Juan Cole speculates on a comment Osama Ben Laden made about the Towers of Beirut.
Professor Cole's essay makes many assumptions about Ben Laden's thinking, but it's worth reviewing. Most people in America seem to have forgotten the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was the single most horrible event of my young life, until the sack of my village three years later and the death of my grandmother (events which can be traced back to the invasion which caused so much suffering in my home town). 2,000 people were killed in the refugee camp next door to my village outside of Sidon in the first week of bombing. Israeli soldiers occupied my village, pulled all the men out into the town square and took away the Palestinians to concentration camps. Israel laid siege to Beirut for many weeks, and Thomas Friedman was censored by the New York Times for trying to report on the IDF's illegal use of cluster bombs in the siege. Professor Cole suggests that Osama, too, remembers the destruction of Beirut by Ariel Sharon's forces in 1982, and perhaps believed that hitting New York's towers was an appropriate revenge.
On the morning that I heard of the attack on New York, I did not imagine there was a direct link to the trauma my family and my people suffered in 1982; I merely felt that the horrors visited upon my father's country had now come home to my own. I do believe Professor Cole is on to something here.
I moved to New York City in 1981 because Beirut was lost to me; I love New York passionately, the way one loves a city that one comes to know as a young adult. Her streets and passageways inhabited my dreams for decades, and sometimes I still wander there at night, while slumbering in my bed in Oakland. San Francisco may be a magical city but it has never taken hold of my inner life in the same way. The attack on New York wounded me as deeply as the long war in Beirut did, as if a beloved friend were wounded, not just strangers, not just buildings where I worked and played.
Professor Cole's essay is not a sign of hope, really, except that looking deeply at the heart of matters is always hopeful. Only thus can we understand the truth and perhaps find a right path forward.
May God help John Kerry win the White House and bring some intelligence and courage to American foreign policy.