Some blame belongs right here at home

(Published in The Express-Times on Sept. 14, 2001.)

There burns within me a righteous fury that cannot be stilled by the patriotic platitudes and postures of politicians who wrought upon us the anti-Americanism in this world. I have yet to direct that fury, but I will.

American politicians tell us Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the Pentagon were an attack on “freedom itself.” Tell me this, politicians: What person does not yearn for freedom? No attack hit the Statue of Liberty, our greatest symbol of freedom. The terrorists attacked America’s grandiose symbols of money and power.

Much of the world hates America. It’s time we thought about why.

It took me two days to come to the point where I could think about this. (Maybe it’s taken me years.) First, I had to find friends who were missing in New York in the hours after the bombing.

“If anyone is wondering, I never made it in to work,” Mike Abdallah wrote me in an e-mail Tuesday. “The PATH train stopped at Exchange place and let everyone off … one stop from NY. I saw the second plane hit the building. I hopped on the first PATH back to Newark, then back to New Brunswick. Got to go … more people to try to call. – Mike”

His next train stop was the World Trade Center. It took me hours to reach Jill Richmond. She replied to my e-mail around 6 p.m.: “Yes … I am OK … I was in the WTC at 8:30 … and have yet to hear from several friends …”

One Arab. One Jewish. Both close friends. Both Americans. Both targets.

My family learned Wednesday night that my stepbrother, Mike Annichiarico, is alive. He had been a flight attendant for United Airlines. Now he’s breathing soot and asbestos somewhere in New York City.

My stepfather’s uncle, Victor Guadagno, works in the Pentagon. Federal officials said Wednesday they don’t expect to find any more survivors. No one’s heard from Victor yet.

On Wednesday night, my girlfriend and I talked about this deep into the night. It gets you thinking, talking with a foreign national who has extensively studied international relations and Middle East terrorism.

So Thursday morning, I began reading overseas newspapers online. See if you read this in American newspapers today.

The Asia Times reported Thursday on Osama bin Laden’s terrorists:

“The extremely cozy relationship between Afghans and an array of Middle Eastern groups started to be forged in the ’80s, during the jihad against the Soviets. America simply cannot forget that an alliance including the CIA, Saudi intelligence and the (Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence) ultimately established an international network to support the mujaheddin – and the whole thing was coordinated by the Muslim Brotherhood. This is how a lot of Arabs of the radical Islamic kind came to fight in Afghanistan.”

The London Guardian quoted transcripts from the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers: “As Jeremy Schneider, attorney for one defendant, put it in his opening: ‘And you know what? You know who backed the Arab freedom fighters? United States. United States. We supported the Arab resistance in 1984 in Afghanistan. We, the United States, supported the training in Afghanistan. We gave them guns.’”

We stand betrayed by our government and the defense contractors that grow rich selling weapons throughout the world, and only now do we reap the harvest of that activity. Afghanistan is just one example. Terrorists and oppressors have fired American-manufactured guns in the Middle East, South America, Africa, Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, Panama and God knows where else. Remember this in your anger. We should wonder why this didn’t happen sooner.

Today in America, we focus on individual heroism of ordinary people. Hundreds of firefighters gave their lives to save others. Americans Mark Bingham, Thomas Burnett, and Jeremy Glick of New Jersey apparently fought the terrorists and saved thousands of lives by crashing a Washington-bound plane in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

Ordinary people were thrust into extraordinary situations. Thus heroes are made.

Ordinary people live in drought-plagued Kabul, Afghanistan, too.

“Here in Kabul, the capital, roaming clusters of widows beg in the streets, their palms seemingly frozen in a supplicant pose,” The New York Times reported Wednesday. “Withered men pull overloaded carts, their labor less costly than the price of a donkey.

“Children play in vast ruins, their limbs sometimes wrenched away by remnant land mines. The national life expectancy, according to the central statistics office, has fallen to 42 for males and 40 for females … More than 1 million are ‘at risk of starvation,’ according to the United Nations.”

In Kabul, government employee Shakir Ullah told The Toronto Globe and Mail, “I don’t care about U.S. attacks. I lost half my life in the noise of artillery, helicopters and fighting.”

A terrorist is not born a terrorist. He is made one by the circumstances around him.

We want revenge. We want war. Find the terrorists. Kill them.

But look closer. You might begin to realize why most of the world does not view Arab terrorists as the only enemy.

Equally complicit in their eyes is the U.S. government.