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A defining moment in history

Amazing Grace

Dallas

Separation of church and what? Legally, such a thing exists when it comes to organized prayer in public places. But as we have all seen, there is no such thing in a time of tragedy.

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In the days following the attacks on America, we have seen partisan bickering cast aside. Members of Congress sang and prayed together. President Bush has requested prayers for the families of the victims and for the nation. He has asked God to bless this great nation.

As I listen to the radio, I hear "Amazing Grace" and "God Bless America." One station has vowed to play a particular inspirational tune once an hour until there's a final tally on all the missing. The station has asked listeners to "pray wherever they are" when the song is aired.

On live TV, something I never thought would happen occurred: A national anchor reciting the 23rd Psalm. He spoke of how much comfort it brings in a time of trouble. Fighting back tears, he could barely continue.

Our collective faith has been shaken. But a great man once told doubting followers that they should not be afraid in a raging storm, because He would be with them to calm the winds and waves. This is our biggest storm, and it says much that we aren't too proud to do what comes naturally: call on a higher power.

You don't have to be in "God's house" to pray. I do it on the expressway, in the shower, on the phone with friends. I send prayers by e-mail or messenger. Sometimes, when the tears won't stop, I get out an old tablet and write my thoughts, along with the names of those on a prayer list.

I hope our leaders know many of us have been praying all our lives. For years, we have prayed for world peace, an end to hunger, and unity among the races. Unfortunately, it has taken monumental tragedy to produce the priceless kinship I now feel with my fellow Americans.

Joyce King is a veteran reporter.

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An American in Brussels

Brussels

Like all Americans, we were devastated by the attacks. We received e-mails from friends in the States, saying they were happy, for once, that we were living in Brussels this year. Until now, Washington had been our home.

My children's international school canceled classes Wednesday. One parent told me the school advised the kids to be inconspicuous for the next few days.

"Tell them not to wear things like Yankees caps, or to talk loudly in public, because then people will know they're American," she said. My 16-year-old son defiantly said he was going to wear a black armband. My 13-year-old daughter was terrified, imagining that Americans abroad would be targets. I wanted to reassure her that we were safer here than in Washington, but I couldn't be sure. We stayed inside all day Wednesday, watching CNN reports and looking out at the gloomy Brussels rain. We felt far from home.

The next day, we decided we needed our normal routine. I read my way through dozens of patriotic e-mail messages from friends. I signed up to sing with an international chorus. When other chorus members - Belgians, French, Danes, Irish, English - learned I was from Washington, there was a pause, and then their faces took on a stricken look.

I could tell they wanted to say something, to show their sorrow, but they didn't know quite what to say. I've lost no family or close friends, I said.

What else was there to say?

Then something happened that changed my perspective. A neighbor came to my door, her face mournful. She took both my hands in hers, and said, in French, that she was so sorry for the tragedy, that she hoped my family and friends were safe. All I could say in my weak French was, yes, "ma famille" was "tres bien." Tears came to my eyes.

She pointed to our names on the door, and said she had looked for our names in the paper, hoping she wouldn't see them. She was so sorry. "Merci, madame," I kept repeating. "Merci beaucoup."

Debra Bruno is a freelance writer.

Israel is fighting civilization's battle

Donald Rumsfeld couldn't have had better timing. On the day before the most calamitous attack in US history, the Defense secretary told CNN how fortunate the world had been that, in 1981, Israel had bombed and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak.

He was talking ostensibly about preventative attacks that might spare the world a rogue nuclear assault. But he was also plainly referring to Israeli measures to counteract terrorism and the justification for preemptive strikes. In light of Sept. 11, there are few Americans who would now disagree with him.

Preemptive action would have saved the lives of thousands of Americans and could unquestionably save even more now. With this in mind, the regular condemnation of Israel by the State Department and the incessant media outcry against Israel's surgical elimination of terror cells now seem like murmurs from a distant past. They in fact belong to a different world - a world more engaged in moral relativism and one far less willing to draw the stark distinctions between good and evil that Israelis have been required to make for years.

But while the world has changed in ways still unknown, a regressive blind spot remains lodged in the world's consciousness. The French ambassador to Israel, Jacques Huntzinger, told Israeli reporters on Thursday that there could be no comparisons drawn between the acts of terror perpetrated in the United States and Palestinian terrorism in Israel. Such a view reveals how unwilling are many of the world's statesmen to make the association between acts of Islamic terror in Israel and those occurring elsewhere.

But as mounting evidence links the terror campaign against Israel with other Islamic terrorist campaigns in Sudan, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, that unwillingness will suffer decisive challenge. It will underscore the cold reality that the only difference between an Islamic fundamentalist who blows himself up in a Jerusalem restaurant and another who deliberately rams the World Trade Center is that one of them knows how to fly a plane.

Avi Davis is the senior editorial columnist for Jewsweek.com.

Shades of Vietnam

Washington

Rep. Barbara Lee was odd woman out in the House's 420-to-1 vote Friday to back the use of military force against terrorism. The California Democrat stressed her conviction that military action would not prevent more terrorism against the US.

In her stance, Ms. Lee is in good company, joining the late Sen. Wayne Morse, the sole vote against the fateful Tonkin Gulf Resolution of Aug. 7, 1964, used as legal underpinning for the war in Vietnam.

I have déjà vu. I was an Army officer in the early '60s when "counterterrorism" came into vogue. Woefully uneducated in Southeast Asian history, our leaders had concluded that North Vietnam was attacking "democratic" South Vietnam through terrorism. Most of us had no idea that the Vietnamese "terrorists" had thrown off invaders from China, France, and Japan, and that millions of Vietnamese were again ready to drive off others.

We are no better educated on the history of the Middle East. If we were, then we might understand why so many of its people are willing to commit terrorist acts against the US.

We are simply going to make war on terrorists. And we will be no more successful this time - especially in view of the weapons available, including biological and chemical agents. What will work? A US approach that is less biased toward our Israeli friends, and more objective reporting from the press. With the world's attention on the US, Israeli leader Ariel Sharon sent tanks into Palestinian-controlled territory. On Friday, he ordered his foreign minister to boycott a meeting with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Those reports were buried in the back pages.

Peace won't come by military means. Mr. Sharon should know that. The biblical concept of shalom means nothing other than the experience of justice. No justice, no peace.

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst from 1964 to 1990.

American beauty

Plantation, Fla.

Before Sept. 11, joggers around my block were exchanging only looks of tentative acknowledgment. Today, those looks are purposeful smiles, affirming the commonality of being American. Thus, I was only mildly disappointed, and deeply stirred, after searching the local malls for a flag. Hundreds of residents had bought them all.

There are testaments to this American appeal everywhere. Today, for example, I watched my brother-in-law's teenage niece, here on an extended visit from her native Venezuela. She has seen to it that this household not remain flagless. With poster paper and markers in hand, she is crafting an American beauty.

Tal Abbady is a freelance writer.

Twin towers: my compass

TOKYO

I have only known New York with its twin towers, the first built in 1970, the year I was born.

The gleaming towers were New York incarnate. Growing up on Long Island, I thought of them as pillars holding up the city's skyline. Any trip up to the observation deck of the towers was a treat. At the top, my stomach turned and my shins tingled. Several times a year, our parents loaded the three of us into the car to head for "the city." The skyline was a stunning welcome mat.

Perhaps because my father is a civil engineer whose expertise is reinforced concrete, we had an extra appreciation that there was something truly special, something civilized, about man's ability to raise windows and desks and people into the sky.

When I grew up, I moved into the city and was surprised at how disoriented I often found myself in New York's web of streets. But looking up, I could sometimes see the massive columns of the World Trade Center and orient myself.

Perhaps the most memorable moment I had in the World Trade Center itself was the day I took my friend Jeff, born and raised in rural Missouri, on his first official tour of New York. The big trip was in honor of his visiting sister.

As we walked into Tower 1, its lobby decked in a somewhat glitzy marble that shouted New York prestige, Tammy gushed quite innocently.

"This is fan-CEE!" she said.

Jeff and I smiled at each other. I took a certain pride in showing them my city, our city, for the first time. If they were from America's heartland, this was another heart of America, the place that made sure we kept ticking.

Now I feel so far away. I feel, like New York itself, that we Americans have lost our compass.

Ilene Prusher is the Monitor's Tokyo correspondent.

Wait for the dust to settle

St. Andrews, Scotland

Great events are common, but defining moments rare. The first atomic blast at Alamogordo, N.M., was a defining moment: The atom was shattered, and so was the world. In came the atomic age, a cold war punctuated with plutonium. That age ended with the toppling of the Berlin Wall. It was, we were told, the end of history, the end of conflict, the triumph of liberalism.

Last Tuesday was another such moment. It wasn't just an attack upon America, but upon our cozy liberal world. This terrifying new age makes us yearn for the comfortable certitude of the cold war.

Change will come, though in unexpected ways. There may be war and recession, but both will be of fixed duration. More long lasting will be the little changes - the way we travel, the extent to which we trust.

Terrorism has been redefined, suffering requantified. Reporters have drawn comparisons with Pearl Harbor. The reference is appropriate, but also inappropriate. On Tuesday, the sword did not fall upon a distant military base. It was murder of civilians, ordinary people who went to work and died. The death toll will far exceed that of Dec. 7, 1941.

But the most valuable lesson of Pearl Harbor lies not in the act, but the aftermath. The cold-blooded Japanese attack is fortunately over-shadowed by Roosevelt's leadership. He sensed that the American people needed somehow to be reassured and united. He understood the tie that would bind them had to be made from determination, not simply anger.

Pearl Harbor demonstrates how a great leader recognizes the defining moment and provides a beacon. President Bush must channel American anger into a determination to rebuild and respond rationally. The baying wolves cry out for immediate retribution, but Mr. Bush must resist the temptation to stab in the dark. He must wait for the dust to settle. He must bear in mind what Winston Churchill said to his enemies: "You do your worst, and we will do our best."

Centuries ago, the warrior philosopher Sun Tzu taught that the most formidable commander is he who understands his enemy. If Bush strikes at his enemy without understanding him, disaster will ultimately follow disaster.

Huge events remind us how mundane life usually is. As time ticks along, nations are governed quite well by mediocrities. Recent history has demonstrated that a president does not have to be great to be good. And for the first time in years, America genuinely needs a leader.

Gerard J. DeGroot chairs the Department of Modern History at the University of St. Andrews.

Afghan heartache

Vienna, Va.

As I sit in my office, I am in tears. Why? I was born in Afghanistan. My longstanding fear has been realized. I knew that Afghan people would have to pay for having Osama bin Laden as its unwanted "guest." The fact that bin Laden is in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the people themselves. He is not an Afghan, and he is not supported by Afghans. He came by force and will leave only by force.

Afghans are terrorized themselves. For the past nine years, I have traveled 17 times to Afghanistan to deliver humanitarian aid. I have seen the pain of millions who are in constant fear, living a powerless existence.

For too long ours has been a forgotten nation - one that paid a heavy price by fighting a war for freedom against the Soviet Union, which benefited the United States and the world. This war helped end the cold war.

The foreigners who finance and support the operations of bin Laden have now fled the capital, leaving behind Afghans who look to the skies and brace for more war.

Let us hope the US government and the American people distinguish between the victims of terror, the Afghan people themselves, and the perpetrators of these unspeakable acts.

Suraya Sadeed runs a foundation, Help the Afghan Children, Inc.


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