for years or decades, a war that some have even started comparing to the Cold War in terms of its likely nature, intensity, stakes, cost, and duration. Officials and commentators alike portray the Islamist militants such as Osama bin Laden as a threat to American civilization, one that has to be fought with vigor and determination. Some commentators say that Americans are being attacked simply because they are Americans. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the United States has "to deal over the long run.

"Morality is a fine guide for the behavior of individuals and states, If it is sincere, consistent, and universally applied. It becomes less useful when it is selective and discriminating in its beneficiaries, which is the main charge against American policy in the Middle East."

The powerful morality factor in American life requires that public issues be framed in black-and-white, good-and-bad terms. This is the natural consequence of a nation born on the basis of a quest for religious and political freedom, and now heavily defined by the free market's tendency to make everything in life - including the presidency and the world - an entertainment-based marketable commodity. This is evident in what has happened after the shocking, unacceptable attacks against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salam. The United States has identified Osama bin Laden's group as the vanguard of the enemy that threatens American civilization and its globalizing mission, and the U.S. has now declared long-term war against this enemy. American actions, it seems, will be unilateral, global, violent, and based purely on what Washington perceives to be appropriate.

All the world, including the Middle East, agrees with the United States in rejecting terror as an instrument of policy; but, most of the world also rejects the American habit of unilateral military action as a response to or deterrent of terror. The fact that so many people in the Middle East and around the world who reject terrorism also do not enthusiastically support the American bombing of alleged terrorist facilities should cause morally exuberant Americans to explore the reasons for this.

In between being bombed and bombing others in an endless cycle of senseless violence, Americans would do well to examine their country's role and actions around the world, to see if defective or double-standard American policies may explain why unilateral American militarism as a response to terror is not enthusiastically supported in many other countries. Such an assessment, to be useful, should take place within an intellectual and cultural context that is slightly more sophisticated than the simplistic, black-and-white televised hyper-morality that has come to define American society. There are times when the world of American television and the world at large do not overlap, and this is one of those times.

The striking thing about both the terror attacks against American targets and the solo American military reactions is how routine and regular they have become in the last two decades. Much of the terror and violence can be traced back to the relationship between the United States and the greater Middle East. This tragic, senseless violence will not achieve the rights or aims of any party involved in it. But it is also real and recurring, and is deeply rooted in the behavior of states, groups and individuals who all claim to act on the basis of moral, religious and legalistic values.

Morality is a fine guide for the behavior of individuals and states, If it is sincere, consistent, and universally applied. It becomes less useful when it is selective and discriminating in its beneficiaries, which is the main charge against American policy in the Middle East. This does not justify anti- American terror; but it does largely explain why America finds little support for its attacks against alleged terror facilities.

The strong linkage between moral, the United States, and Middle Earealities requires more serious assessment, alongside the global quest to stamp out terror as a policy instrument.

Terror will not go away by itself, even if Barbara Walters, Jesse Jackson, and Oprah Winfry tell it to go away. The wider context that breeds terror and violence must be addressed with less emotional moralizing, and more cool- headed rationality. That wider context, like the violence itself, repeatedly leads back to the Middle East. Is this coincidental, or rationally explainable?  




"This (U.S. strike) is an issue between Taliban Government of Afghanistan and the United Sates. They(the Taliban) have apparently given refuge to an Arab, who is leading a jihad(holy war) against the United States and who apparently sponsored the bombings.

The United Nation charter gives every nation the right to self defense, therefore when the American embassies were bombed it was a matter of time before the Americans responded by going for what they suspected where the causes of the attack."


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