Sunday, July 10, 2005

Two whys and a when

Cain and Abel; Bruderhof graphic

After the 9/11 attacks, a bewildered relative, a New York resident, asked "is it because of our arrogance?" I thought, yes -- and even more importantly, she was asking the right question, "why?"

Some writers from London today are again asking the right question -- "why?" -- and drawing their prescriptions for preventing additional atrocities from the answers. Tariq Ali, the Lahore-born, London-based British journalist and author proposes what in US terms is unthinkable:

The solution . . . is political, not military. The British ruling elite understood this perfectly well in the case of Ireland. Security measures, anti-terror laws rushed through parliament, identity cards, a curtailment of civil liberties, will not solve the problem. If anything, they will push young Muslims in the direction of mindless violence.

The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Just because these three wars are reported sporadically and mean little to the everyday lives of most Europeans does not mean the anger and bitterness they arouse in the Muslim world and its diaspora is insignificant. As long as western politicians wage their wars and their colleagues in the Muslim world watch in silence, young people will be attracted to the groups who carry out random acts of revenge.

David Clark, a Labour Party politician who now sits in the House of Lords as a life peer, similarly argues:

An effective strategy can be developed, but it means turning our attention away from the terrorists and on to the conditions that allow them to recruit and operate. No sustained insurgency can exist in a vacuum. At a minimum, it requires communities where the environment is permissive enough for insurgents to blend in and organise without fear of betrayal. This does not mean that most members of those communities approve of what they are doing. It is enough that there should be a degree of alienation sufficient to create a presumption against cooperating with the authorities. We saw this in Northern Ireland.

From this point of view, it must be said that everything that has followed the fall of Kabul has been ruinous to the task of winning over moderate Muslim opinion and isolating the terrorists within their own communities. In Iraq we allowed America to rip up the rule book of counter-insurgency with a military adventure that was dishonestly conceived and incompetently executed. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed by US troops uninterested in distinguishing between combatant and noncombatant, or even counting the dead.
. . .
The political dimensions of this problem mean that there can be no hope of defeating terrorism until we are ready to take legitimate Arab grievances seriously. We must start by acknowledging that their long history of engagement with the west is one that has left many Arabs feeling humiliated and used. . . . We cannot seriously claim to care for the rights of Arabs living in Iraq when it is obvious that we care so little for Arabs living in Palestine. The Palestinians need a viable state, but all the indications suggest that the Bush administration is preparing to bounce the Palestinians into accepting a truncated entity that will lack the basic characteristics of either viability or statehood. That must not be allowed to succeed.

At its inception post-9/11, the war on terror was shaped by the fact that it was American blood that had been shed. This gave President Bush the moral authority to tell the world "you're either with us or against us". Having stood with America, and paid a terrible price for doing so, it is now time to turn that demand back on Bush. . . . If Tony Blair cannot bring himself to say this, he owes it to his country to make way for someone who can.

Terrible events call for strong remedies as these two attest.

Meanwhile, half a world away, the Pakistani nuclear scientist Pervez Hoodbhoy, asks a more terrible question: When? Hoodbhoy reminds readers of an oped in the Los Angeles Times that the idea of an Islamic nuke is not some novel fantasy of jihadists, but has been a dream shared by rulers of Islamic nations that feel humiliated by Israel and the US at least since the 1970s.

Addressing posterity from his death cell in a Rawalpindi jail, where he would be hanged two years later, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, wrote in 1977: "We know that Israel and South Africa have full nuclear capability. The Christian, Jewish and Hindu civilizations have this capability. The communist powers also possess it. Only the Islamic civilization was without it, but that position was about to change."

Addressing an Islamic conference in Tehran in 1992, the Iranian vice president, Sayed Ayatollah Mohajerani, said, "Since Israel continues to possess nuclear weapons, we, the Muslims, must cooperate to produce an atomic bomb, regardless of U.N. efforts to prevent proliferation."

In the celebrations following Pakistan's 1998 nuclear tests, the decades-old religious party Jamaat-e-Islami paraded bomb and missile replicas through the streets of Pakistani cities. It saw in the bomb a sure sign of a reversal of fortunes and a panacea for the ills that have plagued Muslims since the end of the Golden Age of Islam. In 2000, I captured on video the statements of leaders of jihadist, right-wing political parties in Pakistan who also demanded a bomb for Islam.
. . .
Today, the United States lives in fear of the bomb it created, because the decision to use it has already been made. Pious men with beards will decide when and where on U.S. soil atomic weapons are to be used. Shadowy groups, propelled by fanatical hatreds, scour the globe for materials. They are not in a hurry. Time is on their side. They are doubtless confident they will one day breach Fortress America.

Hoodbhoy urges control of nuclear materials, especially the arsenal littered about the former Soviet Union and he certainly is right. But if we in the US want to avert the when question being answered, we better attend to the answers to the whys.

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