October 5, 2001
Yes, but What?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Judging from the foreign press, the most popular world reaction to the terrorist attacks on America has not been outright condemnation, but rather: "Yes, but . . ." Yes, this was terrible, but somehow America deserved it or is responsible for the anger behind it.
One can only be amazed at the ease with which some people abroad and at campus teach-ins now tell us what motivated the terrorists. Guess what? The terrorists didn't leave an explanatory note. Because their deed was their note: We want to destroy America, starting with its military and financial centers. Which part of that sentence don't people understand?
Have you ever seen Osama bin Laden say "I just want to see a smaller Israel in its pre-1967 borders," or "I have no problem with America, it just needs to have a lower cultural and military profile in the Muslim world"? These terrorists aren't out for a new kind of coexistence with us. They are out for our non-existence.
None of this seems to have seeped into the "Yes, but . . ." crowd, whose most prominent "Yes, but" states: This terrorist act would never have happened if America hadn't been so supportive of Israel.
My response is, "Yes, but . . . but . . ."
Yes, there is no question, America's support of Israel even when Israel builds greedy, provocative settlements in the heart of the Gaza Strip has produced understandable Muslim anger. But the argument doesn't end there. America has also taken the lead role in trying to reverse this situation. We know the Sept. 11 attack was being planned a year ago exactly when President Clinton was proposing to Yasir Arafat a Palestinian state on roughly 95 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the Israeli settlers uprooted from all but 5 percent. In other words, this terrorism was being planned because America was trying to build Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, not because it wasn't.
Ah, say the "Yes, but" folks, but Arab public opinion has been inflamed by the Arab TV images of Israel suppressing the Palestinian uprising. Yes, at times Israel has used excessive force, and one can understand how that looks to Arab eyes, but Israel has also been responding to Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli pizza parlors and discos which isn't highlighted on Arab TV.
Moreover, this uprising by the Palestinians was not their only recourse. There was an active U.S.-sponsored diplomatic track, with a deal on the table, which may not have been fully acceptable to Palestinians but was certainly worth building upon and hardly justified suicide-bombing Israeli civilians. The Arab media and leaders now talk as though the Clinton proposal for a Palestinian state never happened. But it did.
The second "Yes, but" is that the terrorists reflect a protest over Muslim poverty. Yes, poverty can breed desperate people. However, most of the hijackers were middle-class Saudis or Egyptians.
Is it America's fault that the richest ruling family in the world, the Saudis, have citizens who are poor and frustrated? Is it America's fault that Korea had the same per capita income in the 1950's as many Arab states, but Korea has managed its development so much better since that it now dwarfs all Arab economies? Afghanistan is run by a medieval Taliban theocracy that bans women from working or going to school. How could such a place not be poor? And who was the biggest protector of that backward Taliban society? Osama bin Laden and his men.
There is something wrong with Saudi Arabia citing U.S. support for Israel as the root cause for this Islamist terror when many Saudi men were among the hijackers, when the Saudi regime has tolerated the harsh Islamist movements that provided ideological guidance for these young men, when Saudi Arabia was the biggest funder of the Taliban, when the Saudi ruling family has alienated some of its most devout subjects to a degree that produced Islamist militancy, and when the Saudi regime as The Economist just noted, in an article titled "Saudi Arabia: The Double-Act Wears Thin" winked at indirect fund-raising for Mr. bin Laden in the Kingdom as a way of currying favor with its hard-line Islamist critics.
I don't want to see the Saudi regime destabilized. I'm sure it wants to be part of the solution now. But how about a little candor? YES, America should look deeper into its policies and actions BUT, BUT, BUT we're not the only ones who need to look in the mirror.Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company