Tue, 18 Sep 2001

A case for restraint

There are worrying reports of Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. and elsewhere becoming targets of a hate campaign in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The United States' great strength is that it is a free, tolerant and open society, where people of different faiths prosper and co-exist.

The destruction of the World Trade Center, the hijacking of four aircraft and the attack on the Pentagon has led to great loss of life and property.

But it has not affected the basic fabric of American society, nor the values on which it is based.

But if these attacks are to lead to a new climate of intolerance, then the terrorist attacks would have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of those who carried them out and fundamentally change the nature of American society.

At present, there is little indication that this intolerance will grow.

U.S. President George W. Bush has cautioned against targeting ethnic minorities in the United States.

If it is vital to prevent blind revenge within the United States, it is equally important not to succumb to the temptation to launch impetuous retaliatory attacks abroad.

The prime suspect for Tuesday's attacks, Osama bin Laden, lives in Afghanistan, and that country is now bracing for an American attack of some kind.

The sight of American bombs and rockets thudding into that impoverished country will no doubt provide cathartic relief to a nation eager to find and punish those who masterminded the attacks.

But it would be a mistake to do so before two conditions are fulfilled.

First, there needs to be compelling evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks, and secondly, there must be some certainty that military action can be targeted precisely enough to affect bin Laden and his network rather than innocent civilians.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has provided welcome assurances that the United States will not act in haste.

-- The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong