|On September 11, 2001, the hammer of terrorism shook not only New York, but rest of the world, as billions witnessed the worst terrorist attack in history. The level of destruction is incomprehensible. The loss of property, lives... delivered a scarring blow to the nation’s psyche - people are still trying to get over the numbness.
There are places all over the world where terrorism and violence are a part of everyday life. Israel is a case in point. Where citizens move about cautiously in the streets. Any laxity, and you could end up dead. But the great adaptibility of human beings is such that we learn to live with the smell of fear.
Conditioning can take place faster than we realize. In downtown Los Angeles, a day after the attacks, people froze at the sound of an approaching helicopter. Pedestrians looked up and around anxiously. Faces were grim and they were not just in sympathy for the dead and grieving. Fear had set in. The dent had been made. For now, the terrorist has won. Even as the Bush administration pushes hard to pour oil over troubled waters.
Experts around the world are in agreement that this is but a prelude to an escalation of Islamic terror in the United States. With emotions running high, it is heartening to see the administration advocating restraint. After all, we do not want any more innocent lives lost to mindless reprisals and uninvestigated retribution.
The U.S. is a strong democracy and militarily the only superpower - facts that irk many nations of the world. It has championed its idea of democracy globally - hurling sanctions and SAM missiles at Hitlerite nations and governments. But when U.S. foreign policy has been tinctured with trade considerations (more often than not), it has resulted in the worst of decisions and course of action followed. Now, the U.S. has to put trade and strategic considerations aside, and focus on national security alone! For that, diplomatic ties and military trade with states that sponsor terrorism, will have to be severed immediately. One hopes that this administration has the moral courage to do so!
Foreign policy and world trade are two sides of the same coin. Policy makers have had to contend with a strong small arms lobby; a powerful software/hardware conglomerates group; and an equally large vehicle manufacturers’ throng - before they make any decisions that could rock the boat in the already choppy waters that the economy finds itself in. The Bush administration has to take all this into consideration, as it embarks on an all-out mission of seeking out the guilty!
The U.S.’s Counterterrorism Policy is "to bring terrorists to justice for their crimes; and isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor terrorism to force them to change their behavior." And every U.S. president has demonstrated that he is ready to counter the forces of terrorism with all available resources.
On October 12th, 2000, terrorists in a boat laden with explosives carried out a suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the harbor at Aden, Yemen. In what President Clinton described as a "despicable and cowardly act," 17 U.S. sailors were killed, and more than 30 were wounded.
Today, the U.S. Department of State is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of those persons responsible for that terrorist attack.
Not only is there a cash reward, individuals providing information leading to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for the attack "may be eligible for protection of their identities and relocation with their families to the United States." Till date, the will to bring terrorists to book has been unflinching and intense - now, the U.S. will need all its resources and experience to execute a plan that still has to take final shape. The world will be watching... and judging, as President Bush tries to shoulder the weight of a nation enraged.
The recent "war" between the US and the Islamist followers of Osama bin Laden, has brought to light a problem that has been facing the Western world for several years, but which it chose to ignore. The terrorist activity of Islamic radical groups in a number of places around the world - and not merely in the Middle East - has since the early 1980s been aimed primarily at the United States. During the 1990s, the dominant global conflict emerged between the two socio-political cultures: Islam and the Muslim world versus America as the leading element of Western culture.
The problem of the Western world is how to refrain from a rivalry that wears the guise of a war of religions between Islam and Western culture. The modern culture of the West - combining as it does the elements of democracy, human rights, civil infrastructure, liberalism etc., with the social and human values of Christianity - seems to view the phrase "Islamic Terrorism" as politically incorrect. The Western world would rather prefer to believe that there is no problem between him and the general Muslim population, but only between him and certain marginal groups, which have no real support, sympathy or allies in their homelands. Nothing is further from the truth!
On the other hand, Muslim perceptions increasingly see the West as an enemy, not necessarily for religious reasons but for socio-economic ones. The problems stems from a variety of causes: rising hatred of the wealth of Western countries; growing alienation of different factions of society from one another; and the burst of nationalistic disputes and open conflicts after the fall of the Soviet Union. All this has resulted in a sense of global cultural conflict between the USA - the sole leader of the West - and the rest of the so-called Third World, of which the Muslims are the greater part. This sense of conflict brought with it a growing "solidarity of the poor," cemented by religious ties. And this in turn gave rise to the feeling that an American or Western attack on any Muslim country or internal group constitutes an attack on the whole of the Muslim world. This solidarity is based also on the Islamist view that the unification of the Muslim world is their primary mission in the world.
One of the Islamic radical movements’ greatest successes in the past three decades is their ability to present themselves to a large Muslim public all over the Arab and Muslim world as the bearers of true Islam, emphasizing on socio-political elements that attract a majority of the population. They appeal to the lower classes of society, who are seeking messianic solutions to their hopeless situation, by emphasizing the more political elements of Islam and human values such as social justice.
One of the basic tenents of Islam is the division of the world into two defined parts in perpetual conflict - the world of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the world of heresy (Dar al-Harb). Thus, the perception of global conflict is deeply rooted in Muslim society.
The US and its Western allies confront not only Osama bin Laden and his partners from the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Gama’at al-Islamiyah - but large portions of the Islamic world, whose backing for the "marginal" groups give them the public legitimacy to promote their terrorist activities. The West must not regard its Islamist enemies as marginal groups in the Muslim world. That would be a big mistake!
The phenomenon is explained lucidly by one of the best students of Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism, the Dutch scholar, Prof. Johannes Jansen: "In a fiercely competitive society, the dominant religion may preach that the greatest virtue is to love one’s neighbor. The religion of a group which over the centuries has become marginalised may, on the other hand, preach that God has exclusively and explicitly chosen those who follow his commandments. This group may come to believe that it plays a central role in the history of God and his creation. In a society where the law is not much more than an interesting but highly theoretical matter, the major religion may proclaim that following God’s laws is the only way to put things right... Islamic fundamentalism is both politics and religion. It has a dual nature. When it is analyzed as if it were a movement that has political nature only, mistakes are made because fundamentalism is fully religion at the same time."
Islam vs. rest of the world has been carried on a cultural level too. Afghanistan’s Taliban destroyed two 2,000 year old Buddhist statues they regarded as an insult to Islam. The statues were in Bamyan province in central Afghanistan. The Buddhist statues "are not Islamic and we will have to destroy them," said 'Abd al-Wahid, the Taliban's top front-line commander.
The media will dub Wahid as a "fundamentalist. In the past decade, almost all Islamic revivalist movements have been labeled fundamentalists, whether they be of extremist or moderate origin.
Before the term fundamentalist was branded for Muslims, it was, and still is, being used by certain Christian denominations. Most of them are radical Baptist, Lutheran and Presbyterian groups. The Southern Baptist Convention is one such group, they take pride in being called the "fundamentalists. Because, according to them, they have gone back to the fundamentals of Christianity. They preach absolute Biblical inerrency and Millenarianism (Belief in the physical return of Christ to establish a 1000-year reign).
To apply the same terminology to Muslims makes no sense. Because all Muslims believe in absolute inerrency of the Quran, since it is a basic Islamic tenet. Therefore the media would have to use the word fundamentalist for all Muslims! Which it does not do. It only uses the word "fundamentalist" for extremist and terrorist groups, and the true moderate Islamic revivalist movements.
Apart from staying away from terminological distortions, it would be wise for American leaders to be careful in public utterances. I quote U.S. Brig. General William Looney, in a Washington Post interview in 1999, as he spoke on Iraq: "If they turn on the radars we’re going to blow up their goddamn SAMs (surface-to-air missiles). They know we own their country. We own their airspace... We dictate the way they live and talk. And that’s what’s great about America right now. It's a good thing, especially when there's a lot of oil out there we need."
It would be a great favor to American citizens all over the world, and now, it seems, on the nation’s soil too - if such grandstanding were relegated to private performances in the bathroom, and not voiced to the media.
"The greatest crime since World War II has been U.S. foreign policy," stated Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson. Overseas policy-making is a tricky thing. You just cannot have the perfect policy. But the present administration can at least avoid the basic mistake made by past foreign policy architects - self-alienation.
For 50 years, the secret services of the United States have been supporting many fascist, integrist and nationalist divisions, in order to protect the interests of US transnational corporations and to fight communism and the national liberation movements. They have been recruiting, arming and training the most fascist and integrist elements of several countries to become high-level terrorists. This ranges from old Nazis recruited into the US secret services after World War II to the death squads in El Salvador and the integrist mercenaries in Afghanistan.
With changing political alliances, some of these terrorists have turned against their previous "employers."
This has been the case with the Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, who was earlier a "freedom fighter," an ally of the US in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The U.S. might be able to punish the perpetrators of Tuesday’s heinous crime, but there will be more bin Ladens to follow - if we do not learn from the foreign policy mistakes of the past.
Every administration has the opportunity to make some changes. President Bush might not look the most astute or articulate - but he has the chance to make action speak louder than words, if he makes the effort to understand what can possibly drive a human being to ram a jetliner into a building, killing himself and thousands of innocent people.
Terrorism is not a military problem, and cannot be solved by force. It is inherently social. It is dynamically political. It is partly economic. It is overtly religious. And it will need very careful handling. Not just brute force.