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Micah's dream — too much to ask?
by Graeme Davidson, September 2001

Images of the destruction in New York and Washington look like trailers advertising a computer-generated and over-dramatised Hollywood melodrama. What is missing are the super-hero actors — Arnold Schwarzenegger Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis — who, against the odds, will save Americans by 'wasting' the bad guys.

There are no actors or superhero solutions in this real-life drama. The victims are real people who have done nothing more undeserving than go about their mundane business. Even the 'evil villains' are motivated by self-sacrificing religious zeal. It's a real tragedy of gigantic proportions.

Victims from many hotspots
Groups from different sides in hotspots around the globe have been quick to identify with the US victims — Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis, Iranians, Irish, Bosnians, Serbs, Albanians, Macedonians, Sudanese, Nigerians, Indonesians, Libyans, Egyptians, Lebanese, Colombians, Sri Lankans, Russians, Chechens, Indians and Afghanis. The list is a long one. They too have lost loved ones and experienced the trauma of violence — a pointed reminder that there is a long way to go before the Old Testament Prophet Micah's dream of nation not taking up sword against nation or training for war anymore is realised.

One of the aims of the attack was to strike a blow against key US symbols as the World's leading financial, political and military power. In this the terrorists succeeded. The US has been wounded. Insurance and travel industries and the stock market have been sent into a nose dive. Anti-terrorism has been put to the top of the political and military agenda.

For this reason a few biblical fundamentalists have seen the tragedy as the work of the forces of Satan or yet another sign of the coming Armageddon — which is ironic as Muslim fundamentalists describe the US and Western values as 'the Satan'. Tele-evangelist Pat Robertson blamed pornography, secularism, the occult, abortion, the absence of prayer in schools and insults to God and stated that God had lifted his protection from the US — a view militant Muslims would agree with.

Many Christian and other religious leaders in both the East and the West have prayed for victims and perpetrators and urged restraint in the pursuit of justice. One bishop who had lost a brother in the attack told CNN that he was praying for those who killed his brother, as they too were loved children of God. His sentiments have not been echoed by everyone.

For some that has meant venting their anger on scapegoats. Middle Eastern people and Mosques in the West have become targets of abuse — despite the innocent American Muslim victims of the attack. Even in Australia and New Zealand some have spoken out against taking Afghan boat people escaping the terrible ravages of the four-year Afghan drought and the repressive Taliban regime. In the UK, France and Germany, there is a fear that this could spark another round of ethnic clashes.

US military action?
President Bush is using war rhetoric. With only one dissension, Congress gave Bush the power and the money he sought after only an hour's debate. He has mobilised military reservists, sought the involvement of NATO and other major powers and calls it 'the first war of the Century'. He has moved massive military hardware and personal close to Afghanistan and made it clear that those who provide shelter for the terrorists are also guilty by association. Covert operations and support to those inside Afghanistan who oppose the Taliban have already began. So also, have unsubstantiated press stories of other terrorist targets and plots foiled, which raises the question as to whether they are true or whether public opinion is being manipulated to support the US cause.

The sabre-rattling echoes what many in the West are feeling. It is also inflammatory and has lead to enormous popular pressure on President Bush and his allies to mount a swift Hollywood style 'Rambo' military solution. It's the kind of solution that would go some way to satisfying the general demand for punishment from a population that has little understanding of international affairs and nonwestern culture. It would also help achieve another of the terrorist's goals — the uniting of extremist Muslims throughout the world against the Western powers.

The use of the military evokes memories of the action the US took when it invaded Panama in 1989, after the killing of a Marine officer and the harassment of American personnel by the forces of dictator Manuel Noreiga or the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi invaders during 1990-1991. Or the cruise missile attacks against Osama bin Laden funded training camps in the Sudan and Afghanistan after his group Al Qaeda (the base) were implicated in the bombings of US embassies in Nigeria and Tanzania in 1998.

It is also a reminder that the US is not always the good guy. An American, Timothy McVeigh, was so moved by the nonmilitary Iraqi casualties in the Gulf war that it contributed to his desire to bomb the Oklahoma Federal Building.

Bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age
Some radio chat show callers want to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age — like those who wanted to bomb Iran into a parking lot during the siege of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Yet those of us who have been in Afghanistan will know that its people are already not far off the Stone Age. Well before the Taliban took over after the former USSR withdraw from the harsh domain a decade ago, it was a very devout Muslim country, rejecting western values. It is war ravaged and very poor. The treat of US retaliation has sent hundreds of thousands of frightened Afghanis into exile, exacerbating the human tragedy They too are innocent victims.

How would American's feel if an American was accused by the Afghanis of a terrorist act in Afghanistan and the Afghanis were to issue an ultimatum demanding the US hand the suspect over to them or else face an attack against the US administration? The US would demand substantial evidence that pointed to the suspect's guilt. And even if the evidence is overwhelming, the US wouldn't trust the Afghanis to give the American a fair trial. The Americans would regard the ultimatum as a war threat and would retaliate in kind. So why does the Bush administration expect the ruling Taliban to act any differently? The Taliban have asked for evidence and proofs. This is a reasonable request. Answering with an ultimatum and a show of force may produce results, but these bullying tactics will also generate more enemies who will remember for years to come.

The Afghans are fiercely independent and have already suffered enough violence and hardship. Lashing out indiscriminately at the Taliban as the protectors of 'alleged suspects' (and implicitly for not co-operating with the US, being intolerant of Christianity and having an iconoclastic approach to Buddhist images) could create a Goliath vs David sympathetic backlash from many Islamic and some non-Islamic people around the globe.

Igniting a Jihad flame
The individual perpetrators are difficult to pin down and Bush is now telling Americans that it may take time. The US is pointing an accusing finger at Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda group. The cause of the tragedy is personified as the result of one evil mastermind. There is little acknowledgment of the deep-seated causes of antagonism towards the US and the issues facing Islam. Bush's comments that it's an attack on US freedoms and democratic way of life is a very American and politically convenient interpretation, which misses the point.

Al Qaeda's aim is to establish a pan-Islamic movement and to keep the purity of the faith by purging it of Western and other non-Islamic values. It can probably draw on a pool of thousands of recruits from many Islamic countries, including Afghan's ruling Taliban, Pakistani extremists and from many African countries.

Involving the military and 'sympathetic' Islamic leaders in a US led anti-terrorist revenge could help achieve the Al Qaeda's goals by igniting a popular Islamic Jihad flame of resistance that produces dozens of hotspots that flare up as soon as one is dampened. It could spark a major conflagration. Many are now urging the Bush administration

Another aim of the terrorists is for the West to rethink its policies towards the Middle East, especially Palestine. There is a perception that Bush's administration has openly backed Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians during the current Interfada and that the US has been unduly harsh to Arab countries that have dared to oppose the US.

The lack of any major response from the West to Israel unprovoked movement of tanks and soldiers into Jericho and the West Bank of the Jordan and the efforts to create a security 'buffer' zone, will not have gone unnoticed by those who support the Palestinians, including the Al-Qaeda group leaders.

Insensitivity to the East
From the time of the crusades a millennium ago the West has demonstrated insensitivity to the East. The US tragedy is a good opportunity to learn about Middle Eastern culture, to re-evaluate Middle Eastern policies that lead to friction and misunderstanding and to discard those Hollywood style clichÚs that depict Islam fundamentalism alongside drug dealers as the new enemy to replace the communist threat.

It would be good if Bush could resist a knee-jerk military response. But under the present Texas Ranger hot-pursuit mindset Micah's dream of nation not taking up sword against nation or training for war anymore would be asking too much from a politician who has just lost over 6000 people in an act of terrorism.

 



 

 

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