Fair Game

A terrorism survivor and expert digs into the bin Laden dilemma

For all those reasons, my assumption is that bin Laden decided to hit hard in the heart of the United States. He assumed this would do two things: One, it would create an isolationist movement in the United States, inspired by fear. He assumed that Americans are so materialistic and so morally weak that their reaction would not be defensive. He also thought that we would react emotionally and that we would start striking out irresponsibly, regardless of who was responsible.

He was wrong on both counts. He had a poor reading of American society, of the multiethnic, secular world. It's a blow to him that so many countries have joined together. What he wanted was division.

Q: Say we seize bin Laden or kill him. What happens then?

Education and thoughtful foreign policy are the answer to the  bin Laden conundrum, Prof. Walid Phares says
Joshua Prezant
Education and thoughtful foreign policy are the answer to the bin Laden conundrum, Prof. Walid Phares says

A: There will be other bin Ladens who will emerge: his students, his protégés, other organizations. This would buy time. But the disbanding of al Qaeda is the most important because it is the most aggressive. This problem is deeply rooted and has to be addressed and uprooted by a long-range policy that doesn't necessarily need to be [uniquely] military but needs to be political, economic, educational. We should offer more support of democratic, human-rights groups to counter the fundamentalist teachings. They are teaching the youth that there are limited options, and countering them there is nobody. Democratic elements are not found, are not supported.

The whole question is what is going to happen in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh in terms of how far can the fundamentalists mobilize people into the streets to limit the capabilities of our allies in helping us. The next few weeks are very important. If they can stop governments from helping, then it is going to be pretty complicated.

The Sunni fundamentalists will be more likely to mobilize in defense of their own people, including bin Laden. The Shiite will criticize America but would be unlikely to fight for bin Laden. The real question is the Hezbollah. If the fight is just against bin Laden, they will say "fine" and just lay low for a while. If they are next on the list, there could be trouble. It is a big chess game.

Q: Your emotions?

A: To me it is no longer a question of country; it is a question of a confrontation between principles.

Although the destruction of the World Trade Center, which I call a microgenocide, deeply affected me emotionally, it didn't surprise me. I went through something similar in Lebanon. The terrorists picked the United States -- which is my country now -- not just because of what it is but because of what it represents to the entire world.

Immigrants like me have always thought that, even if our countries had fallen to the fundamentalists, there would be one place to go. When the West, your adopted home, has been hit, it reawakens what you went through before.

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