BACK




Published on Friday, September 21, 2001 in the Christian Science Monitor

Citizens of the World
by Tom Regan 
                                
First, Americans need to understand the reach of this tragedy. It wasn't just an 'attack on
America.' People from over 50 nations died in last Tuesday's attack. Other than Americans,
the largest number of casualties came from England, with several hundred deaths, the
country's greatest single day loss of life since the Second World War. But Colombia,
Germany, Mexico, Turkey, Canada, China, Israel, to name a few, all lost many citizens. 

Perhaps even more important for Americans to know, 350 Muslims are believed to have died
in the World Trade Center last week. As they did when they bombed the American
embassies in Africa, Osama Bin Laden's 'troops' did not care if they killed innocent
Muslims. In Kenya, where 12 Americans were killed, more than 200 Kenyans, most
Muslims, died in the blast.

Second, Americans not only need to learn more about the Middle East, but about the world
in general. We need to learn why so many people see us differently than we see ourselves.
We like to think of America as a beacon of 'freedom and democracy' to the world. And that
is true for many people. But for many others, it is not.

Some of this anti-American feeling can be chalked up to the fact that we are the world's
lone superpower and just a convenient target. But it's more than that. In countries were
totalitarian governments or dictators rule with US support, or when Palestinians see the
Israeli military fly American helicopters into their villages on the West Bank, or when babies
die in Iraq from lack of basic supplies due to sanctions, we are not seen as promoters of
democracy, or brokers of peace, but the exact opposite -- even by people who want to live
in peace with Israel, or who can't abide Saddam Hussein, or who want to be our friends

If we are puzzled why some Arabs can decry the terrorist acts last week, yet still express
rage at the US, think of the response of many Americans after Oklahoma City. Every
American was horrified at what Timothy McVeigh did. Yet, to be truthful, more than a few
Americans, particularly in the west, understood the reasons behind the attack -- the fear of
"Big Government' taking over our lives, the anger over FBI attacks at Waco and at Ruby
Ridge, etc. -- even if they totally disagree with the way he chose to express his anger over
these situations. Many Arabs in the Middle East feel this same kind of response over the
attacks in New York and Washington.

And if we wonder why groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad gain such support, particularly
among the poor, we need to know that in many countries where the US supports corrupt
governments or rulers, these Islamic groups often provide services to the public their official
leaders don't. They give people food, provide health care, even shelter. If, instead, we were
the ones providing those kinds of support, then we would not be the ones lumped in with the
regimes they hate.

Because if we really do want to bring an end to groups like bin Laden's we really will need
the support of the world. We might want to think we could walk in, 'turn Afghanistan into a
parking lot' (the popular refrain on talk radio), and that's the end of it. But it only works that
way in Rambo movies and Tom Clancy thrillers, not in real life. If we try to do it by ourselves
with brute force, we will only breed a new generation of young people who want to join
Osama bin Laden, or other terrorist organizations like his.

The door has been open for change like never before. We've all felt a renewal of what it
means to be citizens of the United States. It is also time for us to become citizens of the
world. If we really do work with the rest of the world, we can catch these people, bring them
to justice, and ensure that the seeds that bore this bitter fruit will be sown no more.

We can engage the world, and change it, perhaps as it changes us as well, for the better.

We could give no greater gift to the generations who follow us than a world built in this way.

Copyright  2001 The Christian Science Monitor