All eyes on Afghanistan

By Bill Steigerwald

Last week was a time for flag waving, national unity and powerful photos of the horrors of 9/11/01.

This week, as war looms, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report each put Osama bin Laden’s evil mug on their covers (he has become the Official Face of Islamic Terrorism).

By now, thanks to things like Newsweek’s fabulous four-page pullout map, every isolationist in America should know where Afghanistan is (over there, among those new, unpronouncable -stans that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union).

Everyone should also know Afghanistan’s size (Texas) and what a basket case its Stone Age economy is (if it didn’t lead the world in illicit opium production, its chief exports would be, in order, Islamic terrorism and dry dirt).

But there’s more to learn about our “War on Terror” this week than geography lessons, as the news magazines, the New Yorker, Forbes, the Economist and even Entertainment Weekly show.

One of Newsweek’s best offerings is from Fareed Zakaria, who says the real source of the fundamentalist Muslims who are willing to fly airplanes into buildings is not in the caves of Afghanistan. They come from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where “moderate” governments have allowed a fanatical, puritanical brand of Islam called Wahhabism to grow and export itself throughout the Middle East.

Osama, the Taliban and most of the suicide bombers all are Wahhabis. And Zakaria says America is going to have to lean on our Arab allies “to change their ways and actively fight the virulent currents that are capturing Arab culture.”

Time, meanwhile, distinguishes itself with “Roots of Rage,” which gingerly seeks to explain to the geopolitically na?ve demographic of America why fanatical Arab terrorists might want to suddenly attack us so savagely.

Yes, it’s partly because they hate modern liberal Western culture or think America is a true enemy of God. But Lisa Beyer says that “The proximate source of this brand of hatred toward America is U.S. foreign policy (read: meddling) in the Middle East.”

The greatest single source of Arab displeasure with the U.S. is its “stalwart support of Israel,” says Beyer, daring to speak a political truth that too seldom gets mentioned in mainstream American publications or on the TV news.

Time’s honest search for the elephant-sized “why” behind the terrorists’ attack essentially raises the same points career America-hater Susan Sontag made in her tirade in the New Yorker last week. But without the hate rhetoric, Time is much more persuasive.

This week, The New Yorker’s offerings add more light than heat. One piece notes what should be obvious but isn’t yet: Islam is not monolithic. Joe Klein nicely explains how America’s military-intelligence complex is going to have to change if it wants to defeat terrorism.

And the always interesting Malcolm Gladwell, in his nifty mini-history of airline security, shows, paradoxically, how the hijackings of 9/11 “did not simply reflect a failure of our security measures; it reflected their success.”

Finally, to show how little we know about terrorism, Islam and Arabs, get a load of these facts from Time: Most of America’s 7 million Muslims (30 to 40 percent) are African Americans and most of the Arab-Americans living in the United States (52 percent) are Christian.