West Meets Mid-East 

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“It’s war” and “We will not fail.” That’s what the headlines say, anyway.

The fighting in Afghanistan seems like a long way away. Perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to television images reinforcing our knowledge that things really happen. Or maybe we’re used to thinking war is somebody else’s problem. That it is no longer somebody else’s problem is now clear, thank you very much Osama bin Laden.

There are U.S. servicemen and women now in harm’s way, conducting this war against bin Laden, his al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime in far-off Afghanistan—a remote corner of the world that we’ve ignored for a long time. Even for old Vietnam War-era protestors, such a response to the cowardly taking of American lives on Sept. 11 seems like the right thing, even though we know it’s just the beginning.

Following the recent U.S. and British retaliation against those terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of some 6,000 Americans, a pre-recorded statement from bin Laden was televised. In it, bin Laden did not deny his culpability, as he earlier had, but gave us a more clear understanding that he and his followers are a force to be reckoned with and will wage their war of terror until their last breaths.

Terrorism is unforgivable—that goes without saying. Nonetheless, unknown numbers of radicals from various Middle Eastern countries have signed on with bin Laden. One of his arguments that apparently holds sway with his would-be suicide bombers is that millions of Iraqi children suffer and die in the aftermath of the Gulf War because of U.S.-led sanctions. He also cites Palestine, where Palestinians have few rights and little chance of growing out of their poverty and squalor while under the thumb of Israel. He points, too, to Saudi Arabia, where he sees the U.S. presence as infidels dwelling in the land of Mohammed and the most holy of Muslim cities, Mecca.

Bin Laden may well be a madman and a killer, but at the very least his points concerning Palestine and Iraq ought to be given heed by U.S. policymakers. The days when we could turn our backs on the billion or more Muslims in this world are coming to an end. Certainly, Palestinians deserve the right of self-determination as much as any people. Saddam Hussein may not care about dying Iraqi babies, but we ought to. Nor is it too late to help the people of Afghanistan bring some semblance of civility to their barren and poor—if no longer insignificant—country.

As frightful and deadly as these times are, they hopefully can set the stage for a new beginning between the West and the Middle East.

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