The War on Terror
Since September 11, 2001, the news in America has been dominated by 'The War on Terror'. At the time of writing this (this was started in summer 2002 and the situation has worsened by August 2003), we were on the brink of another world war that will probably not end the declared war on terror.
I believe that the current political nightmare originated over 50 years ago. The political debate rarely mentions the origins of the problem, just possible methods of eliminating its most obvious results.
At the end of World War II, the British allowed the Jews to create their own nation in the British colony in Palestine. This action by the British entitled the Jewish nation to its right to exist - Britain allowed its colony to become independent (just as it did with India and others - there were many new nations in the world as a direct result of World War II). Whether this was fair to the other inhabitants of Palestine has certainly been much debated. Some might feel that this act by the British was in reaction to Hitler's attempt to murder all Jews in Europe. By creating a Jewish state, the Jews would not be subject to such genocide again. In any case for whatever reasons, it happened. Shortly thereafter, in 1948, the surrounding Arab nations attempted to annihilate this new nation militarily but their armies were soundly defeated by the army of the new nation of Israel.
Since then, the Israelis have used their security as the justification for the harassment and subjugation of the Palestinians. The neighboring Islamic states have used the Palestinians in their attempts to undermine Israeli security. After wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, peace accords were finally signed to stop the international military conflicts. Only Lebanon has seen organized military conflict since then among the neighboring countries. Even though the neighboring countries achieved a peaceful political solution, the Palestinian issue was never resolved.
Long ago in high school, I read a science fiction novel (I do not recall the title now). One of the sayings in the novel remains with me because it seems to apply to so many circumstances: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." My interpretation: when someone cannot find a solution to a problem involving strong emotions and the person is not rational enough to keep working on a sensible solution to the problem, a violent solution is tried instead. This saying is definitely pertinent to the Middle East situation.
As the Palestinian situation has festered for more than 50 years, rational decisions are not always made; instead they are based on irrational emotions. The Israelis have persecuted the Palestinians in the expectation that such violence will crush the resolve of the people; such violence is a poor alternative to a peaceful solution. In the last few years, the anger and frustration has resulted in Palestinians committing suicide, with the intent of killing innocent bystanders. These suicides are amazing on several accounts: the person is willing to kill himself/herself, the person is willing to kill many innocent bystanders, the act is fostered by the so-called leaders of the community and the act is sometimes portrayed as one acceptable to Allah, the God of Islam (as if killing innocent people is an act that any Supreme Being would accept???). Certainly such suicides bring much attention to the Palestinian dilemma but they do so little to resolve it.
Most recently, it has been revealed that several foreign governments are also backing these groups financially. That makes the Palestinian people just a pawn between the governments of the region (Iran and Syria are often mentioned). In this context, these people are not respected but just considered a resource to be manipulated for the causes of others. Again, violence is the poor alternative to a peaceful solution.
That the Moslems of the Middle East accept this behavior of the leaders of Iran and Syria indicates either 1) they are not aware of this behavior of their leaders or 2) they accept the behavior. I suspect, given the lack of basic freedom of speech in these countries, that they are given slanted information that implies such violent actions should be accepted. By being kept uneducated, they remain easily manipulated by those in power, to the detriment of the populace. The war between Iran and Iraq killed many; Iraq attempted to wipe out the Kurds within its borders; the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq killed many; Iraq continued to torture and murder its citizens prior to the invasion by the armies of the US and England. The Saudi government supposedly has ties to terrorists but their oil wealth and cooperation with Americans in influence keep them out of consideration as a terrorist-harboring state. These actions in the Middle East show that the leaders behave to remain in power and to enhance their personal wealth, not to further the interests of their peoples (such as: to improve their economic conditions and to improve their basic human freedoms).
The terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, escalated this situation from just the Middle East to the world. Now the American people were victims in these suicide attacks. The number of militant Moslem groups has grown over the years and now they apparently sought to attack Israel's primary supporter. President Bush apparently had proof that Osama Bin Laden had been behind the hijackings so he sought the military solution to the political problem - attack Afghanistan and capture or kill Osama. The pattern has continued with a violent approach to solve a problem. Unfortunately, after almost two years, he has been unable to do either to Osama - who either is killed with no proof or (more likely) is still living somewhere unknown to his pursuers. Therefore, this first phase of Bush's War on Terror was not successful at meeting its main objective.
Bush has now sought another violent solution to this terrorist situation - the military elimination of the regime in Iraq, lead by Saddam Hussein. Saddam was known to hate the USA and Israel and he was known to have tried to develop lethal weapons in the past. The US government even gave him these weapons during his war with Iran. As many authors have pointed out, the military conduct of the invasion of Iraq seems to indicate the knowledge of no WMD. It has eventually been proven that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. However, knowing that Iran and Syria both influence Palestinian violence pops the subsequent questions: does either Iran or Syria have to be invaded after Iraq? How is this political problem finally resolved? Will a military effort ever solve a political problem?
Since the invasion of Iraq, the US coalition has killed thousands of Iraqis - that had nothing to do with 9/11, even though the US government had claimed such a connection prior to the invasion. Now a puppet government has been set up with the hope that elections in 2005 will lead to a stable government, enabling the withdrawal of some American forces. The lack of an exit strategy has been discussed so many times that I do not feel it should be repeated here. At the time of the 2004 Presidential elections, both the Afghanistan and Iraq governments were unable to control most of either country.
The situation in the Middle East that has fostered these terrorist groups will not be solved with a military action. The government of Israel's handles its Palestinian issue with violence, with each suicide attack resulting in more military actions against the Palestinians. The only real solution entails the Palestinian issue being dealt with politically not militarily. The nation of Israel should have a right to exist even with its continuing practice of violence (genocide?). The Palestinians must be recognized as a people and they have been abused for many years. The militant stance of these groups must be stopped as violent acts result only in violent reactions - and no one benefits in the deaths of innocent people. In both cases, the people need a safe home, regardless of the behavior or history of their leadership.
At some time, hopefully very soon (before another world war), the countries of the world will recognize that we are all part of a global human community. These violent actions that kill people do not further the state of this global community. Each time a country acts to kill the people in another country (for the personal political gain of its leaders), those leaders are guilty of unethical behavior within the global community. As the Bush administration invaded Iraq under false pretenses (there were no WMD but the military could take the oil resources while destroying a cruel dictator), such rules of human behavior seem to apply here as well.
After President Bush's televised speech on October 7, 2002, there was hope that the military action could be averted. As the United States worked to bring together other nations in a united front against barbaric regimes like Iraq, it had been the feeling of many that more can be accomplished as a community of nations rather than as a single country. If the Iraqi government continued to behave irrationally within the world community (including the torture and murder of its own citizens), the world is entitled to enforce the common minimum human values. Killing other people for personal gain is never tolerated in communities, states or even in countries. It should not be tolerated among the community of nations. The Iraqi government killed its own citizens for its regime to stay in power. If the world can realize the unacceptable behavior within Iraq should not continue, then it can act united to stop that behavior. For example, the nations of Western Europe tried to work together to deal with the atrocities in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia because it was obvious to many that such behavior could not be tolerated by the human community.
As the United States invaded Iraq with only a single notable ally, Great Britain (a few other countries contributed insignificant numbers of troops), there is something obviously wrong with this scenario. Apparently, the atrocities of Saddam Hussein were not sufficient to warrant other countries becoming involved in the killing of innocent Iraqis and the destruction of their country. If there is not an agreement among many nations on such a violent action as an invasion to murder the ruling family, then there is a clear sign that more is at stake here than the stated reasons. There have been many news articles and political commentaries available that point out that the invasion of Iraq was justified to the American people with the expectation of finding WMD but now it appears that those claims were intentionally hyped with little or no proof.
Many of the political and religious leaders involved, including the Bush administration as well as many leaders in the Middle East, seem to be disconnected from a humanistic perspective on the problems. They are manipulating their peoples with religious and nationalistic fervor, while never seeking an actual resolution to the problems. Suicide bombings do not achieve anything other than the deaths of innocent people. (To claim that such deaths are the will of Allah is incredible - what kind of God wishes such cruelty? Does Allah really wish for the logical conclusion to such practices - the self-destruction of humanity?) The claim that a military invasion, resulting in much loss of life and destruction of the economic infrastructure, will result in peace for America is also unlikely. The persecution of the Iraqis by the invading and occupying forces is uniting the Iraqis against the Americans. As the respective sides continue their efforts, the situation has nearly disintegrated into another Islam vs Christian Crusade, where neither side can obtain resolution without much bloodshed on both sides. How can such a crusade reach a peaceful conclusion?
The global situation is getting worse.
The Islamic governments seem to pushing their intolerance of other religions. When the Moslem empire was at its greatest influence, it practiced much more tolerance, as it evolved to one of the more advanced civilizations of its time. Unfortunately, in the current age of industrialization and technology, the Islamic nations are not sharing in this human maturation that includes higher rates of literacy and (a better but not perfect level of) civil rights. They continue to prevent equal rights of men and women. As the West has become more advanced that follows with a more literate populace, these Islamic governments have not allowed their peoples to also grow. To maintain control, they have had to stress the cultural differences between those of Islam and those that do not follow that religion. Because the more militant factions cannot compete on a level playing field (they choose to push intolerance rather than education), some are pushing irrational terrorist acts in hopes of getting an irrational reaction - the surrender to those acts. The result is the world is on the brink of another military conflict, whose boundaries are difficult to define.
I wonder whether the Islamic fundamentalists are becoming frustrated. Perhaps the maturity of their governments are not capable of handling such religious discord. Western cultures have grown tremendously in the last 100 years, with high rates of literacy, many college graduates, with many pursuing scientific and historical research and, not coincidentally, with less influence by those with strong religious views (until the current Bush administration?). The Islamic cultures have not shared in this intellectual blossoming. Many of these countries still have high rates of illiteracy, especially of women. Equal rights, based on sex, race or religion, are not common. Rather than growing, the religious leaders are keeping their followers uninformed (perhaps that education might lessen the numbers and strength of the followers; that would not be surprising, given that this site attempts to present an alternate view). This practice keeps the followers in check, but it also brews frustration as so many can see the prosperity present in the West, including America. As the Islamic populace is not sharing in that prosperity, they look for an answer. Rather than pursuing the path taken in the West (especially pushing education and opportunity), the Islamic leaders seem to be pushing confrontation, as if attacking the West will make their followers content with their situation. If the terrorist acts were successful at ruining the Western economies, it seems very unlikely that such a result will improve the day-to-day existence of those living in the Islamic countries.
The late 20th Century in America saw a resurgence in the Christian fundamentalists. There was even a period of terrorist acts, including the vandalism and even murders fostered by the antiabortion campaign. Whether it is true or not, it seems that those involved in this campaign have ceased the violence and instead are involved in a political resolution to the situation, rather than seeking resolution through violence. (From my viewpoint, I suspect that some of these religious groups have become frustrated in the last 100 years because our culture has grown intellectually. This growth has caused many to question their beliefs based in the myths of hundreds of years ago. Some of the other pages within this web site are intended to reveal the many ways that the major Western religions have very shaky historical and philosophical foundations.) In its history, American society has matured through several episodes of first violence and then political conflicts. In the last 200 years or so, several notable cultural conflicts arose, including slavery (which led directly to our very bloody Civil War), unions and labor rights (including bloodshed when the early labor demonstrations were violently answered), women's rights (marked by peaceful but rather vocal conflicts), civil rights for minorities (much violence until only recently, but the 2003 Bush administration stand on affirmative action indicates that different ideals still persist on equal rights and possible actions to overcome the inherent cultural biases in many communities). Our American political system has been mature and flexible enough to survive and adapt to these changes. The next few years will tell how mature our system and culture are as the current administration's tactics on the war on terror seem intended to wreak havoc on many constitutional principles.
The current US administration continues to push legislation that will alter our Bill of Rights, limiting our freedoms under the justification of the 'war on terror'. The push for Homeland Security brings military activities into our country's borders in a manner that our Founding Fathers sought to prevent. The continuing abuse of power, including the arrest without charges of many people of Middle Eastern heritage and the use of the military base in Cuba to persecute prisoners with no basic civil rights, is impossible to reconcile with the principles voiced during the foundation of our country, as such actions by the English had lead to our own revolution. Political debate is now being characterized as being un-American when the subject is not in compliance with the current administration. The war on terror is becoming a war on Americans by the US government. There seems to be a number of influential people that push for the application of our military might now that there is no competing superpower (a philosophy written over a decade ago but now there is an administration that seems intent to achieve such goals). This attitude, and the recent attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, is also ominous to those hoping for peace in the world. As some columnists have pointed out, those in power that want to further their goal of global dominance through military actions have to keep the populace in line. The administration kept pushing the same message so hard, that Hussein was involved in 9/11 even though he was not, that eventually many people actually believed the lie. Much of the press has been taking each government view or finding as fact. The continuing concentration of media conglomerates limit the access of views that conflict with the administration and its sponsors.
The 'war on terror' will never end until the political problems in the Middle East are truly addressed and dealt with. The pursuit of a military resolution to a political problem is not possible. Israel persists in its military stance to its Palestinian problem; a military occupation of Palestinian lands does not foster attitudes that look for peace. The persecution itself spawns the attitudes involved in terrorists, who seek to use violence in revenge. The United States government is now locked into a struggle with the unrest in both Afghanistan and Iraq (with a military force to keep the peace, in many ways similar to the approach taken by Israel), as the neighboring Islamic countries watch to see what happens with a new government in each. Only when all sides acknowledge the political problems cannot be resolved with the continuing bloodshed can a true resolution be obtained. Instead all players seem intent to continue with the violent approach.
In the last few hundred years of American history, as our culture has changed from a rural society to an industrial culture and now an automated one, religious leaders and their followers have often been tasked to adapt to these changes. Cults have come and gone as people try to make sense of the changes. The American Catholic Church even changed from Latin to English to help its members become more involved. Religious beliefs have become a part of political debates, much more than in previous decades. President Bush openly expresses his religious convictions.
While I am sure many would take exception to this conclusion, it is important to note that when some people (so inclined) become confused, they look for answers from a supernatural source, a source that is detached from the environment (since the God created the universe, hence the present human nightmare as well) rather than understanding and accepting the process of human cultural development and change. In this context, American culture should have the maturity that even this religious unrest did not derail the American society. The American economy has thrived through the changes of the late 20th century, even through disastrous political events (including the JFK assassination (by a conspiracy not by a lone gunman with the miracle bullet), Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and Nixon's resignation, the oil crisis of the early 1970's). In the early 21st century, it is now on the brink of disaster again (caused at least partially by unethical business behavior, with Enron and Worldcom being good examples) and now our political leadership evades these economic problems and instead brings the 'war on terror' to the highest priority, with the Christian religious overtones prominently on display and the destruction of American civil rights supposedly needed to win this 'war'.
The Bush administration and some of the press emphasize our Christian influence. The consequences of the military action in Iraq, especially in the context of these religious overtones (a new Crusade?), are potentially a much higher level of tensions. Some military and political leaders have been talking as though this is the introduction of a military state within the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Iraq being rebuilt sounds more like an American colony with a puppet government since it did not come from the people of Iraq but was instead placed there after military conquest.
I doubt that a military solution to this current political problem will bring about a cultural change in any country or in any culture for its peaceful coexistence.
The United States was not successful in connecting the government of Iraq with either the events of 9/11/2001, Osama bin Laden, or many terrorist groups, and that is probably part of the reason why so many governments chose not to join the US in its invasion. Instead, the invasion of Iraq was justified to the American people first on the threat of weapons of mass destruction and then, when none were found, on the basis of liberating Iraq from its oppressive leader, Saddam Hussein. Certainly the second is a noble goal, especially in light of the known atrocities, but the resulting loss of life results in a debate - does the end justify the means? Unfortunately, the American public is never getting the complete honest picture of what is going on with this attempt to alter the political landscape with a military action. The actions of the occupying force show that the taking of the oil production infrastructure was most important. If the goal had been the institution of democracy in Iraq then such plans would have been ready to go immediately upon the regime change. As no such plans existed (just witness the incompetence displayed by those leading the American development of a new regime), then that cannot have been the goal of the invasion.
I was born in the late 1950's so I have grown up with the JFK assassination (the facts indicate a conspiracy, not a lone gunman, as the popular movie JFK tried to reveal in that medium), the Vietnam war and the Pentagon Papers (which showed Congress and the American people were not getting all the facts), Watergate (the Republican party in power sought to sabotage the Democratic party in the upcoming election). Even the events of 9/11 indicate there is more than is being revealed; the events of that day in Florida, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania are probably different than is commonly thought. With the war in Iraq, the major news media and the US administration are not always completely honest with their information (for example, as offered in the political commentary on the Counterpunch site or the Antiwar site). Also, the current administration is pushing several pieces of legislation, sometimes called the Patriot Acts, that are an attempt to rewrite our basic rights as American citizens.
The war on terror has several aspects: confronting terrorists in foreign countries and confronting the potential threat of terrorism here in America. The American people should be getting all the facts since the actions could have far reaching impacts on our country as well as many others. Without all the facts, it is difficult to determine how well justified any of these actions are. Unfortunately, if the goal of the administration is the continuing emphasis on military power then the logical consequence becomes the continuing flow of misinformation to prevent the public from recognizing and disapproving of such a goal and its accompanying atrocities.
A solution to the war on terror must be based on recognizing the perspective of each opponent - that is just basic human psychology for conflict resolution. The Palestinian issue will not go away, even though the Bush administration seems to hope it will when it ignores the atrocities in Israel as the American military continues to persecute the Iraqis. The use of violence as the method of achieving a solution will inevitably fail.
I suggest that the moral of this story is: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. (I am sorry that I cannot recall the original author of that cliche (I am not taking credit for it) but I find it so very appropriate here.)
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last change - 08/13/2003
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