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Western Press Review: The Many Faces Of Terror

Prague, 11 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators surveyed for today's press review predominantly examine aspects of "the war on terrorism" -- starting with the weekend's terror attack in Saudi Arabia.


Writing in today's "Independent," Adel Darwish says that in attacking fellow Muslims in Riyadh, the Al-Qaeda terror network may have finally made a fatal mistake. He writes: "Al-Qaeda's tactics are to frighten the hearts and terrorize the minds of Muslims into submission. Thus targeting Muslims in Riyadh is not 'senseless' but a link in a long chain. The residents of the Al Muhaya compound, which was bombed on [8 November], lead a global way of life that is anathema to fundamentalists. Women drive inside the walls, and multi-faith friendships are struck up in picnics around swimming pools where Muslims share food with Western infidels."

Darwish says: "[The 8 November] attack is a continuation of the failed tactics first adopted in Egypt over a decade ago by terrorists such as Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief terror mastermind. The targeting of the Muslim compound in Riyadh is reminiscent of the killing of anyone dealing with tourists in Egypt in 1990s; it is legitimized for extremists because of their victims' association with infidels."

However, the commentary continues, "Al-Qaeda's gamble is more likely to backfire than bring down the Saudi government." The writer says: "Until now, Saudi intelligence efforts to identify [terror-network] sleeper cells were hampered by tribal taboos that forbid informing on fellow clansmen. But in slaughtering women and children -- while their menfolk were praying at the mosque -- the terrorists broke the code that binds tribal Muslims. The attack removes the stigma of informing on neighbors and clansmen suspected of backing the terrorists. Following the terror attacks on three other compounds in May, information from the public -- including tribal and religious leaders -- poured in, enabling police to smash a huge number of cells and arrest more than 600 suspects in the past six months."


"The New York Times" says today in an editorial that, unfortunately, much of the problem in Saudi Arabia lies with the ruling royal family. "The Times" says: "More effective police work alone will not be enough; Saudi Arabia has arrested some 600 terrorist suspects since May and attacks continue. Faster progress toward democracy, by itself, is not enough. Both are needed." "Judging from the record so far," the editorial says, "the sprawling, unaccountable Saudi royal family isn't likely to make these needed changes on its own."

The newspaper says: "America has a huge interest in the struggle for Saudi Arabia's future, and oil is only part of it. Although the latest terrorism appears directed mainly against the Saudi ruling elite, not Westerners, Al-Qaeda is a sworn and deadly enemy of the United States. The idea of an Osama bin Laden in control of one-fourth of the world's known oil reserves would be a nightmare come true."

The editorial continues: "The extended royal family, which numbers in the thousands, lives in opulence, flouting the puritanical precepts of Wahhabi Islam and draining funds that could be used to create a more modern, diversified economy. Wealthy Saudis send millions abroad to badly monitored religious charities whose schools indoctrinate poor children in other Muslim lands and sometimes recruit them to join armed bands of guerrillas and terrorists."


"The International Herald Tribune" publishes today a commentary by "The New York Times" writer Patrick Tyler under the headline: "True Target in Riyadh May Be Royal Family." Tyler says: "For years, Osama bin Laden called for the violent overthrow of the Saudi royal family for allowing U.S. bases in the holiest land of Islam."

Tyler writes: "But with U.S. forces gone, the bombs continue to explode, signaling that the withdrawal did not address the deeper grievances among the hardened Saudi extremists who were behind the car bomb attack in Riyadh on Saturday."

The writer says, "What seems ever more apparent in the attack in Riyadh, which left at least 17 people dead, is that it is no longer Americans or even Westerners who are the targets of terrorism in Saudi Arabia." He says: "Rather, the target is stability itself in the oil-producing kingdom -- as well as the writ of the House of Saud."

The commentary goes on: "The role of the United States in this struggle may prove crucial, [but] the new assault on the kingdom comes after two years of troubled relations between the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia over the role Saudis played in the September 11 attacks and the flow of Saudi funds to organizations and charities connected to terrorist groups."


The "Los Angeles Times" entitles its Saudi terrorism editorial "Saudi in the Cross Hairs," a reference to the precision gun-sights of sharpshooters' rifles. The editorial says that Saudi Arabia must win support from its citizens to prevail over terrorism. It says: "Suicide bombings in May taught the Saudi Arabian government that it was vulnerable to Al-Qaeda terrorists; it responded with raids and arrests that were long overdue. Despite that newfound resolve and specific intelligence that Osama bin Laden's followers would attack in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi government couldn't stop a weekend car bombing that killed [at least 17] people and injured more than 120 others."

The editorial concludes: "Saudi Arabia launched a public relations offensive before this latest car bombing to trumpet its arrests of terrorists, seizures of weapons and disruptions of Al-Qaeda cells. It needs to keep the pressure on potential assailants, share intelligence with other countries' counter-terrorist agencies and seek support from its citizens to fight its most serious threat from within."


Commenting in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Peter Muench calls Saudi Arabia a state whose "veil has been torn apart." He writes: "Death and terror lurk under the veil with which the Saudi royal family has covered its kingdom for centuries. Osama bin Laden stems from this environment -- likewise a considerable section of the September 11 assassins, and young men sent out from here to wage their holy war in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in the Western states. In addition to oil, these youthful fighters have become a distinct export item of the desert monarchy. But now the terror has come home to Saudi Arabia. This is threatening not only to the royal house, but the entire world. Simultaneously, herein lies a chance: the bellicose conflicts that have narrowed down to encounters between the West and individual Islamic states could at last be transformed into a broader basis to fight terrorism."

Muench concludes: "Only when Al-Qaeda ceases to be regarded as only an enemy of the West, [and begins to be regarded] as a global threat, can the battle be won. All wars waged under the banner of an anti-terror campaign are useless or even counterproductive as long as the terrorists are not isolated in their own environment."


"Los Angeles Times" commentator Robert Sheer writes in a commentary, in reference to U.S. President George W. Bush, that "liars can never be liberators."

Sheer says: "It takes stunning arrogance for a president to invade an oil-rich, politically strategic country on the basis of demonstrable lies, put his favorite companies in control of its economic future, create a puppet regime to do his bidding and then claim, as George Bush did last week in a speech, that this is all a bold exercise in spreading democracy.

"'Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation,' the president said. 'The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.'"

The writer says, "Bush even invoked the blessing of a divine power, the 'Author of freedom,' suggesting that he is not merely an over ambitious imperial president but rather a modern Moses armed with smart bombs and Black Hawk helicopters come to liberate an enslaved people."

Sheer writes: "Democracy is the most wonderful notion ever conceived, but Washington considers it a dangerous threat when the people in fledging democracies vote against U.S. interests. That's when the CIA steps in, as it did in Iran in 1953, overthrowing democratic secularist Mohammad Mossadegh and launching Iran into decades of madness."

The commentary continues: "People make their own history, and though the U.S. can help, it cannot impose." Sheer concludes: "Bush is not really interested in meaningful democracy in Iraq -- just as the U.S. wasn't in Afghanistan or earlier in Iran. In Iraq, the U.S. will not tolerate any opposition to the U.S. occupation. But that excludes democracy, which will not cater to the whims of U.S. foreign policy."


Columnist George Melloan, in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," takes a differing view of the president's speech. Melloan quotes Bush's rephrasing of a Woodrow Wilson doctrine, "The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country." The commentator says: "A calling? The idea that America has a calling to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world seems commonplace to many Americans because it has been a part of American culture for so long. But the idea that a single country, even a superpower, should feel a moral obligation to alter political habits all over the planet is not commonplace, and is not regarded as such by the rest of the world's people."

Melloan writes: "Some sophisticates think the messianic impulses of Americans are imperialistic at worst and, at best, naive. For years, the brave words of President Wilson were used to mock him." He says: "Indeed, there are those who mock President Bush's goal of extending the spread of democracy to the Middle East, saying that America will lose heart and turn tail if the casualties continue to mount in Iraq."

"As the experience in Iraq is showing," the writer says, "the U.S. can only go so far in spreading the culture of freedom. It can try to protect individuals from threats of terror and coercion so they can exercise their rights of choice. It can help them set up institutions and laws, and help organize modern courts and police forces to guarantee and protect their rights."

He concludes: "But in the end, there has to be a preponderant population that appreciates these measures and wants them."


The "Financial Times" gives opinion space today to a commentary by Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and James Lindsay, vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations. They are co-authors of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." They coin the expressions "democratic imperialists" and "assertive nationalists" to describe what they say is a split in the Bush government.

The commentators write: "Few within the Bush administration doubted the wisdom of a war against Iraq. Yet this consensus obscured a deep division over the war's purpose. We could characterize this as a split between 'democratic imperialists' and 'assertive nationalists.'

"Led by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary, and neo-conservatives outside the administration, the democratic imperialists believe America can be secure only if the rest of the world is remade in America's image. Accordingly, they favor deploying ever more U.S. troops and spending ever more money to create a stable, democratic Iraq."

The writers continue: "Assertive nationalists such as Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, and Dick Cheney, the vice president, do not share this ambitious and costly vision. They believe America's security demands, foremost, the defeat of its enemies and the elimination of the threats they pose.'

Where does Mr. Bush come down in this debate? He has occasionally used the rhetoric of democratic imperialists, notably in last week's stirring speech before the National Endowment for Democracy. But his long-standing disdain for nation-building, lackluster interest in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and initial failure to push his subordinates to generate a plan for rebuilding Iraq all mark him as an assertive nationalist."

The authors' analysis leads them to conclude: "Turning a society devastated by war, brutal repression, economic mismanagement and corruption and deep ethnic, tribal and religious differences into a beacon of democracy will require a far larger international effort than Mr. Bush appears to have in mind."


The "International Herald Tribune" publishes a commentary by Ghida Fakhry, a news anchor in London for the TV channel Al Hayat/LBC. She writes that Arabs now have access to many free television news outlets and are able to weigh U.S. efforts to spin the news against other perceived truths.

Fakhry says: "President George W. Bush's speech about bringing 'freedom and democracy' to the Middle East has, as expected, fallen on deaf ears in the Arab world. His attempt to recast the neoconservative doctrine of "a global democratic revolution" was met, at best, with smiles.

"The 'freedom deficit' in the Arab world will not be filled by what many consider to be American demagoguery and hubris. Washington's daunting challenge is to pitch its rhetoric against what the Arabs see on television screens across the Middle East -- and beyond.

"American policymakers and U.S.-appointed Iraqi officials, jittery about television coverage of daily events in Iraq under occupation, are blaming Arab satellite channels for inciting people against them. Al Jazeera is often singled out, but the handful of other widely watched stations, such as Al Arabiya, LBC and Abu Dhabi TV, are also proving to be a thorn in the side of Iraq's new leaders. "These satellite channels, which did not exist during the first Gulf War, have become in the last few years the principal source of news for tens of millions of Arabs living in the Middle East and beyond." The writer concludes: "The Bush administration should realize that although Arabs were long denied free access to information, they developed a critical sense and the ability to decipher political realities. Today, with millions of Arabs watching satellite television channels and other international news media outlets, 'spinning' Iraq's reality will not suffice to extricate the United States from the quagmire into which it seems to be sinking."


The "Times" of London discusses today in an editorial a pending visit by President Bush to Britain, which, the editorial says, "does not merit hostility."

The newspaper says: "Some of [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair's colleagues in the Labour Party might regret that this invitation was ever issued. They would be mistaken if they do. The prime minister demonstrated considerable courage before, during and after the conflict in Iraq and he was right to welcome Britain's principal ally here regardless of what, he almost certainly knew in advance, would be adverse poll ratings."

The editorial says: "Mr. Bush's standing among British voters is clearly not what it is in South Carolina or Wyoming. This is in part because of the grotesque caricature of him that has been presented here, one that is so distant from reality as to be almost surreal."

It adds, "[Bush's negative poll standings in Britain] have been influenced by the assertion that the United States has been 'inept' and 'imperial' in handling Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled. It will become increasingly obvious next year that an orderly transition of authority to Iraqis is to be implemented. At that point, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair may obtain respite from the criticism aimed at them. Until then, Mr. Bush should recall the words of a prominent, and hardly prescient, senator in 1862: 'I never did see or converse with so weak and imbecile a man as Abraham Lincoln.' "

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)