October 27

U.S. 'terrorism'


Naguib Mahfouz is an Egyptian author who has won the Nobel Prize for his work, and he undoubtedly has a way with words. But the way he used his words the other day was nothing less than an abomination, for he said that America's military action in Afghanistan was a "despicable" act of terrorism itself and that it could kill a million innocent people.

"While the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attack showed utter disregard for any law or standard or decency, now we find a major world power doing the same," he is quoted as saying in an article by an Agence France-Presse reporter. "America," he later added, "must study the problem carefully to discern the nature of and reasons for terrorism."

First off, America's bombs are not going to kill a million innocent people, or even a million guilty ones. Some accidental deaths of civilians are inevitable and terribly regrettable in the military action, but the U.S. government is exercising great care to avoid them. The refugee problem is awful, too, but the United States is doing its best to get food to these people. The Taliban is doing its best to interfere, just as the Taliban has done virtually everything within human power to make life miserable for Afghans ever since it took power. If the United States is successful in disposing of the Taliban, it could be among the best things that have happened to the Afghan people in their recent history.

Is the U.S. military action in Afghanistan morally justified? Absolutely. We are not there seeking revenge. We are there as an act of self-defense. It is nonsense to suppose, as Mahfouz does, that studying the problem and addressing the "illness" instead of the "symptoms" is going to end terrorism. That is equivalent to saying societies should get rid of police forces and prisons while trying to reach sociological certainty about the causes of crime, or that the United States should have devoted itself to puzzling out Japan's motives instead of counter-attacking after Pearl Harbor.

And when we do discover the "reasons" for terrorism, might it be that America is somehow at fault? That is the clear implication of what Mahfouz says, but it is an intellectually bankrupt stance. America did not twist the minds of the hijackers until any consideration for human beings different from themselves was squeezed out of them. America did not teach them that killing "infidels" would be rewarded in heaven. America did not impose dictatorial regimes on their lands to deprive them of crucial freedoms and America did not impose the economic systems that have ensured poverty for millions. It is fringe aspects of the terrorists' own cultures and it is the governments and other institutions of their own lands that did these things. What is America supposed to do about that? Change those cultures? Eradicate all those governments?

Mahfouz's may be a name few Americans have heard of, and ignoring him might seem advisable except for one thing: He reflects a point of view that is voiced by many in Islamic lands and a point of view that is voiced by some in this land, too, though from a decided minority. It is a point of view brimming with prejudice, ideological and otherwise, and to the degree that it wins adherents, the world becomes a worse place.

Copyright 2001 Scripps Howard News Service