EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–I was in Khartoum, Sudan, the summer after the United States hit the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in response to the embassy bombings. Our intelligence said the plant had been used to produce nerve gas for Osama bin Laden. Sure enough, he’d been a presence in the country and had even funded some highway construction north of the city. But it’s still not clear whether he had used this factory to support his terrorism.
I was curious about the site, but I was reluctant to ask the driver to take us there. I figured he might unleash a tirade about my country, “The Great Satan.” Maybe he’d even turn me in to the authorities for suspicious behavior. Perhaps they’d take me for a CIA operative working on an after-action report. But my interest overruled my reservations, and I asked if we might take a look.
I was surprised at how readily and pleasantly he granted my request. And when we got to the site, I was even more surprised that we were allowed to tour the ruins. There were a few soldiers there standing guard, but they let us in. The same thing happened again a few days later with a different driver. This time I took some photos and gathered some souvenirs, including a medicine bottle and a riddled piece of metal.
I expected to hear stern words from the Sudanese, but instead I heard words of wonder and appreciation for the United States. Neither driver was glad that we’d done the deed. Both believed the plant was innocent and that we had made an intelligence error. But both were impressed with two things. First, they were amazed at our pinpoint accuracy. The plant was demolished by a number of missiles, but the surrounding property was untouched. Second, they were impressed that the missiles arrived when only a few folks were there, the night security crew.
Of course, the official Sudanese government response was outrage. They had even issued a postage stamp to commemorate the “obscenity.” This was odd indignation from a state which, in the name of Islamic law, sharia, had displaced, terrorized and killed countless Christian and animist citizens in the southern part of the country. The man on the street was a different matter, for he’d picked up on two of America’s admirable qualities — scientific/technological excellence and respect for the just war theory.
For one thing, he knows it is inconceivable that Sudan could invent and produce a cruise missile. This would take a scientific community grounded in a tradition of free inquiry, a corporate and industrial sector sustained by the rule of law and a tradition of productivity, and the treasury of a developed nation. These were not the strong suits of this particular brand of Islam.
But more than this, our drivers saw in us a moral sensitivity which was lost on their own leaders who had embraced bin Laden. The fact that we would take pains to minimize the loss of life and that we would direct our attack toward what we took to be a military target did not escape them. As Romans 2:14-15 teaches us, the gentiles who don’t have the Torah still have the law of God written on their hearts, either accusing or excusing them through their root consciences.
Men of conscience have formulated rules for war, among which is the principle of regard for the safety of non-combatants. These Sudanese resonated with our respect for that principle.
Now that New York and Washington have been hit, some are trying the old “moral equivalency” argument — “Well, what do you expect? We’ve bombed Khartoum and Baghdad. We’ve funded weapons used by Israelis to attack Palestinian sites. Now we’ve gotten a taste of our own medicine!” Oh? Which civilian office tower did we intentionally bomb in Sudan or Iraq? Which corporate headquarters have the Israelis targeted for the purpose of slaughtering office workers at the hour of maximum occupancy? Which tourist buses or restaurants have we splattered by design?
One marvels at the inability or determination of some to miss the difference between terrorism and military engagement. But one takes comfort in the fact that whatever our current religious or cultural differences, at base we are made in the image of God, and the cause of one who would slaughter innocents cannot endure. We’re wired to reject it. Thank God for this. And thank God that Americans recognize the distinction.
Yes, we need better intelligence. Yes, we can beef up security. But our greatest security lies in our goodness and moral resolve, and by God’s grace a fair amount of that remains. So take your best shot, terrorists. You’re going down, not because you’re careless or strapped for cash, but because God has wired men and women to despise your tactics.