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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.4 (2001) v-viii

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An Editorial

David Binder

To reflect without bias or visceral emotions on the suicide attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., might be impossible, in light of the six thousand innocent people killed and the lives of their kin irreparably damaged. Add to that the sense of fear stirred in millions of Americans and millions more around the world who watched images of death and destruction on television even as they were happening.

In keeping with the spirit of this "journal of global issues" governed by a free exchange of ideas, however, I will at least try to be objective by addressing at the start the vocabulary of the day: terror/terrorist, on the one hand, and Western values, on the other. Some of us are old enough to remember that among the future founders of Israel were members of the Stern Gang or of Irgun Zwei Leumi--branded in their day in the English-speaking press as "terrorists." One of them eventually became prime minister. On a more contemporary note, in February 1998 the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army was named "a terrorist organization" by no less than President Bill Clinton's special envoy, Robert Gelbard, only to have Clinton turn around a few months later and embrace the armed Kosovo Albanians as freedom fighters and worthy allies.

History is replete with such contradictions. It seems improbable, however, that many future chroniclers will adopt a benign view of the nineteen fanatic men who crashed the airliners they had hijacked into the monumental symbols of American power and who saw themselves not as terrorists but as warriors in the international Islamic "jihad against Jews and Crusaders" called into being by Osama bin Laden in 1998. [End Page v]

Even though the attackers of 11 September no doubt dreamt of and indeed succeeded in creating terror among many American citizens, along with the vast havoc they wrought, let us go carefully with terrorist, that overloaded word, which may have originated with the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Extremist will do in its stead. (I also note that Stephen Jukes, the Reuters news editor, has already banned the epithet terrorist from his agency's reporting on the events of 11 September and their aftermath.) As for Western values, I'll leave that subject to future scholars who could, in calmer days, define their impact on societies that may not comprehend their utility.

At the time of the New York and Washington attacks, I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, 4,927 miles and seven hours eastward. With practically the speed of light, that is, the speed of contemporary electronic communications, I learned what was happening a few minutes after it occurred. In the next several hours the suspicion hardened that the attacks had been committed by Islamic extremists.

My initial thoughts were: The United States played godfather to Israel in 1948, continued over the next half-century to play that role as Israel inexorably expanded, and probably will go on playing it--seemingly unmindful then and now of the terrible effects on the Palestinian people and, indeed, the entire Arab world. Almost in parallel, the United States coddled and cultivated the most backward, feudal leaders in such Islamic countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya.

In the waning days of Bill Clinton's presidency, we Americans allowed him to seek a Nobel Peace Prize by risking American prestige to try to forge an Arab-Israeli peace pact and declining to give up when it was clearly doomed, with disastrous consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians.

By way of the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States invented Osama bin Laden, fostering his career as a supposed freedom fighter in a country that was not his. Furthermore, when it was already clear to many that the communist system was beginning to collapse, the United States indulged an almost atavistic anticommunist urge by funding Islamic Mujaheddin fighters who emerged from the Afghan civil war as the Taliban.

The leaders of the CIA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency...


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