The fuse is lit, burning down. And, if the big explosion comes, it could blow apart the Muslim world's trust in U.S. leadership, says Mohamed Awad.
"President Bush has put the U.S. in a situation where, whether we win or lose a military battle in the Persian Gulf, the United States will lose the faith that a billion Muslims have put in the leadership of this country," says Awad, a native Egyptian and founding member of the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
As last night's United Nations deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait approached, Baltimoreans with ties to Arab and Muslim communities offered their views of the crisis.
"I feel saddened because I don't think there will be a winner in a war," says Issam E. Cheikh, the chief of the division of endocrinology at Union Memorial Hospital and the head of the American Arabic Club of Baltimore.
"No matter the results, if thousands of lives are lost, both sides will be losers," says Cheikh, a native of Syria.
He says the U.N. deadline was a mistake because "Arabs don't really respond well to threats."
"This conflict has nothing to do with religion," says M. Bashar Arafat, a native Syrian, who is director of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. "Religion was meant to bring happiness to people in this world before we go to the hereafter. But I think right now, we are away from God, and, when that happens, greed comes. What we're seeing now in the gulf situation is the greed of humans. It's greed for oil."
Michael Mir, the owner of the Orchard Market and Cafe in Towson, says he fears a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
Mir is a native Iranian and a Muslim by birth but not practice.
"Any Middle Eastern business here -- whether it's run by Iranians, Jordanians, Egyptians, whatever -- has been built and is operated by American citizens," says Mir, adding: "These people have worked very hard to make something of their own, a business for themselves. I've poured my sweat into my own place. I'd hate to see that get hurt by something like prejudice."
Like Mir, Tagi Sagafi-nejad is a native Iranian who is no longer an adherent of Islam. As a professor of international business at Loyola College, with a particular interest in Middle Eastern affairs, Sagafi-nejad has kept watch on the gulf crisis.
He strongly disagrees with those who claim that the dispute should have been settled among Arabs.
"There is no such thing as a unified Arab world," he says. "That's the same as saying 'unified Western World.' How can you define the West, or any region of the world, when it has so many individual nations driven by their own national interests? Besides, the Arab nations have been internally bickering for years. The only thing they can agree on is their hatred of Israel, and even Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979."
Sagafi-nejad gives the Bush administration good marks for its handling of the crisis since the invasion of Kuwait last August. However, he adds, the U.S. "perpetrated major mistakes" in its relations with Iraq dating back at least a decade.
"These blunders include not condemning the Iraqi invasion of Iran more than 10 years ago," he says. "They include overlooking or ignoring the obvious physical evidence of an Iraqi military build-up on the Kuwaiti border last year. They include joining with other Western nations in helping, over recent years, to build the Iraqi war machine that they are now facing."