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The Terrorism Trap

August 21, 2003

Terror is easy. Peace is hard. Rescuers digging through the rubble of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and those separating the living from the dead on a Jerusalem bus this week presented a too-familiar portrait of horror. Behind the scenes of carnage hovered the question of whether the creation of a free Iraq with some type of representative government and the establishment of a Palestinian nation are doomed. They need not be. Other cities and countries have overcome shattered bodies and buildings. It takes help from outside and a devotion to the goal by those inside.

How can two groups compete to say they put a man on a bus carrying a bomb with, to make it more lethal, ball bearings? Yet both Islamic Jihad and Hamas boasted that the Jerusalem bomber was theirs. His widow did not ask how she would support their children; she exulted in his "martyrdom." The murderer was a preacher in a mosque. How twisted must a man be to find in a religion justification for slaying children?

What leads another man to drive a truck into a Baghdad building filled with those trying to help people recover from war? Whether a Saddam Hussein loyalist or a foreign terrorist trying to drive out the United States, he murders people who for years have fed more than half of Iraqis and who work to put roofs on schools and to stop sewage from polluting drinking water.

Terrorists defy easy profiling. They are not necessarily young, single men without money or a future. Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka and Islamic extremists in Israel have sent young women with bombs strapped around their waists into bus terminals and restaurants. Some murderers have college degrees to match their fanaticism.

The most efficient way to root out the vipers is to deny them sanctuary. Rather than applaud the explosions, Palestinians should condemn them and understand that terrorist acts destroy the credibility of groups like Hamas that claim their primary tasks are feeding and educating refugees. Iraqis need to stop neighbors who tear down electrical lines, blow up oil fields and kill U.S. troops and U.N. workers. No matter the supposed cause, the terror harms the Iraqis.

Al Qaeda -- formed from a hatred of U.S. "infidel" soldiers in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites -- has support in many countries. But those who cheer it are a minority. Terrorists destroy; they do not build. Construction is harder, whether it be of a unifying national philosophy or with bricks and concrete. Nihilists pop up but do not flourish. Building peace is possible, as is evident in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, East Timor and Kosovo. The process is long and requires resolve not just from good Samaritans but also from those they assist.

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