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Commentary

The war on EID

"I am pleased to send warm greetings to Muslims across the United States as you celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday,&

President George Bush wrote in a statement one recent year.

For Muslims in Pakistan, his warm greetings took the form of a surprise U.S. air strike on a remote Pakistani village. Bewildered Pakistanis have struggled to grasp how American guests could be so rude on an occasion that honors Abraham&

s willingness to sacrifice for his God.

Think there's a &

War on Christmas&

in American culture? Just imagine how Pakistanis are playing up the War on Eid. Given how many American evangelicals complain of feeling oppressed within a Christian majority nation, they should empathize with pious Muslims in a small nation that feels bullied by its American big brothers.

The air strike targeted Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, who, smelling danger, sent a few deputies in his place to an Eid dinner. The strike ended up killing about a dozen civilians, including women and children.

Reports speculated that at least four terrorists had been killed, but Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz soon denied that. Aziz condemned the air strike as an American trampling of Pakistani sovereignty even as he prepared to visit President Bush in Washington.

Bush has stated at times that he is no longer concerned with Osama bin Laden due to bin Laden's decreasing relevance. Why, then, was his deputy such a crucial target that we needed to bomb a Muslim nation on a sacred Muslim holiday?

The United States could just as well have sent in Girl Scouts to sell al-Zawahri exploding cookies. Or perhaps we could have used that ploy to round up hoodlums by sending them a notice that they will win a free TV if only they show up at a certain location at a certain time. In either case, there would not have been the need to do the deed on a sacred holiday for a pious people &

a people who try to support America, while distrusting American intentions toward Muslims.

The air strike could almost have been tailor-made by an al-Qaida public relations machine: Announce that al-Qaida is inviting everyone to a holiday barbecue &

some lamb, some halal baked potatoes, balloons for the kids and prayers for the adults &

and just wait for the Americans to come crashing the party.

Pakistan, a boneyard of easy political answers and an incubator of nuclear technology, begs for a measured and steady hand to guide it through its awkward adolescence. Few Americans, Europeans or Pakistanis seem satisfied with the leadership of Aziz and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, but few appreciate how difficult their jobs are.

Musharraf attempts to work with the United States, although his citizenry is deeply cynical.

A comprehensive 2004 Pew survey of global attitudes showed that 50 percent of Pakistanis viewed America very unfavorably, with another 11 percent viewing it merely unfavorably. Ten times as many Pakistanis trusted the United Nations over the United States to bring stability to Iraq. Two-thirds believed the United States had been overreacting to the threat of terrorism.

Nearly 60 percent doubted American talk of promoting democracy &

with a similar number opposed to the U.S. War on Terrorism.

More recent polls show a reduction in anti-Americanism, especially after American efforts to assist Kashmir earthquake victims. But given the latest events, you can expect to see greater certainty among Pakistanis that the War on Terrorism and the War on Eid conflate within the American mind.

The easy answer for some is to insert into Pakistan a manner of leaders who will spread a more pro-Western gospel. But they will not soon find a more appropriate person for that role than Musharraf, who is in constant danger for his trouble.

George Bush deserves more credit than he has received from critics for attempts to assure Muslims that America is not at war with them. Still, American actions consistently create more doubts than his words can assuage.

Do not desecrate a subservient nation's altars, Machiavelli cautioned, lest you ignite enduring enmity. The Eid air strike accomplished just that manner of sentiment. It is one more regrettable source of anti-American hatred, catalyzing a movement that has made us less safe in mocking spite of our immense might.