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TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Bin Laden tape a reminder of target of war on terror

Somehow, the war on terror got sidetracked.

In the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were firmly determined to capture those responsible for the attacks and bring them to justice. Osama bin Laden immediately became public enemy No. 1. There was no doubt that the United States would utilize all of its military resources in the search for Mr. bin Laden. History will likely remember the resultant liberation of Afghanistan from the grip of the Taliban as the most positive accomplishment of George W. Bush's presidency.

Yet, nearly five years later, the al-Qaida mastermind is still at large. And American resources have been diverted elsewhere in the Middle East.

Our leaders did a disservice to the country when they decided to shift focus from al-Qaida and Mr. bin Laden to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. While many politicians tried, and to an extent succeeded in, refocusing Americans' anger over 9-11 toward Saddam, the result has been less than desirable. The use of rhetoric referring to a general "enemy" and "terrorists" who "hate freedom" has confused many Americans and caused them to lose focus.

Sheik bin Laden is still out there, thumbing his nose at the West in general and the United States in particular. The U.S. occupation of Iraq has provided al-Qaida with propaganda and a vehicle for recruiting and training young terrorists.

Precious U.S. military resources are too preoccupied with the Iraqi insurgency to be involved in the hunt for Osama. Americans' attention has also been diverted.

So it is perhaps a blessing that Mr. bin Laden released an audiotape Sunday calling for all Arabs to resist the West's "war on Islam."

In the tape, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, the al-Qaida leader accused average Westerners of supporting a war on Islam and urged his followers to go to Sudan to resist a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

While it is true that the American political rhetoric has succeeded in persuading a segment of the population — right-wing pundits like Cal Thomas and David Horowitz, for example — that Islam equates to terror, most Americans understand that it is a person's actions, not his religious beliefs, that define a terrorist. Most Westerners reject the concept of a war on Islam. They wholeheartedly support a war on terror.

Even the militant Arab group Hamas, for whom Mr. bin Laden seemed to be drumming up support, distanced itself from his message.

No doubt Mr. bin Laden intended his recent propaganda to rally all Arabs against the West. But it had the unintended consequence of reminding us exactly who is the real enemy.

Now that Mr. bin Laden has stepped back into the spotlight, we need to refocus our resources accordingly.

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