The events of Sept. 11 are extremely difficult for a child to understand. What should you tell your child when he or she asks why this happened? Obviously, there's no easy answer, but the following is a start:
- Sit your child down, and gently explain to him or her that the destruction of the Twin Towers was part of a Holy War, or jihad, against the U.S. perpetrated by a small faction of Islamic fundamentalists bent on the annihilation of Western society.
- As your child may or may not know, much of modern Islamic fundamentalism has its roots in the writings of Sayyid Qutb, whose two-year sojourn to the U.S. in the late 1940s convinced him that Western society and non-Islamic ideologies were flawed and corrupt. Over the course of the next several decades, his writings became increasingly popular throughout the Arab world, including Afghanistan.
- Patiently explain to your child that in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, outraging the U.S. Determined to stem the tide of communism, the U.S. provided Afghanistan with military support in the form of weapons and training. Among the beneficiaries of this support were many of Qutb's radical-fundamentalist adherents. These fundamentalists eventually took over Afghanistan in the form of a group called the Taliban. Militarized and radicalized by years of war, Taliban leaders turned against the U.S., which long supported them in their fight against the occupying Soviets but eventually came to be seen as the embodiment of Western immorality.
- You should also let your child know that among those supported by the Taliban is Osama bin Laden, a Saudi multi-millionaire and terrorist who for years has taken refuge in encampments in the rugged hills of Afghanistan. Like his Taliban brethren, bin Laden believes that the U.S. is guilty of apostasy and should be punished accordingly.
- Your child will likely ask why bin Laden is so angry at the U.S. Explain to him or her that much of his anger is rooted in the fact that, during the Gulf War, the U.S. stationed troops in Saudi Arabia, the nation that is home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Bin Laden was further angered by America's post-Gulf War efforts to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by imposing an embargo against his nation.
- No doubt, your child will have more questions. He or she will likely want to know what role other terrorist groups played in the attack, as well as what destabilizing effects a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan could have on the increasingly volatile political climate in Pakistan. Hopefully, though, the above will serve as a start, helping your child better understand why the bad men did this terrible thing.