Allah's Mercenaries, and Their Sponsors

It has come to the attention of Americans that groups defining themselves as Islamic are trying to blow up New York.

What these terrorists are trying to overthrow is, for the most part, the government of Egypt. The secular and militaristic government of Egypt is a linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East because Egyptians are nearly half of all Arabs and because Egypt made peace with Israel, which makes it in Washington's view a role model for other Arab states.


That is one dimension of U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

In Bosnia, President Clinton wanted to arm the Bosnian government ("the Muslims") and to bomb Serbian artillery positions. Europeans governments objected, so he backed down.


The United Nations Security Council refused to adopt a U.S. resolution to exempt Bosnia from the arms embargo. Serbia has all the arms it needs and Croatia can get them. The embargo prevents only Bosnia from getting arms.

So the West is in quiet complicity with the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia, by conspiring to prevent them from defending themselves. The U.S. objects, but not strenuously enough to break up international institutions.

But in Sudan, the Islamic government is launching onslaughts against the southerners. The U.S. government, condemned by Muslims for not saving Muslims from Christian genocide in Bosnia, is condemned by many black people for not saving black Christians from Islamic genocide in Sudan.

U.S. relations with Sudan are bad, but that is based more on Sudanese export of revolution against Egypt (which it has just sworn off) than on the regime's systematic murder of its own citizens.

Much attention is paid to U.S. relations with Islamic countries, including Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Clearly, we want them to oppose communism and keep the oil flowing. This attention obscures where most of the world's Muslims live.

The countries of greatest Islamic population, depending on which had the latest census, are India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The last three have Islamic majorities. India is a predominantly Hindu secular country, with a Muslim minority that is vulnerable while bigger than most large countries.

The U.S. is not in crisis with any of these countries. The U.S. traditionally backed Pakistan's military regime for supporting anti-Communists in Afghanistan and balancing the Soviet client that India was thought to be. As a result, the U.S. presence was larger in Pakistan than in the other countries, leading to more anti-American feeling there.

Now that the U.S. regards Russia as a client and not adversary, the tilt toward Pakistan and away from India has outlived its rationale. But tilts can take on lives of their own.


What India and Russia have in common now is not socialism but problems dealing with Muslim minorities inside their borders and Islamic states outside them.

What interests the U.S. most about the terrorism in New York is whether foreign governments sponsored it. One government clearly did have an indirect hand in it. That was the United States. When the CIA was arming and bankrolling extremist Islamic factions of the Afghanistan exile community, Islamic extremists from elsewhere streamed to the cause.

The alleged U.S. support for the infamous Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman of Egypt and New Jersey dates from the period when he was recruiting warriors for that cause. With the collapse of communism in Afghanistan, they became, in the words of an Arab diplomat, "mercenaries for Allah." The sheik was let into this country, in what our government keeps insisting was its incompetence and not its complicity.

With growing numbers of Americans and resident aliens professing Islam, the U.S. had better clarify its position. It has no quarrel with Islam or the vast majority of Muslims. The United States ought not let a few political extremists, such as Sheik Omar or the government of Iran, define Islam for the U.S.

The United States had better be clear that is against political extremism and terrorism, not their religious fundamentalism. The United States had better not fall into the trap of agreeing that the extremists are more Islamic than moderates.

And when the United States is clear about this, and has trained more spooks in Arabic and Farsi, it will be capable of mounting a coherent policy to combat terrorism.


F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.