The bourgeois terrorist: This is the new class of antagonist, the new type of enemy, that the United States now faces in the Middle East.
This was brought to the world’s attention by May Elias Mansour, the lady--and she is very much a lady--who is suspected of planting the bomb that exploded April 2 on the TWA plane en route to Athens. When she appeared at a press conference in Lebanon three days later, even the blase, hardened Lebanese sat up and took notice.
Terrorists in this part of the world have generally been either bitter, desperate young men and women from Palestinian refugee camps or, to use the American terminology, “Muslim extremists.” Mansour, attractive and fashionable, is startlingly different. And her personal profile is hardly typical of those who engage in terrorist acts. The 31-year-old widow has a 9-year-old daughter and owns a boutique. She is partly paralyzed from the effects of a stroke, and she is a Greek Orthodox Christian from the Koura area in northern Lebanon--a part of the country that generally has been spared the destruction caused by the Lebanese civil war and the Israeli invasion.
She said that she had gone to Cairo for a vacation and also to buy goods and employ seamstresses for her boutique; from there she flew to Athens. But she lacked an entry visa to go into town, she said, so she did not leave the Athens airport before returning home via Beirut.
But there is another, very different, side, because May Mansour is no mere model of radical chic. She made clear that she is a political and military activist of long standing. She joined Lebanon’s Syrian National Social Party in 1970 and has “fought with the party since 1975.” With her husband she took part in military actions against the invading Israelis in 1982 and at other times against the pro-Israeli, pro-U.S. Maronite militias. She said that her husband, a Druze, was killed in one of those clashes after being released from an Israeli detention camp in 1985. Yet she firmly denied that she had anything to do with the TWA incident: “I am not an explosives expert . . . . I am not a barbarian . . . . I do not kill innocent children.”
Asked whether she had taken part in any actions outside Lebanon, she answered, “I have not yet had that honor.” She became even more defiant when she said of the bombing, “I cannot say it was a criminal act,” and then added--and this is the crux of the matter--"I support attacks against American military targets or politicians and important people who have influence. I am against the United States as an army, a country, a policy.They have shelled our houses and killed our children.”
In the West there have been student terrorists and academic terrorists and upper-class terrorists who have dropped out of their class. It has been left to the Middle East to produce the terrorist who remains a practicing bourgeois. The attitude of this chic, middle-class, Lebanese Christian widow is typical of many people of her class in many Arab countries. She is atypical in having acted on her beliefs, if not necessarily in the TWA bombing.
While this class is socially and culturally pro-Western, its alienation from America has become widespread during President Reagan’s tenure. As Mansour said, U.S. policies made her what she is; the actions of the 6th Fleet cannot change her ideas but can only confirm them.
Mansour’s party, which is supported by Damascus, advocates the merger of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and what it calls Palestine into a “Greater Syria.” So a Syrian connection to terrorism could be claimed, but has not been in this instance. Why, it is being asked, does the United States not denounce and attack Syria as it has Libya? The answer given is that Syria is too dangerous a target and, it is alleged, that there has long been covert political collusion between Washington and Damascus.
If May Mansour is guilty, then all the hasty claims made by Israel and the State Department concerning a Libyan connection via Palestinians like Abu Musa and Abu Nidal are just tendentious propaganda. As the world now sees, there is yet another universe of discourse and action, socially and politically, in the Middle East.