Iraq War Raises Suspicion of New 'Crusade'

A M M A N , Jordan, March 31, 2003 -- The idea that the West, particularly the Bush administration, is pursuing a war against Islam again may be growing in the Muslim world.

Arab television networks have been broadcasting bloody images of the aftermath of U.S. bombing raids in Iraq, reminding many people in the Middle East of the slaughter and the violence that happened during the Middle Ages when the Roman pope sent Christian crusaders against Islam.

The networks have been showing Muslims from Jordan, Syria and Algeria streaming into Iraq, saying they are ready for martyrdom.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said 4,000 Arab volunteers have arrived to carry out suicide attacks against coalition forces in the country.

After Vietnam and Afghanistan

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today predicted that a drawn-out war in Iraq could create "a hundred bin Ladens."

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters, "this war can only lead to strife, to bloodshed, and to increased hatred, and increased anxieties in the region.

Fawaz Gerges, an ABCNEWS analyst and professor of International Affairs and Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, said "there is a high risk that Iraq will become a symbol of Muslim resistance against American military presence similar to Afghanistan for the Soviets."

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, a Muslim country, in 1979 and set up an atheist Communist state. In the decade that followed, tens of thousands of young Muslims from around the world flooded into the country to fight the Soviets, making it the site of the Soviet Union's bloodiest military debacle.

Afghanistan became known as the "Vietnam of the Soviet Union." Osama bin Laden was one of those who joined the fight.

A Key Word

The calls for jihad have been coming from religious leaders, from Internet chat rooms and from massive demonstrations in Arab capitals.

But it's not only the type of people who take to the streets to participate in angry protests who are adopting the view that Americans have launched a war specifically against Muslims.

Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Al Azhar University — the most-respected institution of religious learning in the Muslim world — said shortly before the war in Iraq began, that attempts to resist an American attack are a "binding Islamic duty."

Tantawi was one of the first clerics to condemn the Sept. 11,2001, attacks and to dismiss Osama bin Laden's jihadi credentials as fraudulent.

Alia Toukan, a Jordanian journalist and media consultant who has lived in both the United States and Canada, said her suspicions and other Muslims' suspicions about American motives are personified in President Bush, a born-again Christian who used the word "crusade" five days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while," the president said.

'Crusade' Wasn't a Mistake

In the Muslim mind, the word crusade conjures images of wars of Christian conquest.

"It alarmed people then," Toukan said. "You could have ignored it months later if there wasn't anything to back that up. But what's happening now on the ground is actually making people think, 'Oh, that wasn't a Freudian slip.'"

Moderate Muslims worry that if the war gets longer and bloodier, the "crusade" argument will gain resonance. The Muslims America needs the most will, they say, be drowned out by the Muslims who hate America the most.

"Let's have a cease-fire," Saudi Arabia's foreign minister pleaded to Barbara Walters today. Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally.

"Let's have a cease-fire that allows for diplomacy to work," he said.

ABCNEWS' Dan Harris and Barbara Walters contributed to this report.