Sunday, October 31, 2004

Taking Bin Laden Seriously (Part II)

Let me be clear: I think the reasons for rejecting Bin Laden’s deal are correct. A deal with the devil to bring about peace is worse than making war. The Munich analogy applies here. Bin Laden may not be the devil, but his deal is hardly convincing. Next thing you know, he’ll be asking for Spain back. Even if we were to take this deal (which though Bin Laden implies, he never suggests) what would become of the Middle East? Would it not become a dangerous breeding ground for Wahhabist Islam and terrorists? If Bin Laden and those of his religious ilk view Christians and Jews and Shiite Muslims as polytheists who need to be ruled by a Muslim caliphate, then U. S. withdrawal from the region would aid him in his radical agenda and in the long run hurt the U. S.

All of this is fairly obvious based on a knowledge of Bin Laden’s extremist point of view. But someone who merely rejects Bin Laden and his fellow terrorists as evil may come to the correct view on how to win the war against these terrorists, but not on how to prevent more terrorism. This is the problem with the simplistic tone of the media and politicians regarding terrorism.

If you see your enemy as evil, then it becomes unconceivable for anyone to defend or sympathize with them, unless they too are evil. Yet one of our main tasks in winning this “War on Terror” is to separate the many Muslims who sympathize with Bin Laden and his cause to some extent from the extremists who actively support him. We cannot do this if we condemn them all as evil. We cannot do this if we do not understand Bin Laden as he sees himself. The picture painted by the President, Senator Kerry, and most news media is of a man who, waking up in his cave, thinks, “How can I attack freedom today?” Even accounting for the simplification that is necessary for politics in our sound bite age, this is overly simplistic. And if such thinking really guides our actions, then it is dangerous. The attacks on September 11th were evil, but classifying them and their perpetrators as such without understanding leaves us vulnerable. We must understand what drove them to take their own lives in acts of what can only be understood as nihilistic violence. Otherwise, we risk being drawn into a war against all evil, as some Bush supporters have suggested. (See Sean Hannity’s latest book.) Yet, can we really drive evil from Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and every other country that we consider evil? The War on Terror, as described by many Bush supporters is more aptly named the War on Evil.

Which brings me to why I think Bush and company were so focused on Iraq after and on 9/11. They saw Saddam as the most evil guy out there. He was in the right part of the world. Bin Laden was evil. Saddam was evil. They live in the same neighborhood; therefore, they must be friends. Yet this ignores the differences between the two men—that one was a religious fanatic and the other a secular despot, and the evidence that they had not collaborated, at least significantly. The war against Saddam cannot be understood as a primary part of the War on Terror against America. It can be understood as an attempt to remake the region to undermine the wellsprings of terror, but this is a risky proposition, and one in which we now have no choice but to succeed at.

Rejecting Bin Laden and any deal he may offer is the only moral choice we can make as a nation. The difficulty is in ensuring that we still continue to question our underlying assumptions continually, to not fall into the trap of assuming we know Bin Laden or the solution to terrorism. To allow ourselves to be challenged by events, speeches, people; this is the difference between faith and stupidity. A man of faith makes the decision to believe a thousand times a day. A stupid man makes his decision once.

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