September 11


The horrors of September 11, 2001 have already provoked an almost unprecedented amount of blame-laying, calls for retaliation, revenge, and punishment. Americans are understandably outraged and angry, unable to understand how it is that the greatest economic and military power in the world could become the victim of a handful of fanatical terrorists. The national intelligence community and airline security systems, in particular, are being subjected to intense criticism. But hardly anyone, at this point, seems to be questioning America's foreign policy or stance before the world.

This could be seen as a fundamental and eventually fatal mistake. Fifty-some years ago, the renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee warned the West that the peoples of the once-powerful Muslim world would try to reassert themselves after centuries of invasion by the European powers, who had carved up the Middle East for their own convenience and economic profits, particularly after the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish empire at the end of World War I. As one-by-one these European powers relinquished these colonies, in the aftermath of World War II, Arab and various other ethnic national movements took their place. But while many of their politicians, much like Attaturk already had in Turkey, embraced modernity, Islam itself struggled to revive the religious and cultural values of the past. The stage was being set for an epic struggle between the secular West and the religious East.

The entry of the USA in this region of the world was first of all dictated by our need for oil. But stricken by guilt over what had happened to the Jews under Hitler, we were soon to become embroiled in the controversial and highly disruptive creation of the modern state of Israel, carved out of the then former British-ruled "mandate" territory of Palestine. When the surrounding Arab states, led by Jordan, resisted, the newly created United Nations stepped in to try to keep the peace but instead a series of short spectacularly successful wars were fought by Israel largely with American money and materiel, each of which further expanded the territory occupied by Israel with the resulting displacement of at least half of the native Palestinians. These people, now grown to a population of about seven million, continue to exist either as second-class citizens in Israel, or residents of an Israeli-ruled "West Bank", or as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria or scattered elsewhere around the world. They are demanding back their country or at least a fair portion of it.

As I quickly learned as a resident scholar there in 1981, Palestinians, almost to a man, hold the USA responsible for their plight. Attempts to explain America's position (to see peace and justice for all) are impossible when the Israeli occupation forces wield US-made and US-supplied M-16 assault rifles, and when air strikes into Lebanon (which I witnessed while visiting in Galilee) are carried out by US-supplied F-16s, and Israeli "settlements" are built on West Bank land confiscated from Palestinians whose land deeds were lost when the Turkish empire collapsed. As I was told over and over again by Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, "the Israelis could not treat us like this except for US aid." Or when I asked another scholar, an Egyptian, what he thought of Israel, he told me bluntly, "An American colony the latest inflicted by the West on the Middle East."

The only way for the USA to stop terrorism against it will be to broker a real peace by demanding justice for Palestinians even while we attempt to insure a safe place for Israel. Short of that (as the Israelis should have learned by now) there can be neither security or peace. Otherwise, desperate people will continue to do desperate and horrific things.


R. W. Kropf 9/12/2001 Sept11.doc 01-09-12.html