A letter from an Afghani American
September 17, 2001 12:54 AM   Subscribe

A letter from an Afghani American which makes the most sense out of anything I've seen to date regarding retaliation. "You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West. And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there." Go. Read. Now.
posted by canoeguide (31 comments total)
I've already seen this one posted, I think... it was from salon that time though. No matter, it's a very good letter/article/whatever you want to call it - one whose tone I wish the mainstream media would take. At the very least, it'd be nice to see some traditional media outlets pick it up - print newspapers, possibly?
posted by chrisege at 1:02 AM on September 17, 2001

very well written letter. i do not think i can add to that.

just a personal note. from someone who is neither american nor muslim. just a bystander from germany:

up until tuesday, the most shocking event in my short life has been the explosion of the challenger space shuttle. but that, somehow, was of completely different nature. it was nothing that had an impact on my daily life. not until the day i decide to become an astronaut at least. it was a terrible accident. accidents happen.

tuesday's terrorist attacks will have an impact. it has a much more personal dimension. air travel will likely change. even though i hear from friends who boarded intra-european flights after the attacks that really not that much changed after all. that does scare me. somewhat. life goes on. accidents happen. terrorist attacks happen. that can't stop us, right? *shrug*

will tolerance suffer? will our anger affect our way of living together with different cultures and religions? i hope not. timothy james mcveigh, the guy who bombed the oklahoma federal building, was not a muslim. no matter what country, what religious background or cultural heritage, there will ALWAYS be crazy people.

but it is much more difficult to identify mind-twisted individuals than, let's say, all males between the age of 20 and 26 with black hair and beards. it is much more difficult to declare a war on nations than to protect your own nation against the actions of a few people that turn themselves into weapons and are willing to die.

as angry as we might be, we must not oversimplify.

war might not be the answer after all.

let's learn from history and let's not repeat old mistakes.

posted by HeikoH at 1:08 AM on September 17, 2001

A series of catastrophic meteors are hurltling toward the Earth. Do we eliminate those threats as retaliation? RETALIATION?
If this past week did not convince the world that terrorists would use any and all means of mass destruction, then the world is DOOMED.

Armeggedon sects suicidaly pressing for the end of the world as we know it can no longer be permitted to exist. PERIOD!
posted by HTuttle at 1:18 AM on September 17, 2001

When a newsreader says "wage war," we have a headfull of ideas what that means, how it's done, who's gonna do it, etc. When a person says "wage peace," suddenly...the screen is...blank. Mighty odd, eh? --Greg
posted by goodhelp at 1:27 AM on September 17, 2001

I think you may have missed the point "HTuttle"... the author of this didn't say that the US/UN/whoever-gets-involved should not retaliate, just that Afghanistan, as a country, as a whole, is far from the people we should retaliate against.

What made this letter so important to me was that it effectively presented the need for focus, clarity, and restraint in retaliation for 9.11... AND it managed to avoid criticizing Bush, et. al. and the US retaliation, before it happens.

Many on mefi in recent days have been quick to criticize Bush and the US as if they had already bombed the hell out of innocent targets and already made the situation worse.

I think this letter explains those fears, but without the unnecessary and disgusting political backlash against something which hasn't happened yet.

Let's wait and see. Perhaps we just may "get it right this time"...or at least "do it better". Criticize events after they happen, not before.
posted by canoeguide at 1:33 AM on September 17, 2001

Thank you , canoeguide, very good point. We have yet to take action, and in any case, this is not about retaliation.

The hard truth is that Bin Laden's organisation has attacked before, and if the hypothesis is right, it has done again, and it will do so again and again. This is not retribution but pre-emption, finding appropriate force to prevent a further attack.

But to comment on the Salon article, the problem that I have with the author's hypothesis is that bin Laden would have a billion soldiers at his disposal in a holy war. I'm not a Muslim, so I could be wrong, but aren't we hearing again and again that Islam is a peaceful religion, and these "extremist" terrorists are the exception, not the norm? Assuming that all Muslims would be quick to join in the fray seems like faulty logic.

As an example, consider the recent rhetoric of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who blames gays, feminists, the ACLU, etc. for the WTC attack. Here is a right wing extremist. If he had gone further and asked that the Christians of the world rise up and purge the earth of the groups he condemns, would it be reasonable to assume that peace-loving Christians world-wide would take up arms and rally behind his cry? Not likely. I think this "I'm scared, and you should be too" propaganda is confusing the issue and helping no one.

Besides, Pakistan is letting us through. No conquest was needed. For now, they seem to recognize the importance of our mission. I only wish our own citizens did, too.
posted by David Dark at 2:01 AM on September 17, 2001

The piece was originally published in Salon.

I agree with much of what you say, canoeguide, and I certainly think his points about Afghanistan being in bad shape already bear mentioning. It supports the notion that if the people responsible are in Afghanistan, we can't get them by punishing the state in any way. Action would need to be directed at the individuals themselves, and that seems to be what's on the table.

I also think he's really just making a counter-argument to a simplistic (but real) take on the war. The "bomb 'em back to the stone age" and "kill as many as needed" school of thought isn't really that tough to poke holes in. It's not the prevailing school, I hope and believe, although sometimes watching the TV news makes you wonder.

Finally, his whole "war between Islam and the West" scenario is predicated on the US forcing its way through Pakistan: "The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first." Pakistan has apparently assented to being used for staging. Things could still mushroom into the picture he paints, though--no doubt we need to walk a thin, thin line.
posted by brantstrand at 2:10 AM on September 17, 2001

The article doesn't say that bin Laden has a billion soldiers; it says that if he succeeds in polarizing the situation into Islam vs. the West, Islam will have a billion soldiers. The writer believes that if we are indiscriminate in our response and kill many Afghan civilians in the process of going after bin Laden, we will anger the rest of the Muslim world further. I am inclined to agree -- the situation could easily get out of hand if we act rashly.
posted by m-bandy at 2:14 AM on September 17, 2001

The full text of this letter has already been posted twice in different threads in the last few days, and linked at least once (pretty sure there are others; can't find them right now). It has also been posted on dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of weblogs and been forwarded to thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people. As much as I agree it is worth reading, it is not worth posting on the front page at this point. (As a rule of thumb, pretty much anything that you ever get as an email forward is not worth posting on the front page.)
posted by sylloge at 2:15 AM on September 17, 2001

thank you. this has really changed my perspective of the situation.
posted by arrowhead at 2:28 AM on September 17, 2001

I know it's a slim chance, but this wouldn't be written by our very own Tamim, would it?
posted by Optamystic at 2:34 AM on September 17, 2001

sylloge - I apologize for not reading the thousands of posts in the last few days for the obscure chance that someone might have quoted this entire letter in a comment.

I didn't see it linked on the front page anywhere, so I posted it...and several folks seem to have enjoyed the link. Sorry to have offended you. I'll go dig up a link to a news story on cnn.com/salon.com/etc. for you, since we don't get many of those.
posted by canoeguide at 2:47 AM on September 17, 2001

settle down, canoe. Sylloge made a valid point. This document has been widely circulated, to say the least. I don't think any offense was intended by pointing that fact out.

On the other hand, it's a great piece, and probably bears a little repetition. There has been a tremendous amount of information contained in MeFi posts and links over the last few days. I don't think it's fair to scold someone too harshly for not reading every bit of it. (Not that sylloge did that).
posted by Optamystic at 3:22 AM on September 17, 2001

Point taken Optamystic. I just get a knee-jerk reaction whenever I see someone criticizing a post made in accordance with all the rules, because they have "seen it already" or feel that it is widely known. I apologize for over-reacting. Back to the topic at hand...
posted by canoeguide at 3:35 AM on September 17, 2001

September 11th was my daughter’s 4th birthday. We spent it torn between a 4-year olds’ party and the horrible scenes on our television screen. There was an immediate sense of ‘this will change the world’. It will become one of the great crystallizing events in western history, not only for the US, but for the world. Therefore I – and many commentaries I’ve read in The Netherlands – would rather compare it to the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 than with Pearl Harbor.

H.W. von der Dunk, emeritus professor of modern history at Utrecht University, wrote in this weekends Volkskrant newspaper that that first atomic bomb forever changed the way in which war would be fought, and in effect, eliminated the possibility of a world-war between states, provided they were not ruled by lunatics. Since then, wars have been smaller-scaled, often with multiple non-state parties involved. States were (reluctantly) involved in ‘military interventions’ and found themselves opposing rebelling separatists, ethnic groups, etc. Terrorism became an important weapon in the hands of poor armies. But still, it was linked to a more or less well-defined conflict, and served some (although gruesome) purpose.

The events in New York and Washington are very different, because here it was shown that crazed fanatics, with no directly apparent goals, are able to dramatically hurt the worlds largest and most technically advanced superpower on its home ground trying to kill as many innocent people as possible. It showed that knives are enough to turn planes into living missiles and that our technologically perfect and intricately networked world makes it also especially vulnerable.

And that changed the world, because you cannot fight these attacks. There will always be groups that hate the North and the US, because of our wealth, power, dominance and global presence, and hate them enough to produce the kamikaze terrorists that have these horrible capabilities. Trying to fight that with old-fashioned armies is, I think, impossible because these people don’t play by our rules. We’ll have to prepare for a type of world that the Israeli’s are used to already, with extreme security measures in which state and privately ruled security organizations will use all (covert) means possible. I’m afraid that in the world that my daughter will grow up in, safety will be more important than individual freedom.

- knutmo
posted by knutmo at 4:39 AM on September 17, 2001

But to comment on the Salon article, the problem that I have with the author's hypothesis is that bin Laden would have a billion soldiers at his disposal in a holy war.

If Bin Laden is responsible, he must believe that the U.S. response to the bombing will be so severe that it will polarize the moderate elements within the Islamic community.

I am hoping that all of Bush's talk about a long struggle are preparing the U.S. public for a campaign to eliminate Bin Laden and support moderate Islamic countries without indiscriminately bombing Afghanistan.
posted by rcade at 5:22 AM on September 17, 2001

HTuttle: How are you going to eradicate all who want armaggedon? Nuke 'em? The 'PERIOD!' I'm guessing is a sign of your resolve that they shouldn't be allowed to exist.
posted by vbfg at 5:42 AM on September 17, 2001

It does seem certain that they want to provoke war by provoking a chain reaction of anger. Perceived injustice by America followed by demands of revenge; perceived injustice by Pakistani citizens, followed by demands (and likely local action) for revenge; martial law by the American + allied troops on the ground; reaction from entire muslim world.

To paraphrase The Art of War, never attack your enemy. Attack instead the intentions of your enemy. Remove his opportunities for maneuver and, when he has nowehere left to turn, strike.
posted by vbfg at 5:47 AM on September 17, 2001

"we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West."

i thought pakistan already said they would help us? isnt that old news? this guy is snowballing bigtime.

if the taliban has been so horrible to the afghans, why would they fight us taking over? they should be in the streets pointing to bin ladens cave.
posted by sadie01221975 at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2001

quick quick, send this letter to Bush and the rest of the gang on the the hill. They probably don't know much about Afghanistan and need to hear this.
posted by tomplus2 at 6:00 AM on September 17, 2001

I've been quietly reading all the posts on this subject and trying to find a way to express my opinion on such a complex matter in a few lines. I'll try to add my 2 cents here (it will probably end up in a big post, so I apologize for that).

I don't see the American government acting before thinking. I think that government reckons this situation as an valid chance of doing a great deed: Trying to wipe terrorism of the world. Also, I don't believe that the American government is counting on plain and simple bombing/fighting to accomplish that. Nobody would be that short-sighted.

I see Bush and Powell talking to other nations, I see than trying to coopt foreign governments all over the world to stand up and take this step together with the Americans. And I see those nations responding, even if it's only politics and empty rhetoric. If they really were to act recklessly and do as they please as so many people fear, they would be bombing Kabul right now. They are not doing that and it seems to me that they know that the solution is not that also.

I think a strong answer to this coward act is a reasonable demand, not only from the American people, but from each and every citizen in this world that was scared to death and shocked with those dreadful images (I'm Brazilian - there were some Brazilians in the WTC, we got our small share of victims, but those incidents didn't strike me in particular as a Brazilian, but as someone that believes in human values). This strong answer is the attempt to eliminate terrorism from this planet.

This titanic task will not be accomplished by wiping a country out of the planet, but by dealing with those who indeed are responsible for terrorism and by offering alternatives to people that live in those countries that embrace terrorism.
posted by rexgregbr at 6:12 AM on September 17, 2001

The fact that the moderate government of Pakistan has agreed in principle to aid the U.S. in their war on terrorism doesn't mean Pakistan is a settled issue. Their government is not that stable and their population is divided by religious splits. If the U.S. staged out of Pakistan they would have to watch their backs because it is a certainty that the Taliban would have supporters and active agents operating in Pakistan. I would be surprised if most of the Taliban weren't already in Pakistan!

Given that Pakistan has recently demonstrated its nuclear capability I think any U.S. involvement in an area with such instability is asking for massive trouble. Do you really want to kill millions to rid the world of 'evil doers'?
posted by srboisvert at 8:48 AM on September 17, 2001

Neat letter.

Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by?

We've already taken care of these things.

Thank you Mr. Powell!
posted by aaronshaf at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2001

A military friend tells me the current strategy planned (contingent on these 72 hours) is one of select air raids and many pockets of special ops forces. Hence, we are comabatting terrorism with our own brand of terrorism, air power being the addition.

No doubt our satellites are combing the country. Supposedly we can listen to coversations and get close-ups of faces now... I assume we'll want to avoid killing the wrong people. I trust we can do a good job of that in light of the current technology?

Hopefully, after this settles down (will it?) we can give some massive aid to the people in Afgan. We need reconciliation with Muslims. Aid, along with distributed literature, sure would help.
posted by aaronshaf at 9:19 AM on September 17, 2001

I have the privilege of being in a writer's workshop organized by Tamim in San Francisco. Last Tuesday night we shared a discussion in a cafe that included many of the elements that went into this piece. I couldn't be more pleased that his words on this are getting out in such a big way. His is the sane, well reasoned and well informed (by personal experience) analysis of this situation that the world desparately needs to hear. Tamim is not a person with an agenda - not a leftist, not right wing, not a nationalist, not pro-this or anti-that; he is someone in the know that can express himself in a way that all can understand and appreciate. Like chrisege, I sincerely hope Tamin's words somehow do make it to the mainstream press, which apparently cannot manage to come up with much of anything in the way of decent analysis.
posted by badstone at 10:38 AM on September 17, 2001

[quick hint: do a search for the URL of your link, and a few key words (in this case, Tamim Ansary would be fine) to see if it's already been posted.]
posted by rebeccablood at 11:08 AM on September 17, 2001

Yes, Pakistan's "president" has promised full support, but that doesn't necessarily settle anything. According to many things I've read, the pakistani military is something of a hotbed of militant islamists. Bin Laden has widespread support among many pakistanis. Just because musharraf says something doesn't necessarily mean it'll be clear sailing for the u.s.
I think this has been posted before on another thread, but it's worth a read if you missed it last time. It's about the difficulty we would face if we tried to infiltrate afghanistan with intelligence and undermine the terrorist network:
posted by jnthnjng at 11:41 AM on September 17, 2001

A military friend tells me the current strategy planned (contingent on these 72 hours) is one of select air raids and many pockets of special ops forces.

If you really have a friend in the U.S. military who has knowledge of our upcoming military strategy, it amazes me that you would disclose it in a public forum.
posted by rcade at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2001

Many on mefi in recent days have been quick to criticize Bush and the US as if they had already bombed the hell out of innocent targets and already made the situation worse.


if we make a fuss about bombing innocents AFTER it happens, it doesn't do a damn lot of good, does it?
posted by fishfucker at 3:01 PM on September 17, 2001

There's a whole bunch of people here who seem to think Pakistan = Pakistan's government. Hands up all those who'd be offended if I said they were indistinguishable from Bush? I would be if I was supposed to be a clone of Blair.

The strength of opinion against the Pakistani government was high prior to last Tuesday. Now they're going, apparantly caving under duress, to be a base of operations of the western allies. There is a very, very real chance of civil war in Pakistan as a direct result of this.

As I've said in other threads, I live in a city of 500,000 people. 200,000 claim direct Pakistani ancestry. All 500,000 are shitting bricks.
posted by vbfg at 1:10 AM on September 18, 2001

Aid, along with distributed literature, sure would help.

I think I know what you mean by this aaronshaf. If I'm pickin' up what you're puttin' down, I think you, like many other American Christians, are a sick religious mercenary.

I may be wrong. Perhaps you allude to "pro democracy" pamphlets. But I tend to think, from past comments you've made, you're talking proselytizing.

If that's what you're coyly referring to:

Are you really that delusioned by your personal relationship with your godhead that you'd replace another's opinion of ultimate truth with yours? Do you really not see the similarity of truebelief?
posted by crasspastor at 2:14 AM on September 18, 2001

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