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Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2001 / 29 Tishrei, 5762

Chris Matthews

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Let's stop living in the dark -- THE White House has cautioned the TV networks about showing those videotaped messages from Osama bin Laden. The fear is that leaders like bin Laden are sending coded messages to their agents worldwide, including those agents here who are possibly awaiting a go-ahead for further terrorism against America.

My concern is that spiking the tapes will keep Americans from hearing the political appeal bin Laden is making. It's a message we need to hear for the brutal reason that it explains why we're in this war -- and why it may last a long time.

It was just after U.S. planes began bombing Taliban forces and terrorist camps in Afghanistan that Osama bin Laden gave us his reasons for the horrors of September 11.

In a videotape released worldwide, he blamed the U.S. sanctions against Iraq, the Israeli "rampage" in Palestine, and the continued presence of "evil" U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden described the World Trade Center horror, which cost roughly 6,000 people their lives, as "the sword (that) fell upon America after 80 years." The reference, I can only assume, was to the Cairo Conference of 1921. That was the meeting in which the British and French carved up Arabia to their liking. It created the modern-day Jordan and made Emir Abdullah its king. It made his brother Feisal King of Iraq, gave the French influence over Syria, and allowed Jewish emigration into Palestine.

The Arab "street" to which bin Laden appeals didn't like that deal in 1921, and doesn't like it now. By playing to Arab resentment over what the West did to Arabia 80 years ago, the terrorist leader is doing just what Adolf Hitler did with the Versailles Treaty: He is basing a diabolic appeal on a legitimate grievance.

How many Americans even recognize what bin Laden was talking about? A safe answer is "not many."

How many Arab and Islamic TV viewers and newspaper readers understand precisely what bin Laden is talking about? A safe answer is "We'd better find out."

Why? Because this war is not simply about punishment. It's also about deterrence. Either we stop the bombings -- or we don't. If we don't stop them, life in America will be very different, and the terrorists of Sept. 11 will have won.

My Webster's defines terrorism as the "use of force or threats to demoralize, intimidate and subjugate." By that standard, the hijackers achieved much of their goal. They managed to ram three of our four hijacked planes into prime targets. They also managed to unsettle this country more than we can measure.

Forty-five percent of those polled told U.S. News & World Report that they could imagine themselves or a loved one being the victim of terrorism Sixty-one percent said they would "think about what happened on Sept. 11" when they fly on an airplane.

Seventy-four percent said their lives would never get back to the way it was before Sept. 11, while 85 percent said that America would never get back to the way it was.

How does America came back from all this? How do we avoid a relentless drumbeat of terror and reprisal that could cause more damage to our public confidence? One goal is to keep our heads clear -- to know what we're fighting. We need to know what is driving our enemies. We need to know what appeal they are making to the Islamic masses.

But we also need to understand this war for our own history.

Our grandchildren will surely ask us about the World Trade Center. Were its twin towers really the tallest in New York? And why did those Arabs fly those airplanes into them, blow them up and kill all those people?

What will be our answer? That bad people -- the "evildoers" -- did it? That story may work for the toddlers. But what will we tell the older kids?

And how will we explain this war on terrorism of the early 21st century? We know its "immediate cause": the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What will the history books say were the "long-term" causes?

Those demonstrators in the streets of Karachi and Jakarta are burning with rage at the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Why don't they sympathize with us? Why don't they understand that a country that loses 6,000 in a terrorist attack needs to pursue justice?

The sooner we get to the bottom of that question, the sooner we will know what we're up against. And the sooner we know that, the sooner we can get used to living in this world. Nothing is scarier than the dark. Let's stop living in it.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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