Thursday, February 28, 2002 was a depressing news day that made for a strange, revealing snapshot of the world almost six months after Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
The most powerful story, to me, was the sickening slaughter in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Hindus murdered scores of Muslims in mass rioting, revenge for Wednesday, when Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists, killing 58 people, including 14 children. In the worst of Thursday's carnage, Hindus torched six homes in a Muslim neighborhood, killing 58 people, including 12 children. A former lawmaker was dragged out of his house and burned alive. None of the network nightly news shows did full stories on this and it didn't show up on many front pages or at the top of many Web sites.
On the West Bank, Israeli ground troops battled inside two Palestinian camps, killing at least 13 Palestinians; one Israeli soldier was also killed. The night before, a female Palestinian suicide terrorist blew herself up at an Israeli checkpoint, wounding three policemen. The violence was some of the worst in this 17-month period of escalation. It comes, of course, just as a promising diplomatic overture is coming from Saudi Arabia.
In Bosnia, NATO forces tried and failed to capture Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader indicted for war crimes related to the genocide of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. In the Hague, the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic continues.
The domestic echoes of these eruptions of ancient, primordial feuds weren't directly related to the news of the day, but were the big picture. Los Angeles International Airport was evacuated because a metal detector had been unplugged and some 400 flights were delayed for hours. Same thing happened at O'Hare Airport in Chicago later that night. And a false alarm about a suspected bad guy on an Air India flight sent Canadian fighter jets scrambling into the sky.
It was another post-9/11 day that reminded us of what a powder keg the planet now is. At the debut of the 21st century, the scariest threats don't come from clashing superpowers or battling ideologies. They come from blood feuds, religious hate and fights over soil.
Yet a CBS News poll that came out on this day shows that the public thinks another terrorist attack on the U.S. is much less likely than they thought back in October. Now, 62 percent of those polled think another attack is very or somewhat likely. In October, 88 percent thought so. It's a dramatic drop in just a very few months. Emotions obviously run strong.
Another sign of our emotional, inconsistent view of the threat of terrorism and "asymmetric warfare": 72 percent of the public now believes U.S. success in Afghanistan is likely or very likely to curb future terrorism. But 71 percent think it's likely that there could be a wider war between Western countries and Muslim countries. Bit of a conflict there.
At the end of what was for me a confusing news day, I had some time to contemplate it all from a very fresh perspective. My wife and I attended the funeral of a very close friend's father. He was Korean and most of the service was in Korean, so I couldn't help reflecting on the day and the news. Our friend's father was a very well-educated diplomat who gave that up to move to America, where making a go of things would be much more difficult for him – but not for his children. His daughter, our friend, had a storybook career at Microsoft and has storybook gorgeous, sweet children.
Her father had apparently become a deeply committed Christian and most of the people at the funeral seemed to be from his church life. It was striking to be about 10 miles from the Capitol, in the distant shadow of a huge Mormon temple and ornate Buddhist temple, down the road from the super secret National Security Agency, in a funeral chapel filled with Korean Americans singing Christian hymns. In a setting that was such a prism of tolerance and diverse pluralism, it became easier to understand why menaces from the West Bank and western India seemed so distant.
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Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Editoral Director of CBSNews.com, based in Washington.
By Dick Meyer