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September 13, 2003
Column #1,150

"Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero"

     The night before the second anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, PBS aired a haunting documentary originally seen a year ago called "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero."

     "Where was God that day?" a woman asks. "That burning horror - my mother was in that. How could God be in that? How can we believe in such a God?"

     A male voice asserts, "Religion drove those planes into those buildings."

     For the first time, many began to think of evil as a force. President Bush told Americans: "Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature...Out of evil will come good."

     Not for most survivors. A woman whose husband died fighting the fire, speaks of him: "He was a beautiful spirit who gave to everybody. He was a sculptor and a historian. He loved his son." Weeks later she saw a beautiful sunrise off Long Island.  "In that startling beauty was God who I talked to over 35 years. I used to talk quietly to God, `Thank you. Thank you for my life.' But I can't do that any more, because I feel so abandoned....Deep down I know I have to forgive, but I am not ready to do that yet."

     Two years later, 60% of the survivors have yet to file claims for their losses from the Victim Compensation Fund. Although $1.6 million has been paid on average, many who have not sought an award are struggling with their grief. Most are unable to write a personal statement describing the impact of their loss, or to gather needed tax returns to document a loved one's "value."

     "For me, you couldn't convey the loss adequately," said Donn Marshall, 39, whose wife died in the Pentagon, the mother of two children. "How do you get started and how do you do justice to her?" he asked the Washington Post.

     In fact, the evil of that day two years ago, persists in an eerie way today.

     Khaled Abou el-Fadl, a UCLA professor of Islamic law who described the evil of the hijackers on the show has had many threats on his life. Muslims did not like hearing him say: "The fanatical deep burning absolutism of these crazy, calculating people who learned to fly a 747, had inborn a whole different order of fervor. The cold bloodlessness of this operation was shocking. The hijackers had a perfection of the death instinct, whose rapturous killing of themselves as well as many people as possible, a great spectacular mass destruction - is new, terrifying and in the end, truly evil."

     Yet in speaking truth, that same evil pursues him now.

     The day before the second anniversary, Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, appeared in a videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera, leisurely walking along mountainous trails, while both men praised jihad fighters.

     Bin Laden congratulated the terrorists who inflicted "great damage to the enemy" in the 9/11 attacks. Zawahiri's urged Palestinians not to accept the U.S.-supported peace plan which he labeled "the road map to hell." He asserts that "Palestine will only be liberated with jihad."

     He also aimed his comments at the new Islamic militancy in Iraq: "We salute the  mujaheddin brothers in Iraq and...ask Allah to bless their sacrifices and valor in fighting the Crusaders. We tell you that Allah is with you and the nation supports you. Depend on Allah. Devour the Americans just as lions devour their prey. Bury them in Iraq's graveyard."

     He also refers to daily U.S. casualties, "We advise the mothers of the Crusade soldiers, if they hope to see their sons, to quickly ask their governments to return them before they return to them in coffins."

     Empty threats? Only two days after bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri called on "every Muslim" to "comply with God's orders to kill Americans"in 1998, two U.S. embassies in East Africa were bombed.

     Yesterday, President Bush said "Al Qaeda has lost nearly two-thirds of its known leaders. The terrorists have lost a sponsor in Iraq."

     However, the world no longer sees the United States as a victim of terror, deserving sympathy, but as an imperial power which defied world opinion in the Iraq war. Polls show only 45 percent of the Germans view the United States favorably, down from 78 percent three years ago.

     More ominously, once friendly Muslim countries have plunged from 52 percent support of America in Turkey to 15 percent, and from 75 percent favorable in Indonesia to only 15 now.

     We can expect more Muslim evil in the future.

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