The apparently standard agenda of activities that must be carried by a state hit by a terror attack if it wants to effectively fight terrorism has suddenly become wildly irrelevant in the face of the totally incomprehensible scope of the deaths caused by Tuesday's terror strike on the United States.
No single act of revenge, no matter how extensive and cruel it may be, can really placate the American public, or the world for that matter, when the facts become known on the actual number of dead and injured, on the extent of the economic damage or on the serious blunders that enabled the perpetrators of this act to mount such a successful operation.
Because of the immediate impact of this massive terrorist attack, there is, of course, a natural tendency to predict that the response will not be limited to an American retaliatory operation, but will also include the intensification of a cultural war on a global scale: The West versus the Third World, Judeo-Christian civilization versus Islam, and the sane countries of the world against the radical states.
Yesterday, on the very day of the attack itself, states and organizations belonging to the seemingly suspect part of the globe were already lining up to reserve their places on the right side of this war. Iran, Yemen, Egypt and Pakistan, in fact all of the world's Muslim states aside from Iraq, not only condemned the attack and its perpetrators (whoever they turn out to be), but also adopted the tone of voice used by those who still have to prove their innocence.
A very long list of organizations - including the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Japanese Red Army, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Muslim Brothers - rushed in a panic to publicly deny any report of their involvement in Tuesday's attack. Even Islamic and Palestinian spokespersons - who earlier in the day were still trying to explain that the motives for the attack were to be found in the U.S. policies toward Israel, the Arab states and Islam - quickly changed the tone of their public relations messages and shifted to a total condemnation. Meanwhile, the Palestinian police was busy dispersing demonstrations organized to express joy for the attack: Sometimes, it is not judicious to express your happiness in public.
Anti-American demonstrations, the burning of the Stars and Stripes, the blowing up of an embassy building and the demolition of a U.S. Army barracks are one thing; a terrorist attack on such a colossal scale, on the other hand, is quite another thing altogether. An attack of the dimensions of Tuesday's terrorist incident blurs and actually dissolves the uniqueness of the goals in the name of which a terrorist organization carries out its strikes.
If one can find a label for the strike on the United States, and if it turns out that it was carried out by Arabs or Islamic fundamentalists, then it could be said that the United States was the victim of a Pan-Arab or Pan-Islamic attack that carries a two-fold definition: on the one hand, as a factor unifying the Islamic states into a single front determined to defend their good name in the face of the allegations, and, on the other hand, as the demarcation line of the border of cultures - that is, as the demarcation line indicating how today's world is divided.
If this terrorist attack was perpetrated by Arabs or Islamic fundamentalists, it will be immediately interpreted as an operation carried out in the name of an entire culture and in the name of a long list of claims characteristic of those who are on a very specific side of the world's map. Even if the responsibility turns out to lie "only" with a terrorist by the name of Osama bin Laden or some other sophisticated and murderous group, it will prove impossible, in the foreseeable future at least, to reduce the war against terrorism to a struggle between the world's only superpower and a single criminal.
A terrorist attack like this would seem to call for a cultural war because only a war of such dimensions would be regarded, in the eyes of the victims of the attack, as a suitable response of sufficient extent. It would be a war of Good against Evil - an easy war to understand and justify.
The cloud created by the incredibly huge damage inflicted by this attack on the United States offers little for those who are motivated by strictly defined and narrow interests. Those interests dissolve and are forgotten in the immense void created by the terrorist attack.
All those who want to pull the U.S. administration in their direction will, first of all, have to join the "major league" - namely, the World Anti-Terrorist Army - in order to be able, at a later stage, to mobilize some sympathizers for their home game. However, this will be possible for a short time only. National conflicts and local interests have no patience for cultural wars or mobilization on a world scale.
The World Trade Center was not in Jenin, Netzarim, Kosovo or Macedonia. The private world of those who want just a little more land and another medal to wear on their chests does not recognize a world order or hierarchy of cultures. Instead, they will continue to feed the flames beneath the cauldron that, in the end, produces giant terrorist attacks.
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