by Paul Findley
Reprinted from the Washington Review of Middle East Affairs with permission.
Digging continues for the fallen at Ground Zero and in the gaping hole in the Pentagon. When the human remains are sorted out, burial rites will follow. As the vast and varied services occur, our nation and much of the world will remain in mourning.
At this sad, somber and fearsome moment in our national life, binding up the nation’s wounds must come first, but thanks to television, other themes also get attention.
One oft-broadcast image combines both terrorism and religion. In it, an airliner, transformed into a giant guided missile, pierces the upper part of a World Trade Center tower. As it emits a fireball of
bright orange, a horrified woman looking up at the burst from street level shouts the supplication, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” Wickedness and prayer are united in this taped image, an image that will likely survive as long as America itself.
Other images will also survive. For me, two are indelible.
One shows Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a man I have known for 23 years, expressing in halting English his sorrow at the bombings before giving blood to help meet America’s emergency demands.
The other televised image shows a group of Palestinian men and women, reacting joyfully to news of the bombings. This glimpse, I learned later, is not representative of the Palestinians and
Muslims whose human rights I have long sought to advance. But I know the image will not soon be forgotten.
In our country, passions are riding high. War drums are beating. A large majority of Americans urge military reprisal. We seem braced for major changes in our national life.
Who can blame those who react with fury? The lives of nearly 7,000 innocent civilians have been snuffed out. It is a time for both fury and grief. All of us have wiped away tears as we watch distraught men, women and children—many displaying photographs—search through rubble and among rescue workers for any hint that lost loved ones may still be alive.
For others, this is a time of anxiety. On my computer screen e-mail messages keep popping up from acquaintances throughout America, the Middle East and beyond, even China. Many wonder if other acts of terrorism will soon follow.
Muslims are concerned, because there is already a vicious and violent anti-Islamic tide. In a suburb of Washington, DC, angry citizens tear headscarves from Muslim women. In Chicago, police stop an angry mob threatening a mosque. In Texas, bullets are fired at a Muslim center. Muslims go into hiding.
Many Americans, misinformed about the Muslim faith, mistakenly accept the bombings as terrorism condoned by Islam. Long before the hijackers struck, most Americans already linked Islam with
terrorism, unaware that Islam considers both suicide and the injury or killing of innocent people as forms of murder. If the hijackers were professed Muslims, they grossly violated the rules of their religion.
From Khalaf Al-Habtoor, a United Arab Emirates businessman and longtime friend, comes this plea: “I know at times like these that everyone is anxious to apportion blame and punish those who
commit atrocity. As yet no one knows who committed this appalling act. If it does turn out to have been organized by someone of my faith, I ask you not to tar all those who follow Islam with the brush of fanaticism and hate; all religions have their fanatics.”
This is also a time for reflection. Today’s America is not as beloved as yesterday’s. Have we pondered why?
Over recent years, have we listened beyond our borders for cries of pain and anguish? Have we been outraged and bestirred to action when terrible crimes occur against defenseless human beings in foreign lands? Are we attuned to such suffering today?
The past week’s horror calls to mind other enormous human tragedies in which American involvement has been prominent.
Well known in America is our decade-long, intermittent air bombardment of Iraq, the major element in the economic sanctions that are widely believed to have caused the death of 500,000
children, all Arab, mostly Muslim. Even the sharpest Iraqi-American critics of Saddam Hussain plead for an end to the air operations.
How high would our fury rise if air strikes caused our children to die from want of medicine and nutrition?
Of other major, controversial U.S. involvements, the American people seem to know little or nothing.
A few years ago, tanks and artillery from America—yes, gifts from America—swept through southern Lebanon. Civilians fled northward in panic, some of them to an enclosure at Qana, believed to be a
U.N.-sanctioned place of safety, clearly marked as such on current maps.
But missiles and artillery shells, also gifts from America, hit the encampment, killing nearly 200 women, children and elderly men.
There were cries of anguish, of course, but the cries were not heard by a sorrowing television audience in America. Qana’s Ground Zero was a sea of torn bodies and blood. But the outside world hardly noticed.
Still earlier, in 1982, fighter bombers and missiles from America turned much of Beirut and its suburbs into rubble mixed with torn human bodies. According to Robert Fisk, the respected correspondent of the London Independent, who has long resided in Beirut, 17,500 innocent civilians perished in the onslaught. Of course, some say, they were "just Arabs."
If the hijackers were professed Muslims, they grossly violated the rules of their religion.
In Beirut at the time, Ground Zero consisted of most of the city, not just a few blocks. This human agony got little attention beyond the Arab world, least of all in America. To this day, most Americans do not know about America’s role in the terrorism that engulfed Beirut civilians. No television cameras roamed through the rubble, no microphones relayed anguished cries to the outside world.
Americans did not pull the triggers, launch the missiles, or guide the fighter-bombers, but, through their government in Washington, they supplied the deadly devices and paid little attention to how they were used. In stark testimony of American indifference, the Beirut dead had hardly been buried before the U.S. Congress sent another gift, a multimillion dollar grant that enabled the warriors to re-supply.
I know. I was a Member of Congress.
The grieving people of Lebanon—the entire Arab world—knew about America’s role. America provided the key support to the assault forces. When Paul "Pete" McCloskey, my colleague from
California, visited the devastation after an earlier assault in Beirut, outraged Lebanese civilians pointed to shell-casings marked made-in-America and screamed at McCloskey, "Why are you Americans doing this to us?"
In the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, tanks, guns, helicopters, bullets, bombs and bulldozers—all U.S.-donated—have been used for 30 years to bring death, injury, devastation, and humiliation to the Palestinians. As I write, bulldozers from America are rooting Palestinians from their homes, turning their residences into rubble. Helicopter gunships and bullets from America are murdering Palestinians merely on suspicion of fighting back against their occupiers. The rule of law and religious standards are nowhere to be found.
Seldom do cameras and microphones report to the American people the lethal, destructive way these U.S. gifts are used. Somehow, the American people are kept in the dark. Perhaps some Americans don’t want to know.
It is ironic that people in almost all other countries are better informed than Americans about the bias in U.S. policies in the Middle East. Perhaps that knowledge leads some of them to fury, white-hot fury.
All of this, taken together, cannot possibly justify the terrorism just inflicted on New York City and the Pentagon. Nothing can. No grievances can justify those monstrous crimes against humanity. But
perhaps the recitation I have provided will help create some understanding of long and deep grievances that can lead oppressed, hopeless people to carry out awful deeds.
There are new questions we must ponder. Can military action remove an underlying grievance? Will punishment of anyone cure the wound—or make it worse?
The London Independent carried a profound headline on Sept. 12: "The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people."
Have the weapons of war that America keeps supplying in the Middle East been used to crush and humiliate an entire people? Have these gifts now stricken us, in return, with wickedness and awesome cruelty? Has the Lord our God who notes the fall of a sparrow been watching?
The day after the attacks in New York and Washingotn the fires were still smoldering at America’s Ground Zero and the Pentagon, when 22 tanks donated by America blasted their way through Jericho, the biblical city of Joshua. The assault left seven Palestinians dead, among them an 11-year-old girl. It was not a modern-day battle of Jericho. It was a one-sided raiding party. Over television, were you able to watch the anguish of the bereaved family and the cries of the wounded? Did they call out, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God"? Did television commentators, overcome with grief, choke back tears as they tried to form words to describe the scene?
Of course not. There were no cameras, no interviewers, no microphones.
The Associated Press reports that after the tanks left Jericho, a cloud of smoke and an orange fireball could be seen above a refugee camp on the edge of town.
Another cloud of smoke, another orange fireball.
Former Congressman Paul Findley (R-IL) is the author of the recently published Silent No More: Confronting America’s False Images of Islam, available from the AET Book Club
along with his previous books, They Dare to Speak Out and Deliberate Deceptions. This article first appeared in the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier on Sept. 16, 2001.