I missed the day Americans will remember for the rest of their lives. Studying abroad this semester, I?ll never know what it was like to watch as the World Trade Center was leveled or experience the hush that fell over the nation for the next 24 hours.

What I will remember is getting day-late news coverage off the BBC and seeing Australians fly the American flag at half-mast.

One issue we kept coming back to was the Middle Eastern response to the terrorism.

At first it seemed inconceivably barbaric ? the media flooded us with photos of Palestinians dancing in the streets. One Australian paper reported that Iraqi television showed video footage of the carnage while playing a patriotic anthem called ?Down with America.? With good reason these anecdotes provoked anger.

I listened to more than one American friend condemn the Middle Easterners as ?without conscience.? But it?s not so simple. Any American who can?t understand how an Arab could rejoice in the midst of tragedy should look close to home for the answer.

Some Middle Easterners view our country as an evil aggressor that has been ruthlessly oppressing them for years.

Everyone innately thirsts for revenge ? just consider that the U.S. is the only industrialized country with the death penalty. Of course, executing a murderer isn?t the same as senselessly killing thousands of civilians.

But a Washington Post-ABC poll taken the day after the tragedy found that 90 percent of Americans back military retaliation, a move that would surely bring the civilian death toll even higher.

Our culture makes openly condoning revenge a taboo, but how many Americans were desperate to watch the Timothy McVeigh execution? How many of the post-Cold-War generation were secretly happy to see the Soviet Union and its people fall in ruins during the early 1990s?

Bush has said the United States will retaliate not only against the terrorists, but also against countries that have harbored them.

Read the newspaper this week ? the first thing most victims? families said, quite understandably, was, ?I want justice.?

When you consider the light in which many Middle Easterners view Americans, their reaction is not such a far stretch. And remember that they have been living with terrorism all their lives ? devastation doesn?t shock them like it does us.

Of course, none of this excuses or legitimizes the celebration of mass death. But after an honest look inside the human psyche, Americans should realize they can?t claim moral high ground.

Maybe recognizing that our differences aren?t so great is a first step toward preventing tragedy like this in the future.

Cecilia Le can be reached at cle@campustimes.org.

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