On Sunday, the other shoe finally dropped. British and American missiles and bombs fell on select military sites in Afghanistan, as President Bush said they would. There was nothing surprising about it.
The military assault, which resumed Monday and yesterday, needn't have happened. The ruling religious extremists called Taliban could have prevented it. All they had to do was turn over the fugitive, Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile generally believed to be the mastermind of the terrorist mass murders at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
That might have been the rational thing to do, but these are not rational people. Instead they tried to make foreign aid workers and missionaries pawns in their game of terror. When that failed, they ran for cover - their religious police were said to be among the first to leave Kabul - and they continued to try to stall the inevitable.
Osama bin Laden's own words, “America was hit by God,” broadcast over television from Qatar, a Persian Gulf emirate, suggest a single-minded sense of righteousness, and an egocentric arrogance typical of those who from time to time claim God has spoken to the world via them alone.
It evokes images of Muhammad Ahmed, who in 1881 declared himself the Mahdi (divinely appointed guide), and led a revolt against Egyptian rule in Sudan (the movie, Khartoum, gives the flavor of the unleashed emotions). And it confirms the wisdom of America's Founding Fathers in deliberately separating church and state.
Osama bin Laden will play well to the poor, the ignorant, the disenfranchised who have little chance to protest the lot into which they were born or the scant promise of their futures. For them, gathered in mobs, blind frenzy will rule until it wears them down.
But even they have to know, if they reflect, that God doesn't hijack airplanes and turn them into flying bombs. Evil people do such things. And when they do them in the name of God, or in the name of a faith, they blaspheme God and denigrate the faith.
Mainstream Arabs know that terror is not a final solution to political intransigencies, here, in Israel, or in Saudi Arabia.
That is why Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's government recently told Palestinian militants that attacks against Israel worked against Palestinian interests, why it has begun to arrest suspected militants, and why it has shot rambunctious rioters.
This is a situation with plenty of political spin. The breast-beaters would have us atone for sins, though we have committed no more heinous errors than other nations, who are not being called upon to be contrite. Bin Laden groupies want to paint this criminal justice effort as a war on Islam and not the raw, ego-fed politics it really is.
Yet the political reality remains that no country in the world, including Arab countries, can afford not to curb or help thwart terrorism anywhere lest it turn back and bite them. Terrorists may begin as idealists, but a lust for blood and a disregard for humanity make monsters of them, whether they're in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Rwanda, or in Oklahoma.
Governments have always gotten the upper hand against terrorists, though it has taken time, money, commitment, and eternal vigilance. The same will be true of our engagement with bin Laden and the Taliban who are shielding him. Time and resolve are on our side, and the world is with us.
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