“We are all Americans,” wrote Le Monde on September 12, 2001. And so it was with most people in the Muslim world, who were as appalled as anyone else at the carnage of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Indeed, when America responded to the attacks, almost no one mourned the fall of the Taliban, who were universally condemned for their fanaticism.
This unanimity of opinion no longer exists. In the five years since the attacks, two audiences for the so-called “war on terror” have emerged. Indeed, as the “war” progressed, the audience closest to the action began to see the emerging combat in a way that was diametrically opposed to that of the United States and the West.
To the US administration, every act in the drama of the war on terror was seen as discrete and self-contained: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Bush administration, having proclaimed a war on terror, invaded and occupied countries, and yet failed to see that these events were being linked in the eyes of people in the region. Glued to Al Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels, the various battles of the “war on terror” came to be viewed as a single chain of events in a grand plot against Islam.
Worse yet, America waved the banner of democracy as it prosecuted its wars. But hopes for democracy, be it secular or Islamist, for the people concerned have been buried in the rubble and carnage of Baghdad, Beirut, and Kandahar.