Gods and Monsters

                   The war on terror will only be won when Muslims believe that terrorism
                   is more damaging than America.

                   By Salman Rushdie
                   Friday, June 28, 2002; Page A29

                   As the leaders of al Qaeda evade
                   capture, regroup and return to the
                   al-Jazeera airwaves to offer
                   menaces and derision, the United
                   States looks increasingly like a blind
                   giant, flailing uselessly about: like, in
                   fact, the blinded Cyclops
                   Polyphemus of Homeric myth, who
                   was only one-eyed to begin with,
                   who had that eye put out by Ulysses
                   and his fugitive companions, and who was reduced to roaring in impotent rage
                   and hurling boulders in the general direction of Ulysses' taunting voice.

                   Indeed, the allegedly still-living Osama bin Laden might find the story of
                   Ulysses and Polyphemus useful as an allegory of his own battle against the
                   Great Satan of America. (Polyphemus, after all, is a sort of evil superpower, a
                   stupid creature of great, brute force who respects no laws or gods and devours
                   human flesh, whereas Ulysses is crafty, devious, slippery, uncatchable and
                   dangerous.) Then again, he might not, for by wounding Polyphemus Ulysses
                   aroused the wrath of the Cyclops's father, Poseidon, the sea god who rules over
                   the fate of all wanderers and fugitives, and was doomed never to return home
                   until all his men were lost and home itself had grown anything but homely.

                   Allegory will take you only so far, however, and I rather doubt that Osama bin
                   Laden spends much time poring over Book 9 of "The Odyssey"; but one of the
                   more worrying aspects of our more-than-worrying times is the extent to which
                   the ordinary citizenry of the Muslim world is prepared to go along with the
                   Osama bin Laden mob's characterization of America in particular, and of the
                   West and "the Jews" in general, as monstrous.

                   This, in spite of a concerted Western effort to counter the opposite of this kind
                   of demonization. In the United States since Sept. 11, and also in a Europe
                   alarmed by the resurgence of the far right, there have been and continue to be
                   laudable efforts to prevent Muslims from being tarred with the terrorist brush.
                   Muslim voices, those of the people on the Arab, Afghan, Pakistani or Kashmiri
                   streets as well as those of intellectuals and politicians, are being given media
                   time and space, and are being listened to. (The British Guardian newspaper's
                   decision to spend a whole week spotlighting "Islamophobia" is a recent
                   example.) Most of the voices we have heard have had extremely harsh things
                   to say about the United States of America, and its arrogance, brutality,
                   ignorance and so on.

                   It is difficult not to feel that even in the most civilized of these voices there is
                   less passion for the battle against terrorism than there is for the polemics of
                   victimization by the American Cyclops. It is difficult not to hear, in the
                   widespread condemnations of the West's sybaritic, hedonist, sex-obsessed
                   individualism, milder echoes of the fanatical puritanism of the Islamist
                   extremists. It is difficult not to hear, beneath the condemnations of America's
                   suffering at the hands of Sept. 11 murderers, a gleeful note of schadenfreude; it
                   is difficult to ignore the admiration for the terrorists' success in giving America
                   a bloody nose. It is hard, too, to forget that Gallup poll, taken across the Muslim
                   world a few months ago, in which, by a big margin, those interviewed denied
                   Muslim responsibility for Sept. 11.

                   Some of us have been listening out for something else: the emergence of a
                   genuine Muslim polemic against the harm the terrorists are doing to their "own
                   people." The war against Islamist terror will only be won when Muslims around
                   the world begin to believe that fanaticism is a greater evil than that which they
                   believe the United States to embody -- an evil, moreover, more damaging to
                   Muslims, more socially, economically and politically destructive, and possessed
                   by the nightmare vision of the Talibanization of the planet. After nine months
                   during which it has been repeatedly stressed that most Muslims are not
                   terrorists, but ordinary, decent human beings, it would be good to point to the
                   birth of an international Muslim movement against terrorism. Unfortunately no
                   such movement has emerged, nor is there the slightest indication that it may yet
                   do so.

                   It's true that the U.S. government has seemed at times to be doing its best to
                   justify comparisons to the blinded Cyclops -- except that this is a Polyphemus
                   whose blindness is largely self-inflicted. The litany of pre-9/11 intelligence
                   errors has been repeated many times -- the shelved reports, the untranslated
                   warnings, the sheer doltishness of American officialdom. We know now that
                   many prominent Bushies were busily opposing the allocation of resources to
                   intelligence work right up to the moment of the attacks. And we know that in
                   spite of the full deployment of all America's resources, no one has come up
                   with a location for the hiding place of her greatest foe. One can't help feeling
                   that the word "intelligence" is a misnomer here -- that "unintelligence" might be
                   more accurate, or even "stupidity." The U.S. authorities claim that this period of
                   blindness is at an end, that many conspiracies have been frustrated, many
                   threats identified, and some arrests made (even though, as in the case of the
                   execrable Jose Padilla, they have been made on the very flimsiest of evidence).
                   Time will tell who is right: al Qaeda's blood-curdling spokesman Sulaiman
                   Abu-Ghaith or the U.S. government. Nobody I know is confident of the

                   America can indeed look much like an ugly, blundering giant. America's Middle
                   East policy, for example, is the terrorists' single greatest propaganda weapon,
                   and the new Bush hard line is not exactly designed to change that. But if,
                   indeed, most of the world's 1 billion Muslims want nothing to do with terrorism,
                   as we are constantly being told, then it's time that their leaders, educators,
                   information media and intelligentsia stopped creating the preconditions for that
                   terrorism by perpetuating the image of a satanic, Polyphemus-like America that
                   is well worth destroying.

                   Salman Rushdie is the author of "Fury" and other novels.