Sunday, September 11, 2005

What They Don't Understand

Today, on the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I came back to a column written by Thomas Friedman a few weeks after the Twin Towers fell. The following excerpt contains the simplest and best statement of what makes America great, our flaws notwithstanding, and why the ideology of terrorism does not offer a viable future for the frustrated Muslim masses:

[The Islamic terrorists'] constant refrain is that America is a country with wealth and power but "no values." The Islamic terrorists think our wealth and power is unrelated to anything in the soul of this country -- that we are basically a godless nation, indeed the enemies of God. And if you are an enemy of God you deserve to die. These terrorists believe that wealth and power can be achieved only by giving up your values, because they look at places such as Saudi Arabia and see that many of the wealthy and powerful there lead lives disconnected from their faith.

Of course, what this view of America completely misses is that American power and wealth flow directly from a deep spiritual source -- a spirit of respect for the individual, a spirit of tolerance for differences of faith or politics, a respect for freedom of thought as the necessary foundation for all creativity and a spirit of unity that encompasses all kinds of differences. Only a society with a deep spiritual energy, that welcomes immigrants and worships freedom, could constantly renew itself and its sources of power and wealth.

Which is why the terrorists can hijack Boeing planes, but in the spiritless, monolithic societies they want to build, they could never produce them. The terrorists can exploit the U.S.- made Internet, but in their suffocated world of one God, one truth, one way, one leader, they could never invent it.

Lord knows, ours is hardly a perfect country. Many times we have deviated from the American spirit or applied it selfishly. But it is because we come back to this spirit more times than not, in more communities than not, that our country remains both strong and renewable.

America has made many missteps in the Middle East, and even today, our policies need to be revamped for both our benefit and for the benefit of their masses. Nonetheless, the Muslim public needs to vocally reject terrorism and not sympathize with Osama bin Laden & Co. Terrorism does not offer any constructive message or vision for the future. Terrorism, and continued blind hatred of America and Israel, is not an answer for the Arab countries. Terrorism is not going to solve chronic unemployment or enable political opposition or modernize economies. Terrorism delegitimizes the valid grievances that Muslims have.

Today, on the anniversary of one of the most horrific days in America's history, the fight against terrorism goes on. That fight is interminably connected with the struggle by the Islamic world to offer a better future for its people.

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