Magazine article The Christian Century

Terrorists' Timing

Magazine article The Christian Century

Terrorists' Timing

Article excerpt

WHY SEPTEMBER 11?" That question, said Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, needs to be raised. "Preparations for the terrorist attack had been going on for years. Why did Osama bin Laden choose September, 2001 instead of a year ago, or [why not] wait until next year?"

The answer, said Avnery, speaking in Chicago recently, is that the situation in the Middle East was ripe for such an action. Rage against America was at its height. Bin Laden could act with the assurance that throughout the region many people would rejoice to see America bleed, feeling that the U.S. was getting a taste of what it has been handing out to others. The spark igniting that rage is the present explosive state of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the images of that conflict now seen daily throughout the Arab world on the new Al-Jezeera television station, based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Avnery, the head of the Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom and three-time member of the Israeli parliament, brings unusual credentials to his analysis: he is himself "a reformed terrorist," he says. As a teenager in 1938 he joined the Jewish underground, the Irgun, to fight the British, but left after three years because he disagreed with the organizations anti-Arab attitude and terrorist methods. "That experience left me with some insight into how terrorist organizations work," he said.

Terrorist groups are most effective if they are very small, he explained, but they need the support of many people--people who give them money and hiding places, people from whom they can recruit new members, people who will provide propaganda for the terrorists' cause. They commit their acts of terror to gain, not lose, popular support.

"Osama bin Laden doesn't really give a damn about the Palestinians," Avnery said. "But he is using their plight to mobilize the masses in order to achieve his own purpose of toppling Arab regimes--especially that of Saudi Arabia--and replacing them with revolutionary governments that express his version of Islam. …

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