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.
"Bush is walking a fine line," suggested Dominique Moisi, a
political analyst with the French Institute for International
Relations, the country's top foreign policy think tank. "The same black
and white language he uses to rally Americans behind him is just the
sort of language that risks splitting the international coalition he is
trying to build.
"This confusion between politics and religion...risks encouraging a
clash of civilizations in a religious sense, which is very dangerous,"
On Monday, Taliban deputy leader Mohammed Hasan Akhund warned his
fellow Afghans to prepare for 'Jihad' - holy war - against America, if
US forces attack Afghanistan.
While almost every world leader agrees with Washington that the
terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center were evil, not all of
those leaders - especially in the Middle East - identify the United
States with good.
British prime minister Tony Blair has gone out of his way this week
to make it clear that the battle against terrorists is a battle not
between Christians and Muslims, but between civilized values and
fanaticism. In that battle, he said Monday "the vast majority of decent
law-abiding Muslims" opposed fanaticism.
It is their support for Washington's war that could be undermined by
the sort of language on the president's lips, warns Hussein Amin, a
former Egyptian ambassador who now lectures on international affairs.
"The whole tone is that of one civilization against another," he finds.
"It is a superior way of speaking and I fear the consequences - the
world being divided into two between those who think themselves
superior" and the rest.
Moderate Muslim opinion could also easily be swayed against America,
predicted Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, head of the Muslim Parliament in
Britain, an umbrella group for Muslim organizations. "If they end up
killing innocent civilians it will be very unfair," Dr. Siddiqui said.
"The problems will arise if people see that justice has not been done."
French President Jacques Chirac, who arrived in Washington Tuesday,
and Mr. Blair, who will see Bush Thursday, are expected to offer
Europe's solidarity, but to stop short of offering Washington a blank
check. If European help is needed, Europeans want to be in on the
planning, officials here say.