Gandhi: Let's Declare War on Stupidity
The release today of the only September 11 suspect ever convicted over the 9/11 attacks highlights just how abysmally stupid this whole "War on Terror" has been.
Bush says, "The War on Terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation." Fortunately for all of us, such an assessment is not the truth. The real danger is that many people are inclined to believe such lies without considering the facts for themselves.
I dont dispute that there now exists a real danger of small, independent groups utilizing Weapons of Mass Destruction, or of rogue nations employing nuclear weapons or other WMDs. This is indeed a serious and new threat that our generation must face. But that is not what Bush means when he speaks of a "War On Terror." Bush's "War on Terror" ignores the real terrorists while terrorizing innocent civilians across the globe. By employing violence to combat violence, he inflames anti-Western sentiment and religious fundamentalism, increasing the real dangers for all of us. We need vigilance and we need controls, but more importantly we need understanding. We don't need more stupidity and violent confrontation.
As revelations by the 9/11 commision are already proving, 9/11 never needed to happen. If foolish ideologues had not seized control of the White House, the terrorist attacks could have been thwarted. But far more importantly, if US policy towards the Middle East, and towards Israel in particular, had been different for the past decade or more, Islamic Fundamentalists would never have been able to enlist widespread popular support, and the USA would never have become one of their prime targets. Indeed, it can be argued that the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism is itself largely a response to the increased danger of US-sponsored Zionist expansionism.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush could have taken advantage of the hugely sympathetic world opinion, aggressively pursued the terrorists involved (even taking advantage of a Taleban offer to hand over bin Laden, which the US declined) and righteously applied the rules of international law to punish them. He could have done that, but he did not.
Instead, although the Bush administration and US intelligence services knew immediately that Bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks, they tried to pin the blame on Saddam. They began doing this within hours of the attack. Why? Of course, they had a pre-set agenda and plans to get rid of Saddam, seize Iraqi oilfields and dominate the Middle East in the same was as they dominate Latin America. But maybe that is not the whole story. Maybe they also wanted to keep attention off Bin Laden and Al-Quaeda, because Bin Laden was a Saudi and the Saudis had oil and money and influence in OPEC and Middle East politics. And because the Bush White House is driven by right-wing ideologues with visions of a global American Empire, and they badly wanted Iraqis to be the bad guys, not the Saudis. And because ideologues find it very hard to reconcile their ideas with conflicting realities.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden issued a set of demands, perhaps foremost of which was the removal of all US forces from Saudi Arabia. Although most US citizens probably still do not know it, this demand has already been fulfilled. It was, in retrospect, a legitimate grievance which - until 9/11 - was being ignored by the US, the Saudi Royal Family and the world at large. So now Bush speaks about "Democratizing the Middle East", whereas pre-9/11 he was working deals to keep the House of Saud in power. Does this mean Bush has capitulated to bin Laden's terrorist demands? Of course not - "We don't negotiate with terrorists!"
OK. we shouldn't negotiate with terrorists, but if we ever want to be rid of them, we should try to understand their motives. If that means standing accused of being "sympathetic to terrorists", so be it. People don't blow themselves up or throw themselves in front of tanks without fervently believing in something. Instead of trying to defeat the terrorists with violence, we should be concentrating on defeating their ideas. And the only way we can do that is by admitting that there really is a lot of validity in their complaints. We then need to start working to address those problems. As long as the affluent lifestyles of Westerners are propped up by the suffering and oppression of hard-working ordinary people in other countries, we will remain the legitimate targets of their anger.
And we shouldn't pretend that we will ever "defeat" terrorism - you do not defeat an idea, you can only discredit it. Violence begets violence. Violence and war will not solve the world's problems. To defeat an idea, you need to use "soft" power, not "hard" power. You need to win the hearts and minds of ordinary people, not deploy the deadliest weapons. Even controlling the newspaper headlines and radio talk shows is not enough, as Communists and others have learned.