The editorial below was written by Rami G. Khouri, Executive Editor of The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. It is published here with his permission.
It was not inevitable, but this is how it turned out: three years after the Sept. 11 attacks when Arab terrorists used commercial planes to attack the US, the American army is using its planes to attack individual houses in Fallujah, Iraq.
For the past five days, American planes have bombed targets in Fallujah, routinely killing 15, 20 or 30 people at a time. The US Marines carrying out the attack say they are killing members of Al Qaeda-related terror group headed by Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi, while Iraqis on the ground say many of the dead are civilians, including women and children.
President George W. Bush argues that Iraq is the front line in the “war against terror”. If this is true — which most of the world doubts — then we have two large problems on our hands, and not only the terror problem that erupted on Sept. 11: the war against terror is not being won, and terrorist networks and incidents are expanding steadily around the world.
The single most common emotion that describes the prevalent attitudes towards terror and anti-terror in the US and the Arab-Asian region is probably hysteria. Bush and his ice-hearted Republican political strategists have crassly exploited the shock, fear and bewilderment that gripped Americans on Sept. 11, and turned the US into a hysterical arena defined by a peculiar combination of exaggerated jingoism and militarism as the appropriate response to a constant perceived threat.
The Arab-Asian region that spawns much global terror suffers a parallel hysteria, manifested in slightly different ways among three sectors of society: the bombers and killers are more active than ever, against innocent civilians in most cases; government authorities use police powers more forcefully to stamp out terror, with very mixed results; and the vast masses of the public have essentially suspended their humanity, and shelved their emotions and basic values, neither condemning the terrorists very clearly nor supporting their governments or the US-led war in Iraq.
Otherwise rational people everywhere have been transformed into agents of emotional and political fury, using and accepting severe violence as an inevitable consequence of our times. The political iconography in both worlds is frightening: an American president who brandishes his fighter jets, and Arab-Islamic terrorists who brandish long knives for cutting off heads of foreigners. And so, perhaps inevitably, we find ourselves again following events in ... Fallujah.
This Iraqi city west of Baghdad, like Najaf a month ago, is this week's symbol of hysteria's crazed consequences, for both Iraqis and Americans. The American army surrounded and bombed Fallujah in April, killing hundreds of Iraqis, but then pulled back when the cost in public opinion terms around the Middle East and the world seemed too high. Now the US Marines are attacking again, but in a very different political context marked by many more daily attacks against the US occupation army and Iraqi government targets.
One reason for the stepped-up attacks against the US and Iraqi governing forces is the backlash from the April attacks in Fallujah, and other American attacks since then against other Iraqi cities. With every American military assault against Iraqis defending their own homeland, more Iraqis emerge from the experience hardened, angry and determined to kill Americans, i.e., hysterical, willing to fight to the death, wanting only to hurt or humiliate the United States and its partners in occupation.
This is a strange and bitter place to find ourselves three years after the Sept. 11 attacks that were seen by people everywhere as a horrendous and unjustifiable crime against Americans and the world. Bush's militantly hysterical foreign policy that claims to fight terror, in fact has been a major global catalyst and recruiting agent for terror. Najaf, Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba and other Iraqi towns did not exist in the American political or popular imagination three years ago. Today, many citizens in those towns only wish to haunt, terrorise and kill Americans, and militants from other countries join them as well. In this respect, Osama Ben Laden has lured Bush into a trap.
How did we get from the crimes of Sept. 11 to the shared hysteria of Fallujah? One of the disappointments of the past three years, in my view, has been the low priority given to assessing the nature and efficacy of the American-led war against terror. Such an effort that has an impact on the entire world cannot be left to the inhumanely calculating political operatives of the Bush White House and the Republican Party. The US needs and deserves the world's help in responding more effectively and rationally to the attacks of Sept. 11.
As important as how we got to Fallujah is how we get out of it, what to do next to stop and reverse the growing global terror industry. It is morally and politically unacceptable for the world to watch on television as Donald Rumsfeld and Ben Laden slug it out in a duel of two crazed gladiators who will only end up killing each other and inflicting immense casualties on innocent people in their respective societies.
As we enter into the fourth year since the Sept. 11 attacks, all of us, in the US and the Arab world, are challenged to acknowledge that Fallujah and all it represents is not the answer to the Sept. 11 terror against the US. There must be a better answer, and it can only be found through a closer consultative political partnership between Washington and the rest of the world — one that would replace hysteria with rationality, and militarism with sound political and economic foreign policy.