By Bradley R. Smith
Terrorism, war and violence. What’s the difference? Depends on who does it, and who it’s done to. Media-speak. A terrorist act is always violent, but violence is not always terrorism. War is always violent but is never terrorism. Grammar becomes a moral issue.
On 7 October I caught President George W. Bush on television.
President Bush said: “Good afternoon. On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.
He said: “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.’
Later in the day I saw Osama Bin Laden on television. We should thank the gods for this wonderful little machine.
Osama bin Laden said: “As for the United States, I tell it and its people these few words: I swear by Almighty God who raised the heavens without pillars that neither the United States nor he who lives in the United States will enjoy security before we can see [security] as a reality in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, may peace be upon him.”
President Bush said: “The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people, and we are the friends of almost a billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith. The United States of America is an enemy of those who aid terrorists and of the barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name.”
He said: “We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it. The name of today’s military operation is Enduring Freedom. We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear.”
Osama bin Laden said: “One million Iraqi children have thus far died in Iraq [because of U.S. sponsored sanctions against Iraq] although [Iraqi children] did not do anything wrong. Despite this, we heard no denunciation by anyone in the world …. Israeli tanks and tracked vehicles wreak havoc in Palestine, Jenin, Ramallah, Rafah, Beit Jala and other Islamic areas and we hear no voices raised….”
President Bush said: “A Commander-in-Chief sends America’s sons and daughters into a battle in a foreign land only after the greatest care and a lot of prayer. We ask a lot of those who wear our uniform. We ask them to leave their loved ones, to travel great distances, to risk injury, even to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.”
He said: “I recently received a touching letter that says a lot about the state of America in these difficult times—a letter from a 4th-grade girl, with a father in the military: “As much as I don’t want my Dad to fight,” she wrote, “I’m willing to give him to you.”
Osama bin Laden said: “I say that the matter is clear and explicit. [The Americans] came out to fight Islam in the name of terrorism. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, were killed in the farthest point on earth in Japan [in the nuclear destruction of the civilian populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima]. For [America] this is not a crime, but rather a debatable issue. They bombed Iraq and considered that a debatable issue.”
And now there are the television images of the magnificent airplane banking coolly and professionally into one of the World Trade Center towers, and the great towers imploding in on themselves in scenes of staggering catastrophe. The tragedy has become a theatrical production on a world stage. Arab children, humiliated and brutalized in the back streets of the West Bank and Gaza and Baghdad are already dreaming of giving their fathers and brothers to Osama bin Laden.
George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. Two men of principle talking past each other. One praises terrorism and maybe organized the intentional mass killing of civilians in New York City. The second ignores the intentional mass killing of civilians in Iraq, Beruit, Palestine and Japan – now pursues a war “against” terrorism. Each talks of God, morality, and justice. We have to ask ourselves: what is significant in being a man of principle? Of what use is principle to human culture? Surely it has a place. Somewhere.
Installed: 07/27/98, 1: 00 AM, PST