Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Thursday, September 19, 2002

In the Daily Star, a Lebanes daily, there is a decent opinion piece today, from a Palestinian analyst. Some of the facts are pretty blatantly wrong but some of the urges to introspection and change are interesting.

The videotapes and programs broadcast by Al-Jazeera satellite station on the first anniversary of Sept. 11 pointed the finger of blame for the attacks squarely at Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. The point was emphasized by the guests and panelists selected by the channel to comment on the footage. Al-Qaeda did not attempt to refute the charge, and experience suggests Al-Jazeera would not have leveled it if it had not been sure that it would not be denied.

Thus, for the first time, we now have someone who is prepared to admit to having actually carried out the terrorist attacks, rather than merely inciting or approving of them.
This means, among other things, that we Arabs and Muslims can no longer engage in the kind of denial that many have indulged in over the past year ­ either absolving any Muslim of the crime, sufficing with verbal condemnation of terrorism, or noncommittally denouncing both individual and state terrorism while fudging the issue of where the blame for Sept. 11 lies.

If war were to break out, it would be senseless to support retaliatory terrorist attacks targeting the British or American public. Yet that is exactly the reasoning bin Laden used to brainwash simpletons into murdering fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who were going about their daily business of earning their living.

Regardless whether or not the West understands us or treats us fairly, the responsibility for confronting bin Laden’s ideology is ultimately ours, because it is we who are most threatened by it.

Bin Laden’s current position, one can say with certainty, is not the end of the road. Eventually, he and other extremists who freeload on Islam will turn on their own Muslim societies. They are not, in short, forces of national liberation from foreign colonialism. One need only consider the way in which they ruled Afghanistan, or the murder, rape and slaughter they inflicted on the people of Algeria. Extreme fundamentalism comes off badly when compared to even the worst of current Arab regimes.

If we don’t take a stand against terror, by what logic can we argue that Western governments are wrong to treat their Muslim citizens with suspicion, or object to the Americans waging wars against whatever place or target if they believe that will help them protect themselves from terrorism?

The damage bin Laden has done to the cause of freedom and the development of civil society in the Arab world is immense. His terrorism has deterred the West from championing civil liberties and human rights in the region, on grounds that combating terror and fundamentalism must be the priority. That approach will increasingly drive extremists underground, and leave Arab governments and societies paralyzed.

Only by expanding the scope of political freedom and instituting civil and democratic reform can governments isolate extremism. That is something the US should take to heart and insist on as one way of combating a terrorist phenomenon that could grow and prove long-lasting. But America’s current approach to confronting terrorism is a carbon copy of that adopted by the Arab governments for dealing with the same phenomenon. This does not bode well for the future. Now that bin Laden’s organization has acknowledged that it perpetrated a massacre that many of us preferred to believe was the work of others, we need ­ as individuals, organizations, sssociations and societies ­ to do more to denounce and renounce bin Laden.

But the US also needs to consider its next steps in light of these developments. While strengthening efforts to apprehend the perpetrators, it needs to deprive them of ideological fuel. If needs to stop behaving like an international cowboy if it is to encourage Arabs and Muslims to part ways with their approach, and cease indulging terror as a way of exacting revenge. One thing Washington could do is link its economic and political support for governments to the extent to which they respect freedom and democracy, and not just how much they serve its interests.

< email | 9/19/2002 01:03:00 PM | link

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