It’s sensible to be afraid of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. These people are killers who will murder women and children and not bat an eye.
I predicted we’d be hit by terrorism in a column I wrote in August 2001. I had no idea, of course, that the attack would come so soon afterward. Nor did I have any inside knowledge or any psychic feelings. It was just plain logic. We had been messing in the Middle East’s wars and feuds for too long, and I knew that sooner or later there would be payback.
There might be some parts of this old world where you can push people around and hurt them and they won’t fight back, but the Middle East is not one of them.
Now I do have an uneasy feeling. While there were no overt threats in the latest bin Laden video, there was an indirect threat. I don’t recall that he has ever, in his earlier communications, suggested that Americans convert to Islam. He did this time, and I’ve heard a couple of people say that somewhere in Islam one is instructed to offer the enemy one last chance to convert before attacking.
So maybe that was a warning of an imminent attack. If so, don’t expect the attack to bear any similarity to the attacks on Sept. 11. One of the advantages a terrorist has is that he is completely free to choose the time, place and method of attack. Al-Qaeda will be looking to create shock and horror sufficient to capture worldwide attention.
Frankly, there is not much an individual can do except to be alert to one’s surroundings, something we should do anyway to avoid domestic crime. Naturally, if you see an unattended package or backpack, you should alert authorities.
But don’t count on recognizing a terrorist by his appearance. There are a billion or more Muslims in the world, and Arabs are only a minority of those. Furthermore, not all Arabs look alike. Terrorists comprise a tiny fraction of the Muslim population. It’s both unfair and misleading to refer to "Islamic terrorists" or "Muslim terrorists." You will recall that nobody ever referred to the Irish Republican Army as "Catholic terrorists" or their opponents as "Protestant terrorists." Al-Qaeda is an ideological organization and has been roundly condemned by ordinary Muslims.
It’s important to understand that the cause of terrorism is political, and therefore there is no military solution. If killing terrorists were the solution, the Israelis wouldn’t be enclosing themselves inside a wall and carrying guns all the time. Unless you solve the political problems that cause terrorism, you will never eliminate it.
The U.S. government always discourages publication of the full text of bin Laden’s messages. That’s because what bin Laden says does not match the lies American politicians utter to wit, al-Qaeda hates us because we are rich or free. Bin Laden’s complaints are quite specific.
Al-Qaeda hates us because we are occupying Muslim lands and killing Muslims. That’s true. Al-Qaeda hates us because we support the Israeli brutalization of the Palestinians 100 percent. That is true. Al-Qaeda hates us because the Muslim governments we support are dictatorships. That is true. Al-Qaeda hates us because we are in the Middle East not to spread democracy, but to support Israel and to control Islamic resources, namely oil. That is true.
What is needed is an open re-examination of American foreign policy in the Middle East. That is unlikely to happen. Since it is unlikely, best you keep your eyes open, your head down and your children close. The U.S. government has chosen to make an enemy of a group that is without mercy and has a long memory and infinite patience.