As Europeans wait to see how the United States is planning to retaliate for last week's attacks on Washington and New York, there is growing anxiety here about the tone of American war rhetoric.
President Bush's reference to a "crusade" against terrorism, which passed almost unnoticed by Americans, rang alarm bells in Europe. It raised fears that the terrorist attacks could spark a 'clash of civilizations' between Christians and Muslims, sowing fresh winds of hatred and mistrust.
"We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs," French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said on Sunday. "One has to avoid falling into this huge trap, this monstrous trap" which he said had been "conceived by the instigators of the assault."
On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile." He and other US officials have said that renegade Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden is the most likely suspect in the attacks.
His use of the word "crusade," said Soheib Bensheikh, Grand Mufti of the mosque in Marseille, France, "was most unfortunate", "It recalled the barbarous and unjust military operations against the Muslim world," by Christian knights, who launched repeated attempts to capture Jerusalem over the course of several hundred years.
Bush sought to calm American Muslims' fears of a backlash against them on Monday by appearing at an Islamic center in Washington. There he assured Americans that "the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about."
But his earlier comments, declaring a war between good and evil, shocked Europeans. "If this 'war' takes a form that affronts moderate Arab opinion, if it has the air of a clash of civilizations, there is a strong risk that it will contribute to Osama bin Laden's goal: a conflict between the Arab-Muslim world and the West," warned the Paris daily Le Monde on Tuesday in an editorial.