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Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2001 / 9 Teves, 5762

Tony Snow

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Musings -- The war in Afghanistan is over, for all intents and purposes, but now begins something even more challenging: Peace in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is less a country than a collection of tribes with a long history of fighting and reconciling -- kind of like a large and very combative family. The country, which for centuries has been the crossroads of Central Asia, has hosted explorers -- such as Marco Polo -- superpowers -- the British and the Soviets -- and adventurers of all descriptions. It has seen intrigue, violence, conquest and liberation -- just about everything but prosperity.

The real challenge for the United States and its allies is to succeed where others have failed -- much as we have done militarily -- and convert a medieval, tribal society into a modern republic. It sounds outlandish -- even insanely optimistic -- but you know what? We subdued a country in ten weeks flat.

If anybody can show others how to turn the rocky wastes of Afghanistan into a field of dreams, we're the ones.

Osama bin Laden's euphoric claim that Allah foretold and blessed the September 11th massacre raises the touchy question of whether he's a delusional nut or the leader of a significant Muslim movement.

Even though most Islamic scholars and worshippers regard the slaughter of innocents as a horrible sin, a network of mosques, many supported and guided by friendly governments in places as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, openly spread the venomous message of bin Laden. So, for that matter, do mosques in Western capitals.

Homicidal ideologies of this sort don't deserve the dignity of being called religions. They lavish thanksgiving and praise on murderous men and replace an Almighty Creator with a bloodthirsty destroyer. The governments in the Muslim world, most of which control who gets to say what in the mosques, have to make a choice: They can muzzle the mullahs who advocate slaughter, or they can resign themselves to the fact that sooner or later, we'll make them pay for what they say.

Some months ago, I railed at reporters' habit of personalizing thugs and mass murderers. Back then, I took umbrage at the widespread habit of calling Timothy McVeigh "Tim" as if he were a long-lost pal from homeroom, who suddenly had become famous.

Now comes the habit of talking in overly familiar terms about Osama bin Laden, whose credentials as a homicidal creep need no embellishment by me.

A growing clan of American broadcasters has adopted the practice of calling the punk "Osama." This may seem like a small thing perhaps it even smacks of contempt, like the general reference to Iraq's dictator as "Saddam." But I still think journalists ought to adopt as starchy a formality as possible when it comes to gleefully evil men including Saddam Hussein.

Leave the chirpy personal stuff for protesters, politicians and poster makers. Let reporters, at least, treat the man like a stranger, not a friend.

The Department of Justice is trying to figure out whether to try John Walker Lindh, the Marin County Taliban, for treason. Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly has qualms, perhaps because the young man is several slices short of a loaf, perhaps because he's young, perhaps because he grew up in an amoral wasteland.

But let's consider the other side of the ledger. The kid, after embracing Islam in a failed attempt to shock his mom and dad, high tailed it to Yemen, where he learned a thing or two about Islam -- and a whole lot about terrorism. Then, he made his way to Afghanistan and threw in with the Taliban, who at the time were amusing themselves with public executions and other forms of despotism. He joined al Qaeda, where he helped plot ways to kill his own countrymen -- and he may have aided in the murder of CIA agent Mike Spann.

Hmmm: Left his country, joined bin Laden, planned to massacre Americans. If that's not treason, what is?

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