by Scott McConnell
assassination of John F. Kennedy – before today, the most
traumatic event for Americans in my lifetime – Malcolm X said "the
chickens have come home to roost." Malcolm was reportedly gleeful
and rancorous, and his audience laughed at his words: he meant to
convey that Kennedy's death meant very little, compared to what
whites had done to his people. But the phrase would not be
inappropriate today – if said in sorrow – after thousands of
innocents were killed in the worst terrorist assault in American
Whether the World Trade Center perpetrator
Osama Bin Laden, or one of countless Arab or Muslim subgroups,
we should not have any doubt: this attack was welcomed in much of
the Arab and Muslim world. Palestinian leaders may have given it
pro-forma condemnation, but the people on the Arab "street" were
smiling and flashing "V" signs when they heard the news.
Before Americans set their sights on
revenge, (and revenge is expected, and necessary) they should at
least understand why this attack delighted many, why United States
foreign policy makes it hated in much of the world.
The reasons were spelled out in part last
month by Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak's foreign policy advisor Osama Baz. He came to
Washington carrying the urgent message from the Arab world's most
populous state: the United States would face mounting rage in the
Middle East unless it did something to diffuse the escalating
He was received politely by Colin Powell and
Condoleeza Rice and otherwise more or less ignored. A month
Senator George Mitchell's carefully modulated plan for a
Middle East cease-fire, which incorporated a freeze on new Israeli
settlements in the Palestinian territories, had been allowed to
die on the vine after Israel said no dice to a settlement freeze.
America's unanimously pro-Israel pundit class paid no heed to
Baz's visit, instead using their columns to shill for an Israeli
military reoccupation of the West Bank, supposedly to solve
Israel's terror problem once and for all.
But the United States,
supplier of the tanks and helicopters and rockets which Israel
uses to control the West Bank and assassinate the odd Palestinian
leader, cannot opt out of the Middle East peace process. By its
large scale arms shipments and financial subsidies to Israel, it
is already engaged. It is a key partner. The
Oslo Peace process has aroused Palestinian hopes for a viable
state, and one can't imagine that they would relinquish them now.
In his attempted mediations, Bill Clinton eloquently gave voice to
the reasonable core of Palestinian aspirations. Now George Bush,
whose knowledge of the Middle East seems little deeper than what
he picked up from a ride with
Ariel Sharon on a helicopter, has decided to snub the Arab
Israel and Palestine is not the only issue
which arouses Arab rancor. The embargo on Saddam Hussein's Iraq,
organized and led by the United States, and now ten years old, is
UN officials estimate, for the death of more than half a
million Iraqi children.
Saddam Hussein – one of the world's cruelest tyrants, bears no
small measure of responsibility for the current horror in Iraq.
But while American policies have left him in power, they have done
grievous harm Iraq's weakest, the old, the sick, the very young.
Americans don't read or hear much of this – it is not on their
front pages or TV screens. But there now must be at least tens of
thousands of Iraqi parents who know that their children are dead
because of the American embargo. It creates a sentiment – now
widespread throughout the Middle East – which allows for the
perpetrators of today's horrific deeds to be recruited.
America's airwaves are alive now with
ordinary people calling for vengeance against this most vile of
attacks. I don't feel differently, and if I had lost a loved one,
would volunteer for a revenge mission myself. But we shouldn't
delude ourselves about why there is so much hatred for the United
States. It does not come out of the clear blue. It is not because
we represent freedom and virtue and light, while the Arabs stand
for darkness and repression. American culture may represent
something corrosive and immoral to certain Islamic sensibilities –
that can't be helped. But that is not what provokes suicide
bombers. American policies often kill, directly and indirectly –
and this is why people are willing to sacrifice themselves to kill
us in return.