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Anger outweighs any empathy for US

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Many Arab Muslims greeted the Sept. 11 anniversary with neither cheers nor tears, but with a brooding sense of grievance - and, among some, open satisfaction at American suffering.

''What happened to America was righteous repayment for America's arrogance in the world. How could I feel badly?'' Mohammed Fadel Abdel Halim, a 45-year-old drywall installer, said as he sipped Turkish coffee in a cafe in the clamorous heart of this Palestinian city.

''Inasmuch as Osama bin Laden did what he did to fight American injustice, then he is a hero,'' Abdel Halim said. ''Soon, Saddam Hussein, too, will be a hero.''

Across the Middle East, the mood ranged from somber to sullen - from dismayed to defiant - a year after the attacks that many Muslims believe have unfairly turned international opinion against them.

In Lebanon, public services were held in memory of the victims, a rarity in the region. But in Iraq, the front page of the state-owned Al Iktisadi newspaper featured a photograph of the burning World Trade Center and a headline written in blood red: ''God's Punishment.''

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab News published an editorial that urged the world not to judge all Muslims by the atrocity - but also called upon Muslims to reflect upon their own attitudes.

''The fact that those responsible for the attacks were allegedly our fellow Muslims ... should make us stop and ponder,'' editor Khaled al-Maeena wrote. ''We must investigate, and if, in the course of our investigation, we stumble across things that are unpleasant or unpalatable, we must confront them as honestly and as sincerely as we can.''

In the Palestinian West Bank, reoccupied by Israeli troops in June following a wave of suicide bombings, the prevailing attitude seemed to be a blend of resentment and anger.

''America is the true terrorist,'' said Ahmed Rezak Shamasneh, 60, a retired laborer whose house was destroyed when Israeli tanks churned into Ramallah in April to suppress armed militants. ''It is the ally of Israel, which is killing our people. It is the country that drops bombs on poor Afghans.''

A year ago, Westerners were stunned by televised images of Palestinians rejoicing in the streets to celebrate the collapse of the twin towers.

There were no such celebrations on the anniversary, partly because Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority - stunned by plummeting international support because of its ambivalent stand on suicide attacks against Israelis - said that there would be no tolerance for public demonstrations of glee.

''There is nothing to celebrate. What's done is done,'' said Murad Shreiteh, 31, who sells pants from a street stand near Ramallah's Al Manara Square. ''And America remains the root of all troubles. Our people have suffered more than any American can imagine.''

His remarks seemed to reflect a view widely held among ordinary people throughout the Arab world, many of whom feel their societies and faith have unfairly been branded ''terrorist'' because of the murderous misdeeds of relatively small numbers of Islamic radicals.

''The explosions in New York and Washington have directed a deadly blow ... to the Palestinian people and to other Arab peoples, staining them with charges of terrorism,'' said Arfan Nizam Eddin, an Arab affairs analyst for Al Quds, an Arabic-language newspaper published in Jerusalem.

Nearly all the Palestinians interviewed yesterday said they considered Sept. 11 a long-overdue day of reckoning for a strutting superpower.

There were a few exceptions.

''I feel such pity for the poor people who died so terribly,'' said Nader Dalou, a Christian Arab who owns a small grocery store near the city center. He said he admires the United States as a land of freedom and opportunity.

Asked how many of his Muslim acquaintances shared that sorrow, Dalou gave an embarrassed shrug: ''None of them. ... America is mistrusted, feared, and, yes, hated.''

Meanwhile, many inhabitants of the Islamic world are adamant that the attacks were not committed by Muslim radicals, but were the work of a Jewish conspiracy. In a weird contradiction, the same people who insist no Muslim could have done such a wicked deed will add - often in the same breath - that bin Laden deserves praise for daring to strike a blow against a country reviled across the region for supporting Israel.

Islamic extremists say they despise the United States as a fount of decadence. But average people of the workaday Arab world seem less disturbed by American culture than by Washington's foreign policy - specifically it's unswerving support for Israel.

Even in Kuwait, liberated from Iraqi occupation by the United States, a recent opinion poll found that 74 percent of inhabitants see bin Laden as a hero. In Egypt, another American ally, more voices are speaking out against the United States.

''I feel sorry for the innocent people who died,'' Zohra Ramadan, a 65-year-old grandmother in Cairo, told the Reuters news agency. ''But I feel sorrier for the millions of our innocent people who have died or are still dying or lead miserable lives because of America.''

Anthony Shadid of the Globe Staff, correspondent Sa'id Ghazali, and Alon Tuval, news assistant in the Globe's Jerusalem bureau, contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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