SEATTLE – Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told a group of high-school students in her state that the U.S. should adopt Osama bin Laden's nation-building tactics.
"We've got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?" said Murray, according to the Vancouver Columbian newspaper. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries that are riddled with poverty?"
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The second-term senator, who faces re-election in 2004, was responding to questions from world history students and student government leaders at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Wash., on Wednesday.
Murray said, according to the Vancouver paper, that bin Laden has been "out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that."
"How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?" Murray asked.
Murray, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 107th Congress, voted against an October Senate resolution – passed by a 77-23 margin – that gives President Bush authority to use military force against Saddam Hussein's regime.
Murray concluded the session with students by challenging them to consider alternatives to war, the Columbian reported. She said that while building up Third World nations is costly, war is expensive too.
"Your generation ought to be thinking about whether we should be better neighbors out in other countries so that they have a different vision of us," said Murray. "It is a debate I think we ought to have."
Murray's press secretary Todd Webster forwarded a statement from the senator that warned against sensationalizing and distorting her remarks in an "attempt to divide."
"Osama Bin Laden is an evil terrorist who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans," the statement said. "Bringing him to justice, dismantling his terrorist network, and protecting our nation from further attacks must continue to be our government's highest priorities, and I continue to vigorously support those efforts in the Senate.
"While we continue to search every corner of the globe to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, should we also consider the longer-term issue of what else can be done to improve relations with all nations including the Arab world? How else can we bring America's values to those who do not understand us?"
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes contends, however, that bin Laden was not building schools and health-care facilities but a terrorist infrastructure. Any benefits accrued by the people of Afghanistan or Sudan were done to buy off his protectors, he maintained.
"His popularity stems not from construction efforts but from his attacks on the United States," Pipes told WorldNetDaily. "It's striking to note, in that context, that his popularity was much greater before the collapse of the Taliban than it has been since then."
Pipes said that, historically, Muslim antagonism toward the United States has not been rooted in economics but in "much deeper currents of identity, rage and frustration over where one is in the world."
"And the proof of that lies in the fact that many of the most affluent Muslims – Osama bin Laden himself – are among those that are the most hostile to the United States," said Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia.
'Allah has ordered us to make holy wars'
While bin Laden has pointed to perceived offenses by the U.S., he has stated that his belief in the supremacy of Islam and obedience to Allah lie at the heart of his efforts.
In a May 1998 interview, just two months before the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, bin Laden was asked to comment on the fact that many Americans find it unusual that he comes from a background of wealth and yet ended up "fighting on the frontlines."
Bin Laden said this is especially difficult to understand for those who do not know Islam.
"Allah has ordered us to make holy wars and to fight to see to it that his word is the highest and the uppermost and that of the unbelievers the lowermost," bin Laden said. "We believe that this is the call we have to answer regardless of our financial capabilities."
Bin Laden continued, stating that, "This too answers the claims of the West and of the secular people in the Arab world."
"They claim that this blessed awakening and the people reverting to Islam are due to economic factors," bin Laden said. "This is not so. It is rather a grace from Allah, a desire to embrace the religion of Allah. And this is not surprising. When the holy war called, thousands of young men from the Arab Peninsula and other countries answered the call and they came from wealthy backgrounds. Hundreds of them were killed in Afghanistan and in Bosnia and in Chechnya."
The question posed to bin Laden was asked by one of his followers at a session in which ABC News reporter John Miller later asked questions.
'Comforting the enemy?'
WorldNetDaily reader Karen Lloyd of Sacramento wrote asking if it was true that Murray explained to students that bin Laden is loved around the world for building roads and daycare centers.
"If this is true, she should be called on to step down," Lloyd said. "We need to call for the resignation of this senator for spreading propaganda designed to aid and comfort the enemy."
In her statement, Murray pointed to the State Department's efforts, led by former advertising executive Charlotte Beers, to improve America's image in the Arab world.
"Having a challenging and thoughtful discussion about America's future reflects the best values of a free democracy," she said in reference to her Wednesday remarks. "To sensationalize and distort in an attempt to divide is not."
The senator, who ran her first campaign in 1992 as a populist "mom in tennis shoes," concluded that "while there are some on the extreme fringes of society who try to exploit fear and uncertainty for political gain, there are many more who understand that the best value of our democracy is the freedom to think and to secure a better future."
Read Sen. Murray's official statement in the wake of her original comments.