'Why do they hate us?' By Peter Ford Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor "Why do they hate us?" asked President Bush in his speech to Congress last Thursday night. It is a question that has ached in America's heart for the past two weeks. Why did those 19 men choose to wreck the icons of US military and economic power? Most Arabs and Muslims knew the answer, even before they considered who was responsible. Retired Pakistani Air Commodore Sajad Haider - a friend of the US - understood why. Radical Egyptian-born cleric and US enemy Abu Hamza al-Masri understood. And Jimmy Nur Zamzamy, a devout Muslim and advertising executive in Indonesia, understood. They all understood that this assault was more precisely targeted than an attack on "civilization." First and foremost, it was an attack on America. In the United States, military planners are deciding how to exact retribution. To many people in the Middle East and beyond, where US policy has bred widespread anti-Americanism, the carnage of Sept. 11 was retribution. And voices across the Muslim world are warning that if America doesn't wage its war on terrorism in a way that the Muslim world considers just, America risks creating even greater animosity. Mr. Haider is a hero of Pakistan's 1965 war against India, and a sworn friend of America. But he and his neighbors in one of Islamabad's toniest districts are clear about why their warm feelings toward the US are not widely shared in Pakistan. In his dim office in a north London mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri sympathizes with the goals of Osama bin Laden, fingered by US officials as the prime suspect behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Abu Hamza has himself directed terrorist operations abroad, according to the British police, although for lack of evidence, they have never brought him to trial. Mr. Zamzamy, a 30-something advertising executive in Jakarta, knew what was behind the attack, too. Trying to give his ads some zip and still stay within the bounds of his Muslim faith, he is keenly aware of the tensions between Islam and American-style global capitalism. The 19 men - who US officials say hijacked four American passenger jets and flew them on suicide missions that left more than 7,000 people dead or missing - were all from the Middle East. Most of the hijackers have been identified as Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East were as shocked and horrified as any American by what they saw happening on their TV screens. And they are frightened of being lumped together in the popular American imagination with the perpetrators of the attack. But from Jakarta to Cairo, Muslims and Arabs say that on reflection, they are not surprised by it. And they do not share Mr. Bush's view that the perpetrators did what they did because "they hate our freedoms." Rather, they say, a mood of resentment toward America and its behavior around the world has become so commonplace in their countries that it was bound to breed hostility, and even hatred. And the buttons that Mr. bin Laden pushes in his statements and interviews - the injustice done to the Palestinians, the cruelty of continued sanctions against Iraq, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, the repressive and corrupt nature of US-backed Gulf governments - win a good deal of popular sympathy. The resentment of the US has spread through societies demoralized by their recent history. In few of the world's 50 or so Muslim countries have governments offered their citizens either prosperity or democracy. Arab nations have lost three wars against their arch-foe - and America's closest ally - Israel. A sense of failure and injustice is rising in the throats of millions. Three weeks ago, a leading Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, published a poem on its front page. A long lament about the plight of the Arabs, addressed to a dead Syrian poet, it ended: . . . . "Children are dying, but no one makes a move. . . . . Houses are demolished, but no one makes a move. . . . . Holy places are desecrated, but no one makes a move.... . . . . I am fed up with life in the world of mortals. . . . . Find me a hole near you. For a life of dignity is in those holes." It sounds as if it could have been written by a desperate and hopeless man, driven by frustration to seek death, perhaps martyrdom. A young Palestinian refugee planning a suicide bomb attack, maybe. In fact, it was written by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to London, a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the kingdom that is Washington's closest Arab ally. Against the background of that humiliated mood, America's unchallenged military, economic, and cultural might be seen as an affront even if its policies in the Middle East were neutral. And nobody voices that view. From one end of the region to the other, the perception is that Israel can get away with murder - literally - and that Washington will turn a blind eye. Clearly, the US and Israel have compelling reasons for their actions. But little that US diplomats have done in recent years to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians has persuaded Arabs that the US is a fair-minded and equitable judge of Middle Eastern affairs. Over the past year, Arab TV stations have broadcast countless pictures of Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian youths, Israeli tanks plowing into Palestinian homes, Israeli helicopters rocketing Palestinian streets. And they know that the US sends more than $3 billion a year in military and economic aid to Israel. "You see this every day, and what do you feel?" asks Rafiq Hariri, the portly prime minister of Lebanon, who is not an excitable man. "It hurts me a lot. But for hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, it drives them crazy. They feel humiliated." Resentment rises, a radical is born Ask Sheikh Abdul Majeed Atta why Palestinians may not like the United States, and he does not immediately answer. Instead, he pads barefoot across the red swirls of his living room carpet and reaches for three framed photographs on the floor beside a couch. The black-and-white prints show dusty, rock-strewn hills dotted with tiny tents and cinderblock houses: the early days of Duheisheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. It was where Mr. Atta was born, and where his family has lived for more than half a century. Atta's family village was destroyed in the struggle between Palestinian Arabs and Jews after Britain divided Palestine between them in 1948. For 10 years his family of 13 lived in a tent. The year Atta was born, the United Nations gave them a one-room house. It doesn't matter to Atta that the United States was not directly involved in "the catastrophe," as Palestinians refer to the events of 1948. Washington averted its eyes when it could have helped, he says, and since then has been firmly on Israel's side. Heavyset, solid, with a neatly trimmed full beard, Atta is the preacher at a nearby mosque. He looks the part of the community leader, always meticulously turned out in crisp shirts and pressed trousers, gold-rimmed reading glasses tucked into a pocket. In the past year of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Atta has joined Hamas, the radical group responsible for recently sending most of the suicide bombers into Israeli towns. Frustration at watching the rising Palestinian death toll at the hands of the Israeli army played a large part in his decision, he says. His resentment at Israel, though, dates back to his infancy, and the stories he heard of his village, Ras Abu Amar, which he never knew. That village is still alive for him, just as millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and throughout the Middle East cherish photos, house keys, and deeds to homes that no longer exist or which have housed Israelis for generations. Today he lives in his own house in Duheisheh, a sprawling tangle of densely packed concrete buildings that crowd snaking, narrow alleys. But he still dreams of the home he never knew, and recalls who took it from him, and remembers who they rely on for their strength. What happened on Sept. 11 "was an awful thing, a tragedy, and since we live a continuous tragedy, we felt like this touched us," he adds. "But when we see something like this in Israel or the US, we feel a contradiction. We see it's a tragedy, but we remember that these are the people behind our tragedy." "Even small children know that Israel is nothing without America," says Atta. "And here America means F-16, M-16, Apache helicopters, the tools Israelis use to kill us and destroy our homes." Superpower swagger Such weapons are very much the visible face of American policy in the Middle East, where military might has held the balance of power for 50 years. Thousands of US soldiers stationed in the Gulf, and billions of US dollars each year in military aid to Israel, Egypt, and other allies, have shored up Washington's interests in the strategically crucial, oil-rich region. That military presence and power looks like swagger to some in the Muslim world, even far from the flashpoints. "Now America is ready with its airplanes to bomb this poor nation [Afghanistan], and most people in Indonesia don't like arrogance," says Imam Budi Prasodjo, an Indonesian sociologist and talk-show host. "You are a superpower, you are a military superpower, and you can do whatever you want. People don't like that, and this is dangerous," he adds. "America should spread its culture, rather than weapons or tanks," adds Mohammed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of Cairo's influential Al Ahram think tank. "They need to act like any respectable commander or leader of an army. They can't just project an image of contempt for those they wish to lead." Ten years ago, at the head of a broad coalition of Western and Arab countries, the United States used its superpower status to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Since then, however, Washington has found itself alone - save for loyal ally Britain - in its determination to keep bombing Iraq, and to keep imposing strict economic sanctions that the United Nations says are partly responsible for the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. Those deaths, and those bombs (which US and British planes drop regularly, but without fanfare), are felt keenly among fellow Arabs. And Saniya Ghussein knows all about bombs. A daughter dies, and parents wait for US apology In the middle of the night of April 16, 1986, the deafening sound of anti-aircraft guns woke Saniya Ghussein with a sudden start. "My God," she thought, "there's a war being fought above my house." She slipped out of bed and ran into the bedroom where her husband Bassem and their 7-year-old daughter Kinda had fallen asleep earlier in the evening. "Bassem, the Americans are here," she said urgently. "It looks like they're going to hit us." She checked on her other daughter, Raafat. She had been suffering from her annual bout of hay fever, and the 18-year-old art student was in the television room next to the humidifier so she could breathe easier. Raafat was still sleeping, completely oblivious of all the commotion going on around her, due to the medication she had taken earlier. There was little Saniya felt she could do. She climbed back into bed and pulled the sheets tight around her. Bassem lay awake on the bed, listening to the appalling noise in the night sky above. A Palestinian-born Lebanese national, Bassem had worked in Libya as an engineer for Occidental, the American oil giant, for 20 years, helping exploit the country's massive oil reserves. He and his family lived in the upmarket Ben Ashour neighborhood of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, on the ground floor of a two-story apartment block. Bassem never heard the explosion. Instead, he watched in astonishment as the window frame suddenly flew into the room, and the roof collapsed on top of him and his daughter. Kinda was screaming in the darkness near him. Bassem tried to move, but was pinned by the rubble. He groped in the blackness for Kinda. "Don't worry," he said, squeezing his daughter's hand. "Daddy's here, don't cry, it will be okay." The blast had knocked Saniya unconscious. She woke to hear Bassem calling from the next room and Kinda screaming. She stumbled in the darkness, barefoot across the rubble and glass shards, choking on the fumes from the missile blast, as she called her daughter's name "Raafat! Raafat!" for several minutes. But there was no response, and Saniya knew with a terrible certainty that her daughter was dead. "Bassem," she cried. "Raafat has gone." Pinned beneath the rubble, Bassem heard his wife's words, and he felt a deep sense of anger and resentment well up inside him. His life and that of his family had been shattered, and nothing would ever be the same again. It took them eight hours to dig Raafat out from under the ruins of the house. "Our pain and agony, which I cannot describe, started at that moment," Saniya says. Raafat was one of an estimated 55 victims of an air raid mounted by US warplanes against a series of targets in Tripoli and another Libyan city, Benghazi. The attacks were in retaliation for the bombing of a disco in Berlin, Germany, 10 days earlier in which 200 people were injured, 63 of them US soldiers; one soldier and one civilian were killed. The Reagan administration blamed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Bassem and Saniya Ghussein are not natural anti-Americans. Bassem studied in the US before going to work for Esso and then Occidental. He sent Raafat to an American Catholic school, and on family trips to the US, Saniya would take Raafat to Disney World in Florida. "We did all the typical American things," she says. But since that terrible night 16 years ago, neither Bassem nor Saniya have stepped foot in America. They returned to Beirut in 1994 when Bassem retired. In 1989, the Libyan government enlisted the help of Ramsey Clark, an attorney general during the Carter administration, to file a lawsuit against President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for the civilian deaths during the air raids. "When Clark came to collect our documents and evidence, I asked him if he thought we had a case," Bassem recalls. "He said 'Oh, definitely. This was murder.' " But US district court judge Thomas Penfield Jackson disagreed. He dismissed the suit, and fined Clark for presenting a "frivolous" case that "offered no hope whatsoever of success." Twelve years later, the court's decision still rankles with Bassem. "I will only return to America when I know someone will listen to me and say: 'yes, it was our fault your daughter died, and I am sorry.' So long as they think my daughter's death is 'frivolous,' I won't go back," Bassem says. The Ghusseins have no sympathy for religious extremism and thoroughly condemn the Sept. 11 suicide bombings in New York and Washington. Yet they both maintain that the devastating attack was a result of America's "arrogant" policies in the Middle East and elsewhere. "We wish the American people could see what their governments are doing in the rest of the world," Saniya says. A feeling of betrayal among friends On the other side of Asia, in Pakistan, Air Commodore Haider would sympathize with the Ghusseins' wish. He has always been a friend of the United States, and not just because he enjoyed the 10 years he spent in Washington as his country's military attachˇ. Like most other members of the ruling elite in Pakistan, in the armed forces, in business, and in the political parties, he sees America as a natural ally. But not a reliable one. The prevailing mood in Pakistan of anger and suspicion toward the United States springs from a deeply rooted perception that the US has been a fickle friend, Haider says, and not just to Pakistan, but to other nations in the Muslim world. If there was a moment of betrayal for Haider, it was the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, largely over the future of Kashmir. As Indian tanks advanced on the Pakistani metropolis of Lahore, Haider was head of a squadron of F-86 Sabre jets sent to destroy them. India's Soviet allies helped with money, arms, and diplomatic support. But at a crucial moment, Pakistan's ally, the US, refused to send more weapons. As it turned out, Pakistan was able to defeat the Indian attack on Lahore and elsewhere without US help. Haider's squadron decimated the column of Indian tanks that had reached to within six miles of Lahore. But the lesson lingered: America cannot be trusted.