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'Crusade' dropped after Arab-Americans cite negative historical connotation

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

By Ann McFeatters, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. public remains solidly behind President Bush's tough stance against terrorism and his resolve to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks on the United States, but some of his rhetoric has caused the White House problems.

When Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both called the war on terrorism a "crusade," Arab leaders around the globe winced.

James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit group, said the word connotes the Crusades that Christian Europeans waged militarily in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries to wrest control of the Holy Land from Muslims. "It was not a good period in history," he said.

The word choice was unfortunate, Zogby said, at a time when the United States needs to be building bridges with Arab Americans as Bush tries to assemble an international coalition to fight terrorism.

Daniel Benjamin, a national security officer in the Clinton administration, told reporters: "I think we really should avoid using the term 'crusade' because it is so charged. It summons up essentially 700 [or] 800 years of what Muslims view as Western oppression and Western intrusion into their sphere."

After the president's and vice president's remarks, Zogby and many others telephoned the White House, and administration officials gave private reassurances that the word would not be used again.

Another Bush phrase that startled some came Monday, while the president was at the Pentagon, when he spoke off the cuff about Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, still the prime suspect behind the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. Bush referred to wanted frontier law enforcement posters: "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

He went on to explain: "All I'm doing is remembering when I was a kid, I remember that they used to put out there in the Old West a wanted poster. It said: 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.' All I want and America wants [is for] him [to be] brought to justice."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, elaborating on Bush's comments, said the terrorists who attacked last week "need to be held accountable. There are a variety of ways of holding people accountable."

Bush has been increasingly graphic about what he calls the barbarism of the terrorists. "I know that this is a different type of enemy than we're used to. ... It's barbaric behavior. They slit throats of women on airplanes in order to achieve an objective that is beyond comprehension. ...."

He was quoted as telling senators on Capitol Hill: "I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive. That will require much more than the military."

Administration officials said Bush is trying to strike a balance between making sure the American people are behind him while not using rhetoric that could hurt the U.S. coalition-building effort abroad.

A number of U.S. officials have said it's time to rescind the ban on assassinations of political leaders, and a Harris Interactive poll for Time magazine and CNN showed that 81 percent of Americans polled last weekend said they favor assassinating terrorist leaders. About 78 percent said they believe that bin Laden was responsible for masterminding the jet hijackings.

Eighty-eight percent of the respondents said Bush has been good or very good at leading the nation in response to the attacks. About 75 percent said they think Congress is doing a good job -- almost double what it has been before the terror attacks.

In Europe, there has been some criticism of Bush's "we are at war" rhetoric and concern about what impact of potential U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan, which has hosted bin Laden since 1996, would have on the poverty-stricken people there who have yet to recover from years of war against Russia.

But notwithstanding those concerns, overall European reaction to Bush's plans has been favorable, even though the U.S. president had previously been regarded by many there as a maverick who paid insufficient attention to the continent's concerns. Polls in the past two days indicate that 72 percent of the French, 69 percent of Germans and 66 percent of those in Great Britain support Bush's call for military retaliation.

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