'War' Against Terrorism

American attacks against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a reputed chemical weapons plant in Sudan served notice that atrocities like the bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania will not go unanswered. To that extent, the US actions were necessary. But they raise large questions.

First, where is this "war" against terrorism leading? Terrorists thrive on notoriety, and the US operation against the organization of Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi millionaire who has vowed unending jihad against America, has doubtless boosted his standing among like-minded extremists. Revenge and retaliation are their bread and butter.

There are limits to the productive use of cruise missiles. The danger of harming civilian populations could grow if a cycle of tit-for-tat violence ensues. So could pressures to suspend civil liberties in order to avert potential terrorist threats on US soil.

Second, who is the enemy? Mr. bin Laden is front and center, for now. But the core perpetrators are the alienation and anger rife in parts of Northern Africa, the MIddle East, and South Asia. Those emotions are given religious fervor by firebrands like bin Laden and directed toward the nation that most appears to exemplify secular culture and economic dominance - the United States.

Third, what are the best tactics? When targets are clearly identified, as they seemed to be in this instance, military strikes can be justified. But such strikes are secondary to diligent efforts to weaken terrorism's inner dynamic. In this regard, renewed commitment to a workable peace between the Palestinians and Israel is crucial. That core conflict remains an engine of terrorism. Important, too, are US overtures to moderate forces in places like Iran.

Finally, the point made last week by President Clinton in his statement about the Afghanistan and Sudan attacks can't be too strongly reiterated: Islam is not a target or an enemy.

Terrorism, with its taking of innocent lives, is an affront to Islam as it is to Christianity.

Islam is not a target or an enemy. Terrorism is an affront to Islam as it is to Christianity.

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