Wishing won't erase rage against U.S.A.

Wouldn't a solar-powered, water-combustible engine be a beautiful thing?

Dip water from a rain barrel straight into your fuel tank and forget about the Middle East, its vast reservoirs of oil and its men, women and children on the street who believe killing 5,393 innocent Americans is justifiable.

Makes you wish President Reagan didn't gut alternate fuels research back in the early '80s. Makes you wish America's economy didn't require oil for its lifeblood.

But this is no time for wishes.

Since Sept. 11, the United States of America must concern itself with realities.

Osama bin Laden's terrorist network hit our nation hard, and America must grind the man and his cohorts into the bloody soil. By necessity, our response must be methodical and grisly.

But if you think sending bin Laden straight to hell will solve our problems in the Middle East, you're just wishing.

No matter how hard the hammer falls on bin Laden and his lieutenants, the threat to the United States will remain until we change the perceptions of the men, women and children living in the Middle East.

Bin Laden and others have been stirring hatred toward the U.S. for years. They've made and distributed propaganda videos throughout the Muslim world that brand our country as the root of all evil.

Unemployed men living in war-ravaged countries with no obvious opportunity see pictures of starving Muslim children in Iraq and Israeli assassinations in the disputed territories.

"By Allah," the men say. "Look at what the Americans are doing to us. I must join the fight."

By truth, Middle Easterners have been more victimized by their own rulers over the years than anything we in America have done to them.

The Taliban kills people in Afghanistan. America feeds them.

Don't you wish the men and women on the street in the Middle East realized this?

Forget about wishes. It's our job to prove America is not the evil empire the terrorists show us to be.

If we were to build, say, 10 hospitals in the region, what would that do?

Maybe a few of bin Laden's potential recruits would have jobs and money coming in, so his lure wouldn't be as great.

We'd also provide bin Laden with another target. Let him blow up hospitals meant to help Arabs and Muslims and see what that does to his recruitment figures.

Far more than the military and police effort, the battle for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world will determine the long-term comfort level of everyday Americans.

This goes far beyond food drops.

By raising standards of living and doing all we can to introduce thriving, market economies in the Middle East, we greatly reduce the number of discontented people.

This isn't nation-building, and it's not appeasement.

This is enlightened self-interest, the idea that our lives will greatly improve as long as we dedicate ourselves to improving the lives of others.

Most of the world's people perceive the U.S. of A. as the land of freedom and opportunity. Why else would legions of families uproot from homes in the four corners of the world to come to the great American melting pot?

But there are millions of Middle Easterners who see America as a tyrant, not a trusted friend.

That perception will not change until we realize a committed, long-term effort to win the trust of the Arab and Muslim world is the only path to lasting peace and prosperity.

I hope our leaders fully understand this. Hopes are so much better than wishes, but only if they're acted upon.

M. Scott Morris is the Daily Journal entertainment writer.

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