The Common Good
November-December 2001

A Stark Vision of the World

by David Cortright | November-December 2001

The bin Laden organization and other terrorist networks are obviously fired by an intense hatred of the United States.

The bin Laden organization and other terrorist networks are obviously fired by an intense hatred of the United States. They have been indoctrinated with a distorted interpretation of Islam. The terrorist leaders have managed to portray themselves as the true defenders of Islam. They are willing to die for their cause, and to kill thousands of innocents in the process. They are not cowards, as President Bush claims, but highly disciplined and fanatical believers in a warped ideology. They are driven to their cruel and misguided mission by desperation and deeply felt grievances. They have been taught that the United States is the enemy of Islam and the Arab world.

Our policies in response to the terrorist attacks must avoid further inflaming these misperceptions. The vast majority of Islamic and Arab leaders and opinion makers adamantly oppose the terrorist networks and their perverted interpretation of Islam. Enlisting the support and cooperation of these peace-minded Muslims in the struggle against terrorism is crucial to the success of the response strategy.

In their barbaric attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the terrorists have presented a stark vision of the world in which they believe-a world of indiscriminate violence and revenge. They seek victory over the United States by destroying our confidence in the principles of democracy and law. Their strategy is to provoke precisely the kind of massive indiscriminate military attack that some have advocated. We must not give in to this temptation. Military action that victimizes innocents in Afghanistan or other Islamic countries will only stir further anti-American hatred and produce new recruits in the jihad against the "great Satan."

A more even-handed approach in the Middle East, a reduction of military deployments in the Arabian peninsula, a smarter and more flexible policy toward Iraq, and a more consistent global support for democracy and human rights would demonstrate a sensitivity to genuine Arab concerns. Such policies would also benefit U.S. security by reducing our exposure to potential hostilities and employing more effective means to advance American interests. The ultimate defense against attack is to turn enemies into friends. We must treat other nations not as rogues or "states of concern," but as potential allies and friends. We must build worldwide cooperation to combat terrorism and to create a more just and equitable international order.

David Cortright, a Sojourners contributing writer, is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum.

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