Doubts raised about the quality of evidence supporting President Clinton’s decision to bomb alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan last month demonstrate the dangers inherent in relying on military force vs. prudent policy development when dealing with the growing problem of global radicalism.
As a native American of the Islamic faith and a citizen deeply concerned about the dangers posed to free societies by unbridled radical behavior, Islamic or otherwise, I have spent significant time and personal resources in countries like Sudan, Pakistan and Malaysia unraveling what lies beneath the seething hatred of America from afar.
While many American Muslims have tried to educate U.S. political leaders about the sensitivities that we as Americans often ignore in handling matters unique to the Islamic world, our efforts are equally aimed at finding ways to hold the Muslim world’s political leaders accountable for their sometimes irreverent transgressions, many of which are un-Islamic.
One such effort at private citizen diplomacy resulted in a meaningful counterterrorism offer from Sudan’s militant Islamic government to U.S. authorities in April 1997, an offer which, if acted on in a timely manner, could have prevented potential Sudanese chemical weapons malfeasance from taking root, checked U.S. military assets from being deployed without more credible evidence of wrongdoing and possibly reduced the threat we Americans now face from an even more angry Islamic radical fringe.
In April 1997, I hand carried the offer from President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, Sudan’s military strongman, to Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. In the letter, which is now part of the Congressional Record, Bashir stated, “We extend an offer to the FBl’s counterterrorism units and any other official delegations . . . to come to the Sudan and work with our External Intelligence Department in order to assess the data in our possession and help us counter the forces your government and ours seek to contain.”
The reasoning behind my approach to Bashir was simple: If Sudan was genuinely not harboring terrorists or fomenting radicalism after its decision in 1996 to expel Osama bin Laden, the alleged Saudi mastermind of the Tanzanian and Kenyan bombings, the only way to prove Khartoum’s complicity or innocence was to invite America’s premier institutions that fight global terrorism into the country to have an unobstructed look.
In this way, the Sudanese people could be assured America was holding true to its principle of innocent until proved guilty, while U.S. national security advisors would retain their options in dealing with signs of terrorist training camps, illicit chemical weapons factories or other problems associated with the surge in radical Islamic behavior. Equally important, ordinary Americans might not have to face angry Muslim radicals unless the evidence of guilt uncovered was compelling and condemnable not only by the U.S. but by the world community.
The Sudanese were willing to explore rapprochement through me because of my sensitivities to Islam enveloped in a deeply rooted commitment to American ideals. Such sentiments were relayed to President Clinton in an August 1996 “olive branch” letter from Sudan’s ideological leader, Hassan Turabi.
The counterterrorism offer was a factor in last October’s decision by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to order U.S. diplomats back into Sudan after an 18-month hiatus based on security concerns--a decision that was reversed three days later when National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger and Defense Secretary William Cohen presented evidence alleging Sudanese malfeasance in chemical warfare agents--evidence they have now admitted was inconclusive and circumstantial.
Why wasn’t Bashir’s offer acted on sooner? In fact, it is precisely this inaction by U.S. authorities that raises the deep skepticism pervading America’s Muslims as well as many Muslims around the world about the true agenda in Washington for dealing with complex and unstable elements in the Islamic world.
If there was incontrovertible U.S. intelligence pointing to terrorist malfeasance in Sudan, the U.S. should have warned the Sudanese, told them precisely what it would do to them if they did not stop and then, based on their response, taken the appropriate action. Rather, the U.S. hit a target where credible evidence has surfaced that either no VX nerve gas precursors were being manufactured or U.S. intelligence again simply marked the wrong target.
The key to defusing radical Muslim behavior cannot be found in choosing its most vulnerable targets for missile practice, but rather in raising up the Islamic world’s most disaffected people so that they are not as desperate to tear us down. We must resolve to engage rather than contain the elements of Islam we do not understand. American Muslims must be foremost in assisting with this effort. If we do not, we might find soon one day that terrorism on our soil was born of the unjust and indiscriminate policies we condoned through our complacency, inaction and ignorance.