Terror is here to stay

Despite the desire for quick retaliation, the U.S. will be shadowboxing with the devil for a long time.

By Robert Scheer

Published September 19, 2001 6:25PM (EDT)

When is someone going to admit that the terrorists have already won, immobilizing the world's greatest democracy, and that much of what we are doing as a nation is simply stomping our feet in frustration? Instead, we need to learn to deal rationally with the mayhem that much of the world has long endured -- some of it even inflicted by us.

Sorry to break the news to the flag-waving kids on the overpasses and to the media and politicians leading them on, but terrorism is here to stay. It can be contained, and much more should have been done over the past years to bring Osama bin Laden and his ilk to account with appropriate pressure on the Taliban and Pakistan. But the measures required to totally eliminate terrorism would turn the world into a police state.

Terrorism is a state of mind so reckless that no normal rules or restraints apply. It seeks not to realign power relations but rather to permanently disorient them. This has long been known, but as long as terror occurred elsewhere, it was accommodated here as a particularly dark soap opera to be viewed on the evening news. Not so when it occurs in our backyard and on this horrific a scale.

The crude but effective Oklahoma City bombing could be dismissed as an aberration, the work of lunatic losers. A pizza parlor bombing in Israel could be written off as some zealot who provided meaning to an otherwise empty life by taking his own and that of others; for him, the promise made by extremist clerics of rewards in an afterlife might have an appeal.

But the World Trade Center and Pentagon assaults, quite apart from the larger death toll, were more disturbing because they represented a rejection of modern values by people we would have expected, by virtue of their education, wealth and success, to be kindred souls.

What was involved here was something fundamentally different: skilled, highly trained warriors, well-traveled and sophisticated in the ways of the modern world, who were willing to sacrifice easy access to an affluent lifestyle in service to their twisted notion of God.

What is unfathomable to us is the depth of the terrorists' hate.

From what has been revealed of their lives, these are the very people who should have been won over to modernity. They came from the oil-rich nations of the Mideast that the United States protected during the Cold War and they were welcomed -- nay, courted -- by our finest schools and business institutions.

Yet how easily their wrath against the old Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan was turned to even fiercer anti-Americanism -- more intense even than their hostility toward Israel.

From what we can tell about bin Laden's followers, these are not people who would settle for the redrawing of national boundaries, even generously, so as to create a Palestinian state, or to expel the Russians from Chechnya.

No, unfortunately they are driven by what to them appears clearly a higher purpose, to overturn the international modernization of the 20th century. In the name of God, no less. In that respect, even Saddam Hussein is their enemy, someone they have called a "bad Muslim" because he has essentially presided over a secular state.

The same was true of the last shah of Iran, derided by the religious fanatics who overthrew him as anti-religious because he was attempting to build a modern cosmopolitan society.

That was why Najibullah, the last secular ruler of Afghanistan, whom we attacked as merely a Soviet puppet, incurred the wrath of the freedom fighters who are now our enemy. The United States spent several billion dollars training those fanatics, and there are 500 stinger rockets that we gave them -- rockets that are capable of shooting down planes -- that are still unaccounted for.

Surely, we should have heeded those who anticipated that we would be next. After all, the Soviets only committed the crime of denying God's existence, while we are accused by the Taliban of proselytizing for the Great Satan.

Unfortunately, the video clips of the World Trade Center collapsing -- telegenic images that rival the most expensive of disaster movies -- will raise the expectations of a whole new generation of terrorists.

We are destined to shadowbox with the devil, and no easy victory is in sight.

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

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