|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
20 - 26 September 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Letters to the editor
Big dog, small room
Sir- From all the articles, opinions and commentaries that flooded the media last week, one fact emerges, dominating the political scene: the world will never be what it was before 11 September. The world has changed forever. International politics in general and American politics in particular have undergone something analogous to what the structuralist philosophers term an epistemological break. The bases of the American national security doctrine have been undermined after it was clearly demonstrated that nuclear anti- ballistic missile shields are useless against human missiles. American political rhetoric now is full of catch-phrases like "World War III," the "clash of civilisations" and "global war against Islamic terrorism."
Arnold Toynbee once remarked that America is a large friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail it knocks over a chair. What if someone enrages the dog: what happens to our small room?
Ayman Adel Refaat
Shades of sorrow
Sir- Refreshing to see some nuanced, introspective articles concerning the recent US tragedies. We all await what's to come.
Sir-Just finished reading The giant's feet of clay (Al-Ahram Weekly, 13-19 September) and several things become very evident.
First, Arabs in general, as advertised, are quite prejudiced. There is very little tolerance in your society. Egypt is one of the most advanced Arab countries, yet for anyone of different religion you portend that "if it ain't Islamic" then it is no good. No wonder so many of us here in the States feel that we are talking to people still living in the 11th century! Join the 21st and enjoy diversity! It is not a slap in the face at Islam to be Buddhist, Protestant, Christian, or Jewish.
Second, for all the problems with the Israelis, and there are many, they pale to the genocide Islamics have practiced on themselves over the last 25 years. How many Islamic people did Saddam gas (his own)? More than Israel has killed in all its conflicts with Palestine.
What about the 3,000,000 Iranians who died (hey, they were Islamics, too) fighting Iraq back in the 1980s? How many Iraqis died in that fighting too? Gee, how many Saudis died when Saddam came to visit?
Now let's look at Africa and the starving populations and AIDS crisis there. Where is Islam? The US is there spending billions to keep these people alive... Many Islamics. Yes, we have ships and planes, most dating back to the Cold War... But clearly the trend for the last 10 years has been to cut back military spending, and spend more on humanitarian/economic development all over the world.
I've seen it. I was an army brat and many bases are being shut down. Of course, now that the World Trade Center has been bombed, it looks like that will change rapidly. And frankly, it happened not because we as a country are weak... It happened because we as a country like to live free! I just don't think people in your half of the world understand that. No police on the corner with machine-guns... no searches to drive down the street or go to the mall, no papers be viewed by officials... You can generally come and go. In fact, if I were so inclined I could walk right over to the Capitol of Florida (I'm in Tallahassee) and wave a big sign proclaiming my support for the bombing (I won't) without any doubt in my mind that I will not be arrested or lose my job or be shot or any of that crap. People will yell at me but I guarantee you that when the police show up it would be to protect my right to free speech.
If you wrote a pro-Israeli editorial, would you get the same treatment? Nope.
Living way over here in North America, we have become flooded by information, far more than the average person can follow each day just on our own events and neighbouring countries. We should not be expected to watch over everything you people do. You must solve your own problems without blaming the US or Israel or the UN. But you can't, so we're an easy target.
Please advise your more fanatical readers that Christians too can die for their God in a Holy Crusade if need be. In fact, most Americans are willing to die for their country, let alone their God.
Think about that for a moment. What is harder: dying for God, or your country? Over here, most Americans will do both, while Arabs in general will only die for Islam. Who is more radical? I can honestly say as a Catholic, that if one of my relatives had been killed, it would become my life's mission to repay the favour. I don't think Islamics or Christians need to conduct their lives in such a fashion, but if pushed, please explain to your readers, we are glad to return the favour. How would you feel if a few non-Islamics with a gripe bombed the Sacred Mosque in Saudi Arabia... During holy week? I'm sure there are some tall buildings in an Islamic country?
See, it's pretty stupid, but it can certainly happen if we continue to be targets for brainwashed 21- year-olds who think killing 5,000 (including many women and many Islamics) is a good idea. They are all certainly burning in Hell as we speak. Also, please let your readers know that the two boys who hit one of the World Trade Center buildings spent their last night on earth getting drunk in a strip bar (y'know... nude women). Some holy war.
Regarding Israel (I'm not pro- or anti-): frankly, you will have to make peace with them sooner or later. The only way out of that is to kill them all and defeat the US and most of Europe, which is not likely. Besides, they have very good scientists and scholars. You should take advantage of that instead of trying to beat them down.
Besides, and I think this is the biggest point, God himself chose Israel. He has a covenant with them and only them. I don't want to be part of any country, organisation, sect, army, anything that seeks to harm them for that reason alone. Anybody who does courts disaster.
Please use your writing skills to foster friendship and understanding on all points.
There are 8,000,000 Islamics in the US. I work closely with two, one from Iran, another from Turkey. They are great people. I would no sooner see them harmed than my own family. Why can't you people act the same way? You've had many thousands of years as a people and country to do that. What's taking so long?
Sir- I was supposed to fly on 11 September on the 4.30pm American Airlines flight to JFK. But that night I found myself stuck in LA with an incredible range of emotions over what has happened on the island where I work and live in New York City. My wife and I spent the first hours of the day -- after being awakened by phone calls from our parents at 6.40am Pacific Time -- trying to contact our daughter at school in New York and our friend JoAnn who works near the World Trade Center. I called JoAnn at her office. As someone picked up, the first tower imploded, and the person answering the phone screamed and ran out, leaving me no clue as to whether or not she or JoAnn would live. It was a sick, horrible, frightening day.
On 27 December 1985 I found myself caught in the middle of a terrorist incident at the Vienna airport -- which left 30 people dead, both there and at the Rome airport. (The machine-gunning of passengers in each city was timed to occur at the same moment.) I do not feel like discussing that event because it still brings up too much despair and confusion as to how and why I got to live... a fluke, a mistake, a few feet on the tarmac, and I am still here, there but for the grace of...
Safe. Secure. I'm an American, living in America. I like my illusions. I walk through a metal detector, I put my carry-ons through an x-ray machine, and I know all will be well. Here's a short list of my experiences lately with airport security: At Newark Airport, the plane is late boarding everyone. The counter can't find my seat. So I am told to just "go ahead and get on" -- without a ticket! At Detroit Metro Airport, I don't want to put the lunch I just bought at the deli through the x-ray machine so, as I pass through the metal detector, I hand the sack to the guard through the space between the detector and the x-ray machine. I tell him: "It's just a sandwich." He believes me and doesn't bother to check. The sack has gone through neither security device. At LaGuardia in New York, I check a piece of luggage, but decide to catch a later plane. The first plane leaves without me, but with my bag -- no one knowing what is in it. Back in Detroit, I take my time getting off the commuter plane. By the time I have come down its stairs, the bus that takes the passengers to the terminal has left -- without me. I am alone on the tarmac, free to wander wherever I want. So I do. Eventually, I flag down a pick-up truck and an airplane mechanic gives me a ride the rest of the way to the terminal. I have brought knives, razors; and once, my travelling companion brought a hammer and chisel. No one stopped us.
Of course, I have got away with all of this because the airlines consider my safety soimportant, they pay rent-a-cops $5.75 an hour to make sure the bad guys don't get on my plane. That is what my life is worth -- less than the cost of an oil change. Too harsh, you say? Well, chew on this: a first-year pilot on American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) receives around $15,000 a year in annual pay. That's right -- $15,000 for the person who has your life in his hands. Until recently, Continental Express paid a little over $13,000 a year. There was one guy, an American Eagle pilot, who had four kids so he went down to the welfare office and applied for food stamps -- and he was eligible! Someone on welfare is flying my plane? Is this for real? Yes, it is.
So spare me the talk about all the precautions the airlines and the FAA is taking. They, like all businesses, are concerned about one thing -- the bottom line and the profit margin. Four teams of three to five people were all able to penetrate airport security on the same morning at three different airports and pull off this heinous act? My only response is -- that's all? Well, the pundits are in full diarrhoea mode, gushing on about the "terrorist threat" and today's scariest dude on planet Earth -- Osama Bin Laden.
Hey, who knows? Maybe he did it. But something just doesn't add up. Am I being asked to believe that this guy, who sleeps in a tent in a desert, has been training pilots to fly our most modern, sophisticated jumbo jets with such pinpoint accuracy that they are able to hit these three targets without anyone wondering why these planes were so far off path? Or am I being asked to believe that there were four religious/political fanatics who just happened to be skilled airline pilots who just happenedto want to kill themselves today? Maybe you can find one jumbo jet pilot willing to die for the cause -- but four? OK, maybe you can -- I don't know.
What I do know is that I have heard everything about this Bin Laden guy except this one fact -- we created the monster known as Osama Bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA! Don't take my word for it -- I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commit acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us.
We abhor terrorism -- unless we're the ones doing the terrorising. We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was our work. Thirty thousand murdered civilians, and who the hell even remembers? We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering that causes to interrupt our day one single bit. We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.
Yet, our recent domestic terrorism bombings have not been conducted by a guy from the desert but rather by our own citizens: a couple of ex-military guys who hated the federal government. From the first minutes of today's events, I never heard that possibility suggested. Why is that? Maybe it's because the A- rabs are much better foils. A key ingredient in getting Americans whipped into a frenzy against a new enemy is the all-important race card. It's much easier to get us to hate when the object of our hatred doesn't look like us. Congressmen and senators are calling for more money for the military; one senator on CNN even said he didn't want to hear any more talk about more money for education or health care -- we should have only one priority: our self- defence.
Will we ever get to the point where we realise we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn't living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes? In just eight months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again. He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race -- you name it, Baby Bush has blown it.
Many families have been devastated. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted against Bush! Why kill them? Why kill anyone? Such insanity... Let's mourn, let's grieve, and when it's appropriate let's examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in. It doesn't have to be like this.
A war is what they want
Sir- I have heard a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but said: "We're at war, we have to accept collateral damage," and asked: "What else can we do? What is your suggestion?" Minutes later I heard a TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done."
I thought about these issues especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's been going on over there. So I want to share a few thoughts with anyone who will listen.
I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I fervently wish to see those monsters punished.
But the Taliban and Ben Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who captured Afghanistan in 1997 and have been holding the country in bondage ever since. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a master plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would love for someone to eliminate the Taliban and clear out the rats' nest of international thugs holed up in their country. I guarantee it.
Some say, if that's the case, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban themselves? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, damaged, and incapacitated. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan -- a country with no economy, no food. Millions of Afghans are widows of the approximately two million men killed during the war with the Soviets. And the Taliban has been executing these women for being women and have buried some of their opponents alive in mass graves. The soil of Afghanistan is littered with land mines and almost all the farms have been destroyed. The Afghan people have tried to overthrow the Taliban. They haven't been able to.
We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. The trouble with that scheme is, it's already been done. The Soviets took care of it. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? There is no infrastructure. Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.
New bombs would only land in the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. (They have already, I hear.) Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans: they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually, it would be making common cause with the Taliban -- by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.
So what else can be done? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. I think that when people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" many of them are thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. They are thinking about overcoming moral qualms about killing innocent people. But it's the belly to die, not kill, that's actually on the table. Americans will die in a land war to get Bin Laden. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that, folks. To get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to come first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. The invasion approach is a flirtation with global war between Islam and the West.
And that is Bin Laden's programme. That's exactly what he wants and why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. At the moment, of course, "Islam" as such does not exist. There are Muslims and there are Muslim countries, but no such political entity as Islam. Bin Laden believes that if he can get a war started, he can constitute this entity and he'd be running it. He really believes Islam would beat the West. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarise the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in Muslim lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong about winning: in the end the West would probably overcome -- whatever that would mean in such a war; but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden, yes; but anyone else?
I don't have a solution. But I do believe that suffering and poverty are the soil in which terrorism grows. Bin Laden and his cohorts want to bait us into creating more such soil, so they and their kind can flourish. We can't let him do that. That's my humble opinion.
Justice or barbarism
Sir- The tragedy in the United States stirs passions. Words lack to describe it. After all, when the knell sounds, nobody has the right to ask for whom it tolls. All innocent victims, wherever they are, deserve our sympathy.
In love as in hate, it is necessary to stay calm and remember some principles that may help us understand and act correctly.
The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "Disregard and contempt of human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind;" "it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."
The Prophet Isaiah said: "Peace will be the fruit of justice" (32:17). It is obvious that Washington and New York, as well as the Middle East, where the perpetrators of the present tragedy probably come from, are not in peace. Therefore, there is an injustice somewhere.
Mr Bush and other politicians, who let rot the situation in the Middle East, are horrified and vow revenge. This is not the first time that such attacks against American interests have taken place. And each time the Americans have taken their revenge. But what was the result? Attacks only intensified. And everybody fears that what happened in New York and Washington may happen elsewhere. We are therefore in the infernal cycle of violence. These politicians forget Jesus's words: "All who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).
Instead of driving the world into the spiral of violence and mutual destruction, instead of pushing people to despair and suicide, politicians must return to justice and solve the problem of the Middle East according to justice. Today, more than ever, the world must choose between barbarism on behalf of all, and justice for all. And what we say about the Middle East applies to any other situation based on injustice. "Those who swallow bones cannot sleep," says an Arab proverb. Those who sow injustice harvest barbarism.
Sir- I frequently browse your paper's Web site and many others in the Middle East, as one American who is very concerned and interested in the world's view of world events -- and in particular how the world views the US. I was a little surprised to see your article The giant's feet of clay (Al-Ahram Weekly, 13-19 September) reporting that the US "ground to a standstill" following the World Trade Center disaster. You couldn't be more mistaken. As indicated in your article, air traffic came to a complete stop and certainly the stock exchanges came to a stop (not reported by your paper), but the college campus where I teach continued as normal... the city I live in continued as normal. My wife and I had dinner at one of all the open restaurants, and we filled our car's gas tank at one of the open gas stations. In fact, all businesses in the area were open and the traffic on the roads was normal. The state I live in continued as normal with the exception of the precautionary closure of possible additional terrorist targets. In fact, only the airline industry and the stock exchanges ground to a stop. Beyond that, the only thing not normal was the grief we feel at what has happened... the same grief, in my case, that I've felt with each report of a violent episode in Palestine/ Israel.
As a college professor, I'm interested in all peoples everywhere being well informed and well educated. I've spent time in my classes in the last week educating my students on the Islamic world's view of the US (I teach classes on religion) and giving credence to many of the criticisms of the US that are in the Third World: there most certainly is often a hypocrisy between what we as Americans "preach" and what we actually do in terms of foreign policy. My students have been most receptive to this message. I know I am not the only American who hears and understands the concerns of those beyond our borders and the Euro-centric community.
I would encourage you to bear in mind that the US is a many-faceted country... peopled by peace-loving, social-justice-minded folks, just as you may well have in Egypt. I would also remind you that only a small percentage of the US is represented by the airlines and stock exchanges. Business is conducted outside of these institutions and industries as well as in them. The entire shipping industry, railroad and trucking, for example, has continued without interruption. To suggest that the shut-down of the airline industry and the stock exchanges indicates a complete stoppage of the US is simply ridiculous... every bit as ridiculous as the views of some Americans that the many criticisms of the US are unfounded.
By reporting in the manner you have, including a tone of celebration that this "giant" has been brought down, you are contributing to the lack of dialogue and understanding between people of different backgrounds. You are perpetuating the kind of misunderstanding that leads to and encourages hate. The way to a peaceful, harmonious future is by helping to promote a tone and climate that is accurate in representing facts and compassionate in dealing with people. Please... you are in the business of educating people, just as I am... join me and other world citizens in responsible education and reporting.
Fergus Falls Community College
Friends and enemies
Sir- As an American looking for international reaction on the murder of thousands of our civilians in our home land, I was appalled that your publication's article The giant's feet of clay (Al-Ahram Weekly, 13-19 September) spoke of America getting its "comeuppance" and the rage of the disenfranchised "coming home to roost" in the form of huge mass murder of Americans.
I don't think America has clay feet. It has clay friends. If what we got is seen as "comeuppance" by you, then you are not our friend. For one American, I am sorry for whatever makes you so joyous about the success of our murderous enemies. I, for one American, count you as a friend of our murderous enemy and not of America.
America is not responsible for every evil in the world. America has tried to have a role in the world. But now, America's first duty is to sort out its friends from its enemies and protect itself. I hope the value you see coming out of the mass murders in Washington and New York is seen and understood for what it is in the corridors of my government.
No wonder your region permits people who hate so actively to have such a wide sway among you.
Masters and slaves
Sir-This e-mail is a comment from an Egyptian student on one of the most shocking experiences in the history of humanity. I am working on my master's degree here at one of the American universities, and like all Egyptians am traumatised by the implications of the act of terrorism of Tuesday. For all of us, Arabs and Muslims, the situation is one of amalgamated terror: not only are we suffering the horrors of human vulnerability to terrorism but also we are facing our own fears of bloodthirsty acts.
In general the American public is, as it should be, quite angry. But it is feared that this act of terrorism has had the blasting effect of denouncing all Arab nationals as terrorists! In fact, some Arabs trying to leave the country were arrested randomly! Furthermore, several marches, which were stopped by the police, were making way towards mosques in an attempt to kill the enemy within.
The hysterical reaction to the situation is quite a reflection of the ultimate lunacy of civilisation. This is an instance when postmodernism is no more. In fact, the fragmented identity of the American populace is for the first time unified in search for an enemy to burn. This is the first time in a long time that truth is revealed: there has to be a slave in order for the master to exist. All this talk about diversity and celebration of difference is being tested at this point in time. The call for war is the ultimate proof that differences were never diluted. Talk of "punishment" spells out that under all this civilised talk of democracy there has never been the slightest consideration of equality.
For all of us thinking individuals, though, this is a call for considering the new revelation that "all humans are equal" and that every human being can suffer the frailties of humanity. Let us pray that the bloodthirsty mob will take a moment to think about this truth. Let us all pray that democracy will not relapse to barbarian binary oppositions where the slave is needed to prove the presence of the master. Peace to all of us.
Terror comes home
Sir-Over the last 50 years America has carried out numerous direct (e.g. Vietnam) and indirect/proxy (e.g. El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq) wars against dozens of smaller and much weaker nations throughout the world. Most of these were unilateral, with no legal basis (e.g. the attempted murder of Muammar Gaddafi; the armed kidnapping of President Noriega, etc.). These have led to millions of civilian casualties -- over a million in Vietnam alone, followed by some two million in the killing fields of Cambodia. Other millions were maimed, dispossessed or dispersed (e.g. the Palestinians). Few Americans shed any tears for these victims of ongoing American violence.
With the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, America's foreign wars have finally come home -- and Americans got the first taste of the death and destruction that they have been meting out to other people over the last half century. Welcome to the real world, Americans.
Hendrik S Weiler
From God, with wrath
Sir- I am dismayed by your gloating, gleeful tone at the death of thousands of civilians. Can you report also how many hundreds of millions of dollars America has poured into your nation? And can you tell us all how many Egyptian civilians have been killed by Americans? You are angry because Americans have a good life? What kind of spirit is that? Jealousy, envy, the evil of Satan. A few of your citizens have now recklessly endangered millions of people in the world. God may punish America for not worshipping Him as it should -- especially for its callousness toward human lives -- but the idea that you should pretend to be God and sit in judgement on the most generous nation on earth exposes you to His wrath more greatly even than America is exposed. Do not fear the bombs of America, which can devastate entire nations: fear the wrath of God, whose justice can devastate the soul for eternity. Your righteousness, too, is a lie.
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