America has been mortally wounded, challenged, humiliated, as never it had been since Pearl Harbor. Those who perpetrated the horrid crime, killing thousands of innocent people, notwithstanding their sex, their age, their race, their religious creeds, nor their social class, have been lost in that great collective suicide they had planned and executed. And since they are already dead and buried under the rubble, along with their victims, it is superfluous and misleading to pretend to find and punish them. We know exactly where they are. And since no one of them survived, it would be hard to ascertain evidence or to grant a sound testimony. Yet, despite this obvious shortage of fact–findings, America is going to war. And when America declares war, we know that the whole world would be involved.
The foe has been designated a few hours after the attacks. It is the international terrorism. 50.000 reservists have been called up. A $ 40 billion anti-terrorism bill has been agreed on by White House and Congressional negotiators. The Justice Department already knew the names of the terrorists. They have been backtracked to the Middle East, it was said, and directly linked to Osama Bin Laden, who, from his secret refuge hastened to deny any involvement with the terrorists: “I am residing in Afghanistan “, said he. ” I have taken an oath of allegiance (to Afghanistan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar) which does not allow me to do such things from Afghanistan”. But, the American government would have none of this talk, as it is convinced that if there is a hand behind this unprecedented disaster, it has to be that of Bin Laden. He is to respond for the operation that diverted two planes which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, a third that smashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth that crashed in Pennsylvania! And if one can hardly figure out how a man hunted down since years by the world most powerful intelligence services, may cold-bloodedly plan such an attack, from his mountain cave, there would be still the remembrances of other terrorist attacks to back the same man into the limelight. Such a sinister fame has been pursuing Bin Laden like damnation since long years in the West, albeit in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in some other countries he has acquired a quite different reputation making of him a hero. The Americans – his former allies in the fight against the Soviet Union- charge him of several attacks against them, beginning with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and continuing with the 1996 killing of 19 US soldiers in Saudi Arabia, and last – but not least- the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Obviously, Bin Laden was not well inspired on that fateful day of 1998 when, carried up by his intense fervor, he issued a fatwa that seemed a kind of straightforward threat as well as an overriding mission to the observers. For even if he never carried out his threat, for the reasons he has explained in the aforementioned quotation, he would be still reproached to have advised ” to kill Americans and their allies… civilians and military…” which is in his view ” an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”
Thus, he not only sealed his fate, condemning himself to be the most wanted target by the Western intelligence services, but somehow, he dragged his hosts and protectors – the Taliban- to sharing with him the dark glory of the pariah and the rogue!
However, we can hardly say that the Islam led by the Taliban regime is a model of justice and freedom as to inspire admiration, concern, and faithfulness to the millions of Muslims throughout the world. A lot of them have been shocked by the harsh intolerance of Kabul regime, mainly towards women. A lot of them condemn what they deem to be an overriding and quite abusive interpretation of the Islamic precepts. The facts are talking for themselves: Apart from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, there is not a single Arab state that has diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. The reason is well known: most Arab countries have unrelenting problems with their “islamist” opposition, and some of them have suffered from the backlash of the Afghan war since the Red Army have been expelled.
In fact, two key elements have had a deep and longstanding impact on the Arab countries since about 1979: the Iranian revolution that ousted the Shah and implemented the clerical regime of the mollahs, on the one hand. And the violent “islamisation”of Afghanistan, on the other hand, which meant not only the exclusion of any liberal or laic vision of the politics and the society, but also the war between the factions that inherited the pro-Soviet regime.
It is obvious for any observer that when these two elements coupled, they bred a worldwide disturbance, starting from the region once labeled ” the crisis bow”, and stretching to North Africa westward, and to the former Muslim Soviet states eastward.
The Arab countries have been trapped since then in the intermittent and sometimes violent struggle against that kind of medieval Islam led by the Iranians and the ex-fighters (Mujahidiin) of Afghanistan. The latter were labeled ” the Arab Afghans”. Many of them turned their guns against their own countries, once the fight against the Soviets was over. They came back home, and tried to propagate their own conception of Islam, but they clashed with the Arab regimes, mainly in Syria, in Egypt, in Tunisia, and in Algeria. Some of their networks have been dismantled and their members are either in prison, or in exile. Some others succeeded to go underground, pursuing the same work of sabotage and terrorism. And many others constituted the current factions still fighting in Algeria.
Thus, the “islamist” terrorism has plagued the Arab countries even before spreading its tentacles towards other regions of the world. It has found a good ground to grow up and expand in the most authoritative Arab regimes. There, the officials played on the confusing combination between the terrorist networks and the moderate Islamist opponents claiming their right to participate to the political scene, to throw the baby with the bath water!
As a matter of fact, it is abusive to confound terrorism with islamism, since some Arab countries are pro-western and islamists as well: All the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia included are ardent defenders of a fundamentalist Islam that is quite able to cope with the West, as everybody can easily state. Yet, some of those countries are targeted by another kind of ” Islamic terrorism”, that had shown its ugly face several times. Some other countries, like Jordan or Kuwait, have been able to manage the necessary balance between a militant Islamism and the other political trends, in opening their parliaments to opposition.
Besides, we have to understand that the Saudi and U.A. Emirate’s involvement with the Taliban regime finds its source in the precedent struggle against the Red Army and the interests that hatched in its wake. The Saudi kingdom could not let the Iranians occupy the ground after the Soviets had been ousted. From this point of view, it is obvious that the ensuing civil war was an indirect wrestling between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the future of Afghanistan. But later on, the Saudi influence seemed to wean, as the fights grew out of control. Moreover, the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, and the ensuing war displaced the center of interests to the heart of the Persian Gulf.
For these reasons, the American government would perhaps not find an important opposition from the Arab states, if it decides to launch an attack against the Kabul regime, sheltering Osama Bin Laden. Yet, the goals of the intervention have to be well defined, as not to overstep the just limits.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.