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Before ascending, they must have a cause that's canonized by their community--the greatest cause on earth, capable of justifying their sacrifice in the eyes of their kin. It's not enough to die fighting for their country; they must be fighting for God. Once they have secured that cause, they search for a way to ennoble it in the eyes of ordinary people who do not share their holy delusion but whose admiration they crave. They know that most people respect logic and reason. So they go looking for a nationalistic cause: this is what Osama bin Laden did when he claimed the Palestinian cause as a justification for the destruction of Sept. 11.
But beneath their claims is a sadder truth: these extremists are pathologically jealous. They feel like dwarfs, which is why they search for towers and all those who tower mightily. We must admit that we failed to teach these people that life is worth living. These extremists exist now, and will exist forever, so the question before us must be, How can we defend both our lives and theirs? We in the Arab world love freedom and want the chance at a decent life. We are not different from you, as it sometimes seems. We may be just temporarily backward. Working together, our governments must decide how, with what culture and by what actions, they will combat the influence of those who hate life.
Ali Salem is a playwright and the author of several books, including Journey into Israel. He lives in Cairo