"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Friday, July 29, 2005
Terrorism is not an ideology - merely a technique

Keeble McFarlane

While the forensic specialists in London go about their grim task of identifying the unfortunate people who were blown up on the London transit system a couple of weeks ago, the George and Tony show continues. Boy George announced from Washington that the war on terrorism would continue, and pretty soon heard the sentiment echoed across the Atlantic from the halls of Downing Street. But the man who got things right was neither Bush nor Blair - it was the controversial Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, the same one who attacked the terrorists, as well as those who planted some more bombs this week, thankfully without casualties.

He denounces the terrorists, who, he feels, will ultimately fail in their efforts to destabilise the society. But he also denounces governments which, he says, use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy.

In the manner of the boy in the Hans Christian Andersen story about the emperor's new clothes, Livingstone is not afraid to point out that the emperor is naked, and not wearing the magic clothes all the courtiers and subjects acknowledge in line with the Edward and Percy story they'd been fed. He told the BBC that since the first world war, western interests in the Middle East had been motivated by a desire to control the flow of oil, and he says "western double standards" in the region have contributed to the growth of extremism and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Tony Blair, who was most eloquent in rallying his people on the day of the bombings, naturally has to disagree with Livingstone. He also refuses to entertain any suggestion that his country's invasion and occupation of Iraq along with the United States has any connection with the bombing by four young British men, one of whom left Jamaica as an infant.

It wasn't very long ago that Bush urged his opponents abroad to "bring 'em on!". Well they certainly have. He continues to link the attack on the World Trade Centre with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with it. In fact, Osama Bin Laden hated Saddam about as much as he hates the decadent, demonic and ungodly West, for Saddam was certainly not a devout Muslim and led a secular, considerably foreign-influenced government.

Bush certainly was correct to target Afghanistan, where bin Laden ran around with his band of joyless, hateful, single-minded cohorts. And he certainly had support from much of the world in that endeavour. But he dropped the ball, shifting his attention to Iraq, which, as we have heard, he wanted to attack even before Osama's boys flew those planes into the two buildings in New York. In the two years since the US and its client states attacked, Iraq has become a seething mass of misery, starvation, disorder, terror and death. And it's become a prime source of new terrorists. So Bush has ended up causing exactly the opposite effect to what he claimed he wanted to achieve.

While terrorism is a horrible thing for the vast majority of us to contemplate, it is not as mindless as it may seem. It can be an extremely effective tool to achieve ends - ends such as convincing occupying powers it is in their best interests to leave the place they are occupying.

Irish activists who wanted to drive out the British and establish their own republic in the early part of the last century blew up public places and conducted attacks on prominent places until the British came around and negotiated with them. Several decades later, the Irish republic is the most prosperous it has been in its entire history. The republicans in the rump which remains attached to Britain continued that activity for the last one-third of the 20th century, until the British withdrew its army and met the activists at the bargaining table. There's been an uneasy truce for the past few years, but it appears the peace could take root.

After World War Two, Algerians agitated to end France's colonial hold on their north African country. The French refused, and a campaign of terrorism ensued, ending only when the people in the Elysée Palace got the message and sat down to talk. In the 1950s, nationalists in Kenya known as the Mau Mau terrorised the comfortable British colonial regime until they agreed to discuss independence.

In the late 1940s, when Jewish refugees from Hitler's charnel-house flooded into Palestine, they conducted a terror campaign to force the British out and to establish their own state. Ironically, in recent years it is they who have become targets of terrorist bombs by downtrodden Palestinians who see on a daily basis, soldiers manning check-points, conducting rough-and-ready patrols in their cities and towns, and fanatical settlers setting up shop on land they seized.

The radical Islamist outfit known as the Mujahideen that fought against the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan, were supported with cash and light anti-aircraft missiles by the CIA, which zealously carried out Ronald Reagan's desire of bringing about the collapse of what he had dubbed "The Evil Empire". Well, as they say, what goes round, comes round. Most ironically, those self-same freedom fighters turned their attention to the United States, and staged attacks in a number of places - against embassies in east Africa, for example, and against the US navy in Aden.

What all this bravado about the "War on Terrorism" disguises is an inability, or unwillingness, to look at the underlying forces which engender terrorism. Bush and Blair elevate terrorism to the level of an ideology, but that's a simplistic formula intended to bolster the archaic mentality of using brute force to solve every dispute. The fact is, terrorism is not an ideology, but merely a technique. It's not a pleasant business - just cast your mind to any of a string of attacks on ordinary people going about their daily business - be they Sinhalese in Sri Lanka blown up by a bomb worn around the waist of a Tamil Tiger; subway riders in Japan in a gas attack by religious fanatics; passengers blown out of the sky by fanatics in Canada who want a separate state for Sikhs in India, a Cuban plane exploding near Barbados from a bomb planted by anti-Castro terrorists, one of whom Bush is now harbouring in the United States; or commuters aboard the tube and the Number 30 bus this month.

Nasty and unpleasant as it may be, terrorism works because it works. Despite the propaganda, poverty and underdevelopment are not the cause. How come there's no terrorism in the poorest parts of Latin America or Africa?
Most terrorists are educated, reasonably well-off people with a highly developed sense of grievance and the belief that their cause is bigger than themselves. Bearing in mind the maxim that diplomacy is war by other means, until we get into the habit of negotiating our differences, for some people terrorism will continue to be a bargaining tool.
posted by R J Noriega at 2:40 PM | Permalink |


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