'Why do they hate us?'
"Why do they hate us?" asked President Bush in his speech to Congress last Thursday night. It is a question that has ached in America's heart for the past two weeks. Why did those 19 men choose to wreck the icons of US military and economic power?Skip to next paragraph
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Most Arabs and Muslims knew the answer, even before they considered who was responsible. Retired Pakistani Air Commodore Sajad Haider - a friend of the US - understood why. Radical Egyptian-born cleric and US enemy Abu Hamza al-Masri understood. And Jimmy Nur Zamzamy, a devout Muslim and advertising executive in Indonesia, understood.
They all understood that this assault was more precisely targeted than an attack on "civilization." First and foremost, it was an attack on America.
In the United States, military planners are deciding how to exact retribution. To many people in the Middle East and beyond, where US policy has bred widespread anti-Americanism, the carnage of Sept. 11 was retribution.
And voices across the Muslim world are warning that if America doesn't wage its war on terrorism in a way that the Muslim world considers just, America risks creating even greater animosity.
Mr. Haider is a hero of Pakistan's 1965 war against India, and a sworn friend of America. But he and his neighbors in one of Islamabad's toniest districts are clear about why their warm feelings toward the US are not widely shared in Pakistan.
In his dim office in a north London mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri sympathizes with the goals of Osama bin Laden, fingered by US officials as the prime suspect behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Hamza has himself directed terrorist operations abroad, according to the British police, although for lack of evidence, they have never brought him to trial.
Mr. Zamzamy, a 30-something advertising executive in Jakarta, knew what was behind the attack, too. Trying to give his ads some zip and still stay within the bounds of his Muslim faith, he is keenly aware of the tensions between Islam and American-style global capitalism.
The 19 men - who US officials say hijacked four American passenger jets and flew them on suicide missions that left more than 7,000 people dead or missing - were all from the Middle East. Most of the hijackers have been identified as Muslims.
The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East were as shocked and horrified as any American by what they saw happening on their TV screens. And they are frightened of being lumped together in the popular American imagination with the perpetrators of the attack.
But from Jakarta to Cairo, Muslims and Arabs say that on reflection, they are not surprised by it. And they do not share Mr. Bush's view that the perpetrators did what they did because "they hate our freedoms."
Rather, they say, a mood of resentment toward America and its behavior around the world has become so commonplace in their countries that it was bound to breed hostility, and even hatred.
And the buttons that Mr. bin Laden pushes in his statements and interviews - the injustice done to the Palestinians, the cruelty of continued sanctions against Iraq, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, the repressive and corrupt nature of US-backed Gulf governments - win a good deal of popular sympathy.
The resentment of the US has spread through societies demoralized by their recent history. In few of the world's 50 or so Muslim countries have governments offered their citizens either prosperity or democracy. Arab nations have lost three wars against their arch-foe - and America's closest ally - Israel. A sense of failure and injustice is rising in the throats of millions.
Three weeks ago, a leading Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, published a poem on its front page. A long lament about the plight of the Arabs, addressed to a dead Syrian poet, it ended:
"Children are dying, but no one makes a move.
Houses are demolished, but no one makes a move.
Holy places are desecrated, but no one makes a move....