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The reasons are many, the history long

'Because we are so big, so powerful'

By Stephen W. Bosworth, 9/16/2001

The events of last week cry out for explanation. It is tempting for us to explain stamp such terrorism, and those who perpetrate it, as crazy. But few terrorists are in fact crazy. By their own logic, twisted though it is, they act rationally.

If we are to begin to deal more effectively with the threat they pose, we need to try to understand what motivates them, why they hate , and most especially why they hate us.

Put most simply, the foot soldiers of terrorism believe they have nothing left to lose. They perceive their lives to be devoid of meaning beyond the drudgery of day-to-day existence. They are convinced, to some extent correctly, that they are the victims of history, captives of circumstances for which they are not responsible.

Many are the human detritus of failed efforts to modernize their societies. They believe that the failure to achieve modernization for for which they blame others, not themselves, has destroyed their traditional culture. As a result , they are left with nothing. They are spiritually empty.

Some of those recruited to terrorism are the product of life in refugee camps where they have been raised on bitter memories of dispossession the bitter memories and experience of dispossession passed down from one frustrated generation to another. In all cases, hopelessness and a sense of abandonment make these young men and most are young men susceptible to political extremism and religious zealotry. Hatred, violence , and for some the lure of martyrdom fill the moral void at the core of their existence.

But why us? Why do these groups hate the United States? To some extent of course, they hate us because we are so big, so powerful, and always so visible. But more fundamentally they associate America and American culture with the materialism and secularism that they see as so threatening to their religious purity and traditional values. To some extent, these groups strike at us simply to inflict pain and get revenge for the pain they feel we have caused them.

At the same time, however, these terrorist organizations see the United States as both the Great Satan from which all evil comes and a deus ex machina from which all solutions are expected. They attribute our failure to act as they would like to a deliberate and conscious decision by us to deny their legitimate aspirations. They believe that if they inflict sufficient pain on us we will change our policies and support them.

However, explanation is not attenuation. There is no excuse for what was done to us on Sept. 11. There is evil in the world, and those responsible for Tuesday's events are evil in thought and in deed.\ We don't yet know, of course, precisely which brand of terrorists struck New York City and Washington, and we must be careful not to rush to judgment. But it seems likely they are from the same groups, or like-minded groups, as those accountable for the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the destruction of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and other acts of terror in recent years.

The people and organizations responsible for these particular incidents have been from the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It would be a mistake to identify the phenomenon of terrorism exclusively with a particular part of the world or, even worse, a particular region. The political, economic, and social conditions that breed a willingness to inflict pain and death on innocent people for political ends are found in many places, including, of course, in the United States.

Terrorism of the sort that has just struck here is a particularly frustrating threat to national security, one very difficult to counter. The terrorists take advantage of our openness and our cultural diversity. While they do not necessarily represent a particular country, or act on the behalf of a particular government, they may receive support from governments. They are relatively few in number, yet able to do horrendous damage with relatively unsophisticated weaponry. All of this makes them difficult to identify and track.

Driven by political and religious fanaticism they are willing - even eager - to die as martyrs for their cause. They are very, very dangerous, and we know that we must take them seriously.

The nature of the US response will say something to ourselves and to the rest of the world about who we are.

That we need to respond with some measure of force seems beyond question. But we must be certain that the target of our response has responsibility for what was done to us. Also, our response should be driven not by a thirst for retribution but by the need to demonstrate that future attacks on us will have severe consequences. We need to respond in order to deter, not just to punish.

Finally, Americans should feel enormously comforted by the outpouring of international sympathy and support in the past few days. This is potentially our most valuable asset for dealing with international terrorism. We should build this international support into our long-term strategy, conceding to our chief allies a voice in the formulation of this strategy.

Terrorism is the epitome of a global threat for which there is no purely national solution. We need to deal with it multilaterally, to deny a safe haven to terrorist organizations, and to impose severe sanctions on any government that provides support to international terrorism.

We also need to redouble our efforts to address the underlying political and social conditions that create the breeding ground for terrorism. It is too easy at times to throw up our hands in despair at solving intractable political problems such as in the Middle East. Yet, for us to abandon efforts at conflict resolution there and elsewhere risks creating more generations of young men for whom political and religious extremism are so tempting.

Stephen W. Bosworth - a former US ambassador to Tunisia, the Philippines , and, until earlier this year, South Korea - is dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 09/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.



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