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From the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 11)

Italy: Among Bin Laden’s Followers

Tiziano Terzani, Corriere della Sera (centrist), Milan, September 18, 2001

The world is no longer the one we knew; our lives have changed forever. Perhaps now is the time to think differently from how we have up till now, the time to reinvent the future—not once again to travel the same road that led us to today and that might, tomorrow, lead us to nothing.

Today, more than ever before, the survival of the human race is at stake. There is nothing more dangerous in a war—and we are entering into one—than underestimating one’s enemy, being ignorant of his thinking, in fact denying him any reason, defining him as “crazy.” The Islamic Jihad, that clandestine international network led for now by Sheik Osama bin Laden and that, in all likelihood, had its hand in the horrendous attacks on the United States, is anything but “insane.”

If we are to find a way out of the tunnel of dismay in which we now find ourselves, we must understand the people we are dealing with, and why. No Western journalist has managed to spend time with Bin Laden and observe him from close up, but some have been able to approach his followers and listen to them.

In 1996, I was able to spend a day in one of the training camps on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I left appalled and afraid. All that time amid the mullahs, hard and smiling, and all the young men in training, cold and scornful, I felt as if I had some disease. I had never felt contagious like that before, but in their eyes, my sickness was being Western, a representative of a decadent, materialist, exploitative civilization, one deaf to the universal values of Islam. I saw Bin Laden’s followers, scornful, free of any doubts. We must understand with whom we are dealing to find a way out.

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