A tip of the hat to President George W. Bush, whose address to the nation last week was strong, clear and uncharacteristically presidential. But if the president’s delivery was first-rate, at least some of the content was simply silly.
Silliness No. 1 was Mr., Bush’s explanation as to “Why do they hate us?” It’s a good question to which some people have been offering answers for the last couple of weeks. But some of the answers offered are neither true nor even honest.
Mr. Bush’s answer is that “they” hate us because we are a democracy, that “they hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Also, they want to overthrow many existing Muslim governments in the Middle East (though few are democratic), “drive Israel out of the Middle East” and “many Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa,” although there aren’t an awful lot of Christians or Jews in either place.
Not once did the president suggest that Osama bin Laden and his supporters hate us because of our foreign policy in the Middle East—our war with Iraq ten years ago and our support for Israel in the face of overwhelming Arabic and Muslim opposition.
And indeed, he was politically prudent not to say so. Anyone who does make that suggestion is immediately deluged with vituperation and accusations of anti-Semitism. Last week, for example, in response to a column by columnist Robert Novak in the New York Post suggesting that U.S.-Israeli policy in the Middle East may have contributed to the terrorist onslaught, neo-conservative guru and militant Zionist Norman Podhoretz delivered a savage and indeed nutty attack on the conservative columnist.
Mr. Novak, Mr. Podhoretz ranted, has an “animus against Israel”; his attitude toward Israel is “vitriolic”; he’s “ignorant” of what has shaped the terrorists. His column is “shamefully perverse”; he “evidently” favors the “disappearance of Israel” and “perhaps” would welcome “repeated—and worse—attacks than the one we suffered on Sept. 11.” It’s clear that Mr. Podhoretz is not only a Zionist crackpot but that he regards any criticism of Israel at all as anti-Semitic as well as supportive of the kind of terrorist attacks the country has already suffered.
Last week, Mr. Podhoretz ran a lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal in which he unbosomed similar sentiments, this time asserting that “wiping Israel off the map is still one of the major hopes of Arabs everywhere”—in other words, that the majority of Arabs support genocide. Yet at the same time he also claimed that “if Israel had never come into existence or if it were magically to disappear, the U.S. would still stand as an embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs consider evil”—that is, the terrorists would attack us, as the president also claims, just because they hate America and our way of life. Israel has nothing to do with, despite the Arabs’ genocidal hatred of it.
Unfortunately, (or rather fortunately) there’s evidence that such claims are simply untrue. In the January. 11, 1999 issue of Time magazine, there was an interview with, of all people, Osama bin Laden himself, and the man who is now Global Public Enemy No. 1 made it pretty clear why he has a burr under his turban.
Asked what he thought about the U.S. bombing of Iraq in December, 1998, bin Laden replied, “There is no doubt that the treacherous attack has confirmed that Britain and America are acting on behalf of Israel and the Jews, paving the way for the Jews to divide the Muslim world once again, enslave it and loot the rest of its wealth.” He’s mainly upset because he thinks U.S. forces have defiled Muslim holy sites in his native Saudi Arabia by military occupation, and he wants retribution for what he thinks is American injustice to Islam. “Muslims are angry. The Americans should expect reactions from the Muslim world that are proportionate to the injustice they inflict.”
Osama bin Laden said not one word about “hating democracy” or the freedoms Mr. Bush listed. Certainly he wants to drive “Israel out of the Middle East” and he may want to drive “Christians and Jews” out as well, but mainly he wants to drive out the American military power that is in alliance with Israel.
There’s no doubt that bin Laden and his cronies are now enemies of the United States to the death, and there’s no doubt that we need to wage war on them simply to protect ourselves. But there ought to be no doubt either why they became our enemies, or that some people don’t want us to know what the real reasons for their hatred are.