As an Egyptian, I find myself compelled to apologize to the American people for what happened to them on Sept. 11. I apologize because one of those involved in that horrible disaster was Egyptian. As a man of letters, I declare myself innocent of having any part in the creation of the culture that spawned these individuals.
A long time before New York City's Twin Towers were destroyed, many towers in my country were brought down by this same brand of perpetrators. They killed President Anwar Sadat, who initiated peace with Israel and liberalism in Egypt; they killed the Egyptian writer Farag Fouda, a defender of freedom and secularism; they stabbed our Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, when he was 82 years old, after discovering that 30 years earlier he had written a novel they considered the work of an infidel. They said they had not read the novel. Who told them it was sacrilegious? Someone living in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan, or sitting in a London cafe or a mosque in New Jersey, told them so. In Egypt alone, these fundamentalists have killed more than 1,000 policemen and ordinary citizens, Christian and Muslim alike. In one of the most beautiful places on earth, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut in Luxor, they slaughtered nearly 60 tourists in 1997. In Algeria their sickles endlessly harvest the souls of the poor and helpless. They have committed all these crimes with the purpose of establishing the kingdom of God on earth and have succeeded only in turning our lives into hell.
In my country, art, education and the economy have all been leveled to a ground zero. I'm convinced, though, that the problem we face is not religious but political. And so it will never be solved with a religious summit. If you hold a meeting of Muslim sheiks, Christian pastors and Jewish rabbis, they inevitably come out with blissful smiles and report that they have found their values to be mostly identical, and they are right.
Extremism may claim God as its redeemer, but it's really the selfish product of lunacy. In America, the most free and modern nation of our time, you see it too. You saw it with Jim Jones, who told his flock in Guyana to follow him into death by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid, and you saw it when David Koresh created his own small hell in Waco, Texas.
In my part of the world, the Arab Middle East, a great tragedy results from our governments' well-intentioned attempts to cure society of extremism through education. These leaders, however, don't teach what they should to produce the values they want. They seek moderation and enforce piety. They seek citizens who value life, yet their school curriculums exalt the value of science and ignore philosophy and history and the liberal, humanistic values they embody. That is why those who excel in such a system are no less immune to the call of extremism.
Our governments assume that people need to understand Islam in its purest form to stay religiously moderate. The result is the mass production of true believers, not good citizens. Because people initially welcome the imposed piety but then gradually realize it doesn't equip them to meet the challenges of getting through life, life becomes a morbid burden. To shake off this burden, some of them, usually young men, can't wait for natural death and decide instead to take a short cut to heaven.