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Knight Bush

Bush called the U.S. effort a "crusade."

September 18, 2001

PARIS, Sept 18: As US President George W. Bush strove on Tuesday to build a world coalition against terrorism, experts warned that his choice of language could widen the gulf between the United States and the Islamic world.

Middle East watchers and diplomats winced when he used the word "crusade" to describe his anti-terror campaign and sighed when he recalled the rough justice of the Wild West in saying he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive".

"He uses a lot of cowboy terminology," said Marwan Bishara, a lecturer in international relations at the American University in Paris. "He seems like a guy who makes too many statements from his ranch.

"He comes up with all kinds of metaphors which are way off the mark, not just for the Arabs but also for the entire international community," he said.

Last week's devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would have represented a huge challenge to any US presidency, and the world has held its breath as it watched how the young and inexperienced Bush would react.

He has won praise from many in the West for his determination to prevent an anti-Muslim backlash inside the United States and to build international support. But the slips of language that dogged his father's presidency have raised concerns.

A senior French diplomat who praised Bush's reaction to the attacks as "responsible" noted that "it took a little while for the lights to come on" when the president was seeking to reassure the world.

One early slip, experts noted, came at the weekend when on a visit to the partly demolished Pentagon, Bush warned: "This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while."

The word "crusade" has lost some of its impact in the West since it was coined to describe the campaign launched by medieval Christian Europe to capture and hold the holy city of Jerusalem. But it is still felt with much of its former force in the Arab and Muslim world, where the memory of Islam's 200-year struggle with Europe's knights and warrior monks is regularly invoked. And it has become a motif of the United States' new public enemy number one - Osama bin Laden - who has proclaimed that his jihad is directed against a "Jewish-crusader alliance".

Bush's gaffe appears to have played into the hands of Bin Laden's propaganda machine, and caused unnecessary offence in a nervous and unstable Middle East and southern Asia.

As an editorial piece in the French daily Le Monde remarked acidly:
"Governing people, and not just governing Texans, is first of all about governing your words. For example, when you speak about a crusade, you have to realise what an explosive concept it represents for many people."

The need to tailor his pronouncements for a wary international audience will become more and more clear to Bush as he strives to reassure Arabs and Muslims around the world that his fight is not with them but the killers alleged to be hiding in their midst, commentators said.

If Washington hopes to launch any serious military action in Afghanistan, experts believe it will have to secure agreement from at least one neighbouring country to serve as a base for the attacks.

Many countries would like to help, but local leaders are painfully aware of the danger of provoking anti-US sentiment in their own populations, a mood which will not be helped if Bush sounds further false notes.

"We can tell that he has not exactly been groomed to speak language of reconciliation, the language of compromise," Bishara said.

"What remains essential and obvious is that without the Arabs and the Muslim world... any such mission (to strike at bin Laden) is impossible." -AFP