Five Years After


Five years after the September 11 attack by terrorists on America, perhaps it is time once again to try to access what this traumatic event and all that has followed means for both the USA and the world.


For one, the perpetrator of that attack, Osama bin Ladin, remains alive, and his Al Qaeda network, while having suffered great setbacks, is still alive and even growing, while the Taliban, which once gave it refuge, appears to be regaining ground in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the US invasion of Iraq, which largely diverted our troops from finishing the job in Afghanistan, has succeeded in tying up American military resources in what appears to be a thankless and interminable occupation that has so far cost us just about as many American lives as did 9/11 not to mention the deaths of about 130,000 Iraqis. And if we are to finish the nation-building there that we vowed to do, we'll be there for who knows how many years to come. Indeed, a united and democratic Iraq may well be a lost cause already, with Shiites and Sunnis at each others throats, and Kurds well on their way to declaring themselves a separate nation. In that case, major bonus that the US occupation has given to Al Qaeda recruitment will come back to further haunt us, while our use of torture, abduction and secret detention centers has lost us the respect of our allies, and what is widely perceived as America's one-sided support of Israel almost guarantees that the USA and American interests will be the targets of choice for Islamic terrorists for many years to come.

In the face of all of this, more than ever before we see some politicians succumbing to the temptation to see the whole situation as a "war of civilizations" on an epic scale even likening it to the World War II era battle against fascism or the Cold War struggle against Communism. Perhaps, but it is doubtful that it could turn out that way unless we really want it to. That there are fanatics on the other side who relish such rhetoric, there is no doubt. But we must recognize that extremists exist on our side as well, and that if we allow ourselves to be talked into the same kind of "crusade" versus "jihad" mentality, it only increases the chances we will end up with what we fear most.


Instead, I suggest is what we are seeing is a struggle not between civilizations or even between major religions, but between modernity and a past era that is only slowly losing its grip on the Muslim world. That there are likely to be spasms of resistance to changing times is only to be expected certainly we have seen them here in the West as well. That modernity, with its secular values, is especially threatening to Muslim sensibilities, with its ideal of a unified religious-political order, there can be no doubt. Yet we forget that such was once also the ideal of the Christian world. Years of bitter rivalry and bloodshed between Catholics and Protestants not unlike that between Sunnis and Shiites today in Iraq taught us, the hard way, that something less ideal from a religious perspective but more practical and more respectful of human rights and freedom is the only sane way to go.


So instead of threatening either military or cultural annihilation, America and the rest of the Western world must employ its hard won patience and painfully acquired tolerance to help Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite, come to peaceful terms with each other and with the modern world, and with others, be they of other religions or even none at all.


R W Kropf 9/11/06


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