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Why Do They Hate Us?
9/24/01

On Sunday's "Meet the Press," host Tim Russert asked Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Why do they hate us?" Thus far the Bush Administration has offered a simple answer to that complex question. In his address to the nation last week, the President said, "They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

Colin Powell went further. He opened with the well-worn, "They hate our value system," but then added a critical new component: "They hate our presence in parts of the world that they think we should not be in." The Secretary speaks the truth.

Logic argues that Osama bin Laden did not convince 19 educated men to simultaneously commit suicide in defiance of freedom of assembly. They didn't die because we fill their theatres with campy movies or seduce their young with Levis and Big Macs and Britney Spears CDs. Even fanatics don't develop soul-deep hatred of intangibles like democracy - much less give their lives to prove it.

Something else propelled those planes that day, and though we may not like the reasons - or even agree - diminishing the motives of this enemy could prove deadly because millions more share them. In 1998, Osama bin Laden called for jihad to uproot America from Islam's holy places. He said of his home country of Saudi Arabia that the U.S. was "plundering its riches, corrupting its people, and dictating to its rulers." True or not, that perception now fuels a murderous crusade.

According to the last Quadrennial Defense Review, we have over 250,000 U.S. military personnel stationed on six continents in 141 nations. Prior to the latest mobilization, Saudi Arabia hosted 5,176 American servicemen; Kuwait, 4,527; tiny Bahrain, 1,433. Yet we claimed no empire. Our political class reasoned that we intended benevolence rather than conquest, and should therefore escape the fate of empires past. Unlike the Romans or the Turks, who accepted that they would be reviled for their occupation, because we denied imperialistic ambition America expected to be embraced. So committed were we to the superiority of our system that we thought the world would thank us once they tasted democracy's fruits. Thus we continued to march troops to distant outposts, and were shell-shocked when hatred came home.

In a region roiled with ancient tension, the U.S. thought to affect outcomes without becoming accountable. We choked Iraq with sanctions and armed Israel with our latest weaponry, but expected no blowback because we had taken up democracy's cause. Unable to comprehend that our actions made enemies, Americans accept the empty self-congratulation that we are despised for our virtue.

An alternative view does not imply that we brought this on ourselves. The terrorists and those who aided them hold sole moral responsibility for the horror of September 11. They alone bear blame. But as we seek justice, the U.S. must trace the wellspring of the terrorists' rage if this is to be after and not between. Were they lunatics, the terrorists could not have executed so elaborate an attack. If they were aberrants, we would have no network to uproot. If they hated prosperity or democracy or free exercise, any number of European countries would have made suitable targets. But they struck America -- and we cannot hope to stop them until we understand why they are our enemies.

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