Popular with high-spending tourists and budget backpackers, Dahab is known for its relaxed atmosphere and its crystal-clear waters.

These attacks will undoubtedly make foreign holidaymakers reconsider their plans for a vacation on the Sinai peninsula.

 

But while the media in America and Europe beam images of carnage into the comfortable homes of people wealthy enough even to consider the idea of a holiday abroad, little attention is paid to the fact that most people killed or injured were not foreigners, but Egyptians.

 

Though our chauvinism may blind us momentarily, upon reflection it becomes clear that it is local people who suffer most from these terrorist attacks.

They been a majority of the victims in bombings in Egypt over the past few years – first in Taba, then in Sharm al-Sheikh, and now in Dahab – and it is they who have to sift through the rubble afterwards and salvage what is left of their lives.

This recovery will be made much more difficult by the decline in visitor numbers that inevitably accompanies such atrocities.

 

But, we wonder, if it is local people who suffer most, why do terrorists attack their towns, their cities? It is a valid question.

 

If it is fellow Muslims who end up suffering most, why attack in places where they will clearly be the victims? The answer usually given is that areas frequented by Westerners are chosen as targets to send a message to Europeans and Americans. The deaths of local people are only incidental.   

 

This explanation initially seems convincing. Coming just after Osama bin Laden's message stressed that Western civilians were legitimate targets, these bombings can be seen as a reminder of the ability of terrorists to disrupt our lives with virtual impunity. However, this is only part of the story.

 

Despite the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the abuses that took place in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the attempt to marginalise a democratically elected Hamas, most Muslims do not yet subscribe to bin Laden's message that the West is waging a war against Islam. 

The idea that all Islamic fundamentalists are bent on the destruction of the West and its decadent lifestyle, reveals more about our view of ourselves as the centre of the world than it does about the terrorists and their motivations.

 

Though it seems only natural that we in the West must be the primary targets, this superficial view obscures the fact that, with the exception of 9/11 and a few European capitals, the main target of Islamist terrorism has not been "the West"  but those who are seen to represent "the West within". 

 

It is those people in Muslim countries who are seen to conspire with the West – those who are perceived to hold Western values, promote Western ideas, or advocate Western-style political or economic policies – that have historically been and continue to be the main targets of fundamentalist rage.

 

Once we see things from this perspective, it puts the terrorist attacks in a new light, since it is precisely those people who are seen to subordinate themselves to Western interests in Egypt who end up paying the price for tailoring their land to Western interests.

By killing local people and damaging the tourism industry, the attacks send a signal – not to us in the West, but to the Egyptian people – that in this war, they are on the front line.

 

This message is meant for the people of the Sinai, but it is one that we in the West would do well to heed. Only after we get over our egocentrism will we realise that the average Western person is not under imminent threat from Islamist terrorists.

 

Instead, the people most at risk are those who try to bridge the gap between the two cultures, those who try to broaden the scope of Islam to include ideas from other traditions, all the while critically questioning everything they learn. 

 

It is those who imbibe from both cultures and attempt to take the best from each that are most at risk, because they are seen as traitors, as collaborators, who must be eliminated.

 

As long as we in the West believe that we are the primary targets of terrorist attacks, we will be overly susceptible to manipulation by those who paint a shallow and misleading portrait of the situation, characterising the bombings as the opening salvos in the clash of civilisations. 

 

We should admit that Bush and bin Laden represent equally extreme viewpoints. In what they portray as a battle of epic proportions, each leader declares to his admiring audience that “you are either with us or against us”. 

Therefore, the next time we hear politicians touting the need to support the "war on terror" or the "war" against extremism, we would do well to consider how this issue is being depicted and why.

 

The situation has been described differently by President Bush and and Bin Laden. One sees a war on terror, the other a war against Islam.

 

We should admit that Bush and Bin Laden represent equally extreme viewpoints. In what they portray as a battle of epic proportions, each leader declares to his admiring audience that "you are either with us or against us".  In their minds, the ends justify the means in this life-or-death struggle.

 

But is this true? If we accept the premise that this is a war, then it does seem to imply that there can be only two sides.  However, approaching the issue in this way merely oversimplifies an immensely complex problem with no easy solution.

But perhaps the greatest casualty of framing the issue in zero-sum terms is that it excludes the rest of us – the vast majority that want nothing to do with either the sabre-rattling speeches of a hypocritical American government or with the ideals of those willing to destroy anything in the name of God.

 

Those of us interested in genuine dialogue are quickly losing the ability to speak across cultures, bridge gaps, address legitimate grievances and support inquisitive discourse, because the arena in which that debate takes place has been commandeered by extremists on both sides, cordoned off into hostile camps, each bent on destroying the enemy they have fabricated.

 

In other words, we should strenuously resist buying into the idea that the world is facing a clash of civilisations, no matter how many times that phrase echoes, because this is precisely what Bush and Bin Laden want us to believe.

 

The idea that all Islamic fundamentalists are bent on the destruction of the West and its decadent lifestyle reveals more about our view of ourselves as the centre of the world than it does about the terrorists and their motivations. 

Each of them has a vested interest in perpetuating this conflict because fear and misunderstanding create loyal subjects.

 

After all, the quickest way to win more adherents is to claim that you are their only protector, their only hope against an evil enemy that only you have the power to defeat.

 

So far, the success of this project has been reasonably limited. Despite the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, the abuses that took place in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the attempt to marginalise a democratically elected Hamas, most Muslims do not yet subscribe to Bin Laden's message that the West is waging a war against Islam.

 

Most of them are able to separate their feelings about people from Western countries from their feelings about the actions of our governments.

I also believe that most people from Western countries remain sceptical about the world according to Bush. How long people will resist the extremist ideology and the easy answers offered by Bush and Bin Laden, however, remains to be seen.

[Joshua Hergesheimer is a Canadian freelance columnist based in the UK. His writing focuses on the implications of political violence in contemporary society.]

The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.