In the days after 9/11, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami condemned the terrorist attack and reached out to the West to fight terrorism together.

Too bad we ignored him. We’d be safer today if we hadn’t.

Khatami was a moderate reformer, a popular democratically elected president who had been struggling to limit the power of Iran’s reactionary religious leaders, and to open up a dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

You’d think the West would love a guy like that. But the Bush administration was determined to treat 9/11 as a battle in the “clash of civilizations” — a clash that Khatami was trying to steer the world away from.

So, despite an outpouring of sympathy from Iranians over 9/11 — including a moment of silence at an Iranian soccer match — Washington declared Iran part of the “axis of evil” and dragged the West into a “war on terror” that involved invading Muslim countries.

We’re paying the price today with growing anti-Western rage in the Muslim world.

We should have known better. From time immemorial, invading a country has been a sure way to turn the people against the invaders.

It’s only Western arrogance that leads us to imagine our invasions will be received differently. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart captured the absurdity of this notion with a spoof on Condoleezza Rice’s blithe dismissal of the recent suffering in Lebanon as just part of the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” In the spoof, an Arab commentator suggests that Middle Easterners willingly accept these birth pangs, just as Americans accept 9/11 as the “birth pangs of a new America.”

Violence somehow feels different when it’s directed at you.

What Western commentators dismiss as mere “collateral damage” is experienced by those on the receiving end as the devastating deaths of family members.

British MP George Galloway, in a riveting TV interview last month, berated a British television anchor for her insensitivity to the suffering of Palestinians, noting that she knew the name of every captured Israeli soldier, but not the name of the Palestinian family killed by an Israeli gunboat on a Gaza beach.

Western nations are now battling resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan that get fiercer by the day.

We can see why these fronts in the “war on terror” are so hopeless from remarks made last year by Canadian Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie. Explaining why Afghanistan could be a 20-year venture, he noted that “every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you’re creating 15 more who will come after you.”

Yet we cheerfully count the number of Taliban our soldiers killed last week, forgetting about the 15 fresh recruits each of these deaths generates.

Meanwhile, the moderate Khatami has been replaced by Iran’s new hard-line president as the “clash of civilizations” heats up.

So are we safer? You bet. Just don’t forget to shut the bunker door behind you.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...