Perspectives on Terrorism

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Chevrier J., L. Monti and J. Poulin. “Perspectives on Terrorism”
The New Federation 6.3 (2001): 7-11.
Perspectives on Terrorism

by Jean Chevrier, Lorne Monti and Jeanne Poulin
It’s easy to say that the world has changed and things are ‘different’. Somehow, I don’t feel that they are. The world to me seems to be in as much danger as it has always been and civilization equally is in as much danger as it will always be.”

Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada

The stylized television footage and photographs of this bin Laden suggest a man of homoerotic narcissism. ... He radiates with every self-adoring gesture an actor’s awareness of the lens. He has height, beauty, grace, intelligence and magnetism, all great attributes, unless you’re the world’s hottest fugitive on the run, in which case they’re liabilities hard to disguise.”

John Le Carré, novelist

The truth is, fanaticism can spring from misguided excess in any religion, and Muslims who kill in the name of their beliefs are not true Muslims. Aggression is not a tenet of our religion, but rather something that is condemned except in self-defence. The Quran states: ‘Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but commit no transgression; for Allah loves not transgressors.’ (al-Baqarah 2:19)”

Nada El Sawy, Egyptian-American and Muslim, excerpted from her editorial in Newsweek Magazine, October 15, 2001

The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used – accidentally or by decision – defies credibility.”

The 1996 Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,

We are in agreement that that we will never permit a group to use Afghanistan as terrorist base ... Members of the Northern Alliance have agreed to respect the rights of individuals and the rights of women and to apply international norms ... Our politics will no longer be determined by the force of arms, but by an electoral process and it will be up to the people to choose its leaders.”

Ahmad Shah Assoud, excerpts from an interview in Le Point, before his assassination in October 2001

I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He calmly backed out.”

Anne Graham, Billy Graham’s daughter, commenting on the September11 terrorist attack when asked how God could let something like this happen.
Mise en scene
Not long after the smoke had cleared from the collapsed New York World Centre Trade towers, Americans were stunned to discover that they were despised only slightly less than the Taliban within the Islamic world! “Read the Arab press in the aftermath of the attacks and you will detect a not-so-hidden admiration for bin Laden,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek.

James Napoli reporting for the Montreal Gazette echoed this opinion when he observed, “The Egyptian media, and the mostly government-controlled Arab media in general, has succeeded with decades of paranoid and virulent prose to transmogrify American policy toward Israel into a conspiracy to undermine the entire Islamic world, including its culture and values.” Arab enmity toward the West has been attributed to causes as diverse as poverty, envy and historical religious hatred of the Infidel.

“For there is no crime, no murder, no massacre that cannot be justified, provided it be committed in the name of an Ideal,” said Stendhal. Cobbling together a list of grievances of the Moslem world, from the treatment of Palestine to the military bombing of Iraq, Osama bin Laden resorted to demagoguery to justify his attack on the West in the name of retributive Islam. Yet, successful demagoguery is based not only on long held prejudices, but on some truth as well.

From the Arab point of view, the U.S. support of Israel in contravention of countless UN resolutions to withdraw from the ‘occupied territories’, is infuriating. Their anger is fuelled by daily media reports of killed and wounded Palestinians. The American military presence in Saudi Arabia is viewed as an attempt to prop up a corrupt and unpopular royal family to serve American oil interests. The continued embargo against Iraq is perceived as only damaging innocent civilians, who are deprived of basic goods and medical supplies.

If only things were that simple. In the case of Iraq, for example, reports indicate the northern section, under the semi-autonomous control of the Kurds and subject to similar sanctions as the rest of the country, doesn’t suffer the same level of deprivation as the area under the influence of Saddam Hussein. This asks the question whether Saddam is abusing the ‘oil for food’ provision of the UN sanctions to oppress his own people for political currency. Saudi Arabia is another example. It has used its petrodollars to finance madrases that teach Wahhabism, the fundamentalist brand of Islam practiced by bin Laden. Ironically, it is the Wahhabi sect that would overthrow the Saudi monarchy if not for the American military presence.

As for Israel, “the tragedy of the Arab world is that Israel accords them more political rights and dignities than most Arab nations give their own people,” Zakaria points out.

As far as poverty as a motivation for terrorism is concerned, it is clear that the majority of the Trade Tower conspirators were from Saudi Arabia, one of the wealthiest nations of Islam!

True the primary focus of American foreign policy towards the Islamic nations has been to protect American oil interests. Yet Kosovo, Somalia, and Bosnia are three examples where Americans had few interests but came to the aid of Moslems anyway.

The Moslem world must stop blaming solely the Americans for the state of Islam. It must look into itself. For the most part it’s a sordid collection of monarchies, dictatorships, emirates, theocracies and totalitarian governments of every description. Even moderate Moslem nations like Egypt and Jordan, for example, are just a coup away from radical Islam. And Western democracy cannot co-exist with radical Islam if it seeks to destroy the Infidel. What bin Laden forgot was that war, even a holy one, begins as a fight for a cause, but usually ends as a struggle for survival.
The Leaders
Shortly after the attack on the New York Trade Centre Towers, MSNBC journalist, Chris Mathews, described how the war on terrorism had finally given George W. Bush’s presidency some focus. Having lost the popular vote, and as recent media accounts have indicated, likely the electoral college vote as well, Bush’s presidency was of dubious legitimacy. Mathews recounts how Bush seemed to be laying low at his Texas ranch, seemingly on a perpetual holiday.

All that changed on September 11th. Bush took on a new stature. He began to look presidential, shaking off his hapless Texan ‘good old boy’ image. He denounced the terrorist attacks, and quieted the fears of a nation by providing it with a strategic response to its collective violation. It wasn’t just a reflex action either. It was thoughtful, complex and thorough. He emphasized the American response was not a war on Islam, but on global terrorism.

The fact that his plan was founded on a multilateral coalition can be attributed to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s understated diplomacy, and his experience as a coalition builder in the Gulf War. “He is a multilateralist, focusing on opportunities for American diplomacy. The others – Vice-President Dick Cheney, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice – were more unilateralist concentrating on America’s need to defend itself,” observed The Economist. So far, Powell has restrained the hawks from making the classic tactical error of developing a second front with Iraq while at war in Afghanistan.

Tony Blair was always resolute on the war on terrorism. He marshalled his greatest weapon for the cause – eloquence: “There is no compromise possible with such people; no point of understanding with such terror. Just a choice: defeat it or be defeated by it. And defeat it we must!” Even without having suffered an attack on Britain, Blair immediately recognized the profound ramifications for democracy the New York assault represented, and he did not flinch in his response.

Prime Minister Chrétien, in contrast, did not look at ease in his role as a military leader. He has never been good in a crisis; witness his meltdown during the 1995 referendum. He is a manager, not a warrior. So he left Canada’s response to the war on terrorism to the Minister of External Affairs, John Manly, who seemed far more comfortable in the part. This resulted in Canada’s full, but cautious, commitment to the cause.

The big winner in the leadership drama was Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf, who, by supporting the coalition, transformed his country from global pariah to international darling. In addition, it gave him an excuse to curtail the domestic activities of Moslem extremists whose actions might, in the future, threaten the Musharraf presidency.

The big loser was Osama bin Laden, whose remorseless act of terrorism unleashed the apocalypse on Afghanistan.

The members of the coalition must be cautious given the historical, often arbitrary, behaviour of the Americans. As Canadians can attest, and recent events have demonstrated, Americans are prone to withdrawing from treaties or from situations where they no longer feel their national interest is at stake.

International Coalition
When historians recount the dramatic events of September 11th, they will no doubt refer to the great coalition that was put together to fight terrorism. Denis Jeambar of l’Express sees a parallel between the meeting of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in Yalta in February 1945 – that shaped the world for half a century – and the recent APEC summit in Shanghai showing George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin smiling and dressed in Chinese apparel. Is this part of the new hegemony of the 21st century, molded not on ideology, but on strategic and economic concerns?

This new diplomacy comes at a price. Washington is expected to look the other way when the Chinese or Indonesian military beats back liberation movements within their borders. In exchange for General Musharraf’s support, the United States has lifted sanctions and approved aid packages to Pakistan, up to $1 billion, not to mention the $9.5 billion it will receive from the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. has asked a federal judge to dismiss a billion dollar lawsuit brought against Iran by the Americans held hostage in Tehran in 1979-81. In exchange for bases in Central Asia to hunt down the enemy, NATO has welcomed Russia’s membership and created a new NATO-Russian Council to oversee ‘areas of common interest’.

So far the degree of solidarity has been impressive. Allied countries, such as Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Turkey and Japan have sent or pledged military or logistic support in the fight against the Taliban. Over forty countries in Europe supported the military campaign and shared intelligence and analysis, while trying to quash the financial networks of terrorists. Most Muslim states supported Washington, although none are supplying military aid to the anti-terrorist effort.

Will the coalition last? There could be pitfalls or new challenges. “The coalition against terrorism is a fragile thing,” says Michael Elliott of Time. “So far, it does not look as if it has the stuff to reshape the world.” Many countries, including France and Great Britain, would not support a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which plenty of Administration conservatives are itching to fight. And Arab support could dwindle if all-out war erupts in the Middle East or if the rights of Palestinians are further jeopardized. The U.S. decision to end the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could also backfire. But this coalition could also have an unexpected life span and mark a new beginning after a century of tragic wars and massive human rights violations.

Public Security: The high cost of terror
A federal agency to supervise airport security, a special force of integrated Customs, Immigration, RCMP, CSIS, FBI and CIA teams, millions of vaccine doses, an international security zone, an anti-terrorist law with rigorous refugee screening and discretionary Cabinet powers, co-operative espionage, air marshals and military readiness: all these concrete measures have been taken since September 11th by Canada in order to fight terrorism. Other countries as well have improved their public security programs in order to co-operate with the U.S. in a worldwide battle against terrorism. “No nation can be neutral in this conflict because no civilized nation can be secure in a world threatened by terror,” had warned President Bush.

But do these measures make us safe? Before answering the question, we have to know what we’re up against. Our neighbour was brutally attacked by an enemy who seemed to possess endless ways to provoke terror as well as a certain willingness to do it. Apart from crashing airliners into skyscrapers, it can spray Soman and Sarin nerve gas, dust crops with disease-bearing microscopic creatures, propagate lethal organisms like foot-and-mouth disease and bubonic plague, as well as log on to the Internet and download destructive worms and viruses. And these things, which have the capability of annihilating huge populations and creating havoc in our institutions, are infinitely small or invisible.

Indeed, since September 11th investigators from around the world have been co-operating with the U.S. on the biggest manhunt in history – in the hope of solving a complex crime and preventing another. Aware of their failure to predict – and prevent – the vicious attacks, security forces are now back-tracking on thousands of details concerning financing, communications and logistics, following a well-concealed international trail going far back in time. They are listening to everyone and examining tons of paper including fake IDs, drug money and job training.

Evan Thomas of Newsweek wrote that the terrorist strategy revealed a mix of professionalism and fanaticism that would make future attacks hard to stop. “The leaders of the attacks were educated, middle class, appeared normal and independent. They were remarkable for being unremarkable,” he warned. An unseen enemy, it would seem.

How can we expect to prevent what is unpredictable and protect ourselves against the invisible? It’s practically impossible. At 7.7 billion dollars, Canada’s public security program is prohibitively expensive. Are we over-reacting? Are the enormous costs of safety and an anti-terrorist law that infringes on rights and freedoms the price we should pay to appease fear? All the world’s a stage for the high-tech terrorist, and hysteria is what makes fanatics salivate.
United Nations
The awarding of the Noble Peace Prize this past September to the United Nations and Kofi Annan was a desperately needed boost to an organization whose reputation has been suffering in recent times. Forgotten are the UN’s great success of the past such as Cyprus and the Sinai and more recently, East Timor. Remembered more often are its failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia.

Yet, if the UN can implement the peace treaty and the provisional government negotiated for Afghanistan at Bonn, then UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi deserves another Noble Prize. However, it may be more difficult to implement the plan than win the war against the Taliban. Applying a plan, negotiated in the civility and decorum of the conference table, to the snake pit of ethnic and tribal rivalries in Afghanistan, is going to be a Herculean challenge. The power lies with the warlords on the ground who already appear reluctant to surrender their control and territory.

Another challenge is going to be President George W. Bush’s demand that captured members of the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida, including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, be prosecuted by American military tribunals where an accused’s right to an open and transparent trial is non-existent. From the international jurisprudence point of view, this type of justice has little legitimacy. In fact it may even contravene the Geneva Convention, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Already, countries like Spain are resistant to surrendering terrorist suspects to the United States without assurances the death penalty will not be invoked.

U.S. senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an opponent of Bush’s plan to use military tribunals, points out that in 1942, when this questionable practice was implemented to try suspected German saboteurs, the FBI withheld evidence which may have exonerated two of the accused who were subsequently executed.

Former Canadian Minister of External Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy, wrote in The Globe and Mail, “It is distasteful to adopt a system that will convict a suspect based on a two-thirds majority and do so in secret. It is wrong to rule that such a decision is not subject to appeal when the stakes are life or death.” His solution is to create an international tribunal, “founded on the principles of international criminal law,” not American law. He points out the framework already exits for such a tribunal with the support of 139 states. Axworthy sees Canada playing a vital role in the creation of these courts as either a mediator between the Afghanistan and American governments, or as a vocal advocate for an international court (much like our role in establishing the global treaty to ban landmines).

The UN is in a position to use the leverage of the International coalition against terrorism (of which it assisted in the creation) to pressure the Americans to help found an international court to prosecute terrorism. As well, it is unlikely the scourge of Islamic terrorism will be eradicated without the resolution of the Palestine issue. The Moslem members of the coalition now have the political currency to pressure the United States to force its ally, Israel, to permit UN peacekeepers in Palestine, something requested by Yasser Arafat for years.

By championing these initiatives, Canada can reclaim its reputation as a purveyor of peace. In the words of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, “while Canada’s contribution to the military effort may be a limited and modest one, its contribution to the legal war on terrorism can be a distinguished and distinguishable one.”
New World Order
Are we at the beginning of a new cycle in History, a renaissance of sorts, which would begin to address some of the world’s iniquities and other socio-economic problems? The idea that good things can come out of great tragedies has been a recurring theme since September 11. Declaring war on the terrorists, and bringing them to justice, was only part of Tony Blair’s stirring speech before a Labour Party conference in Brighton, England. His focus was also on a new beginning, a second aim. “Let us re-order this world around us,” he said, and “bring justice and prosperity for the poor and dispossessed.” Across the Atlantic, politicians were also speaking out. Former U.S. Senator George McGovern urged countries to adopt intelligent aid programs through the United Nations. “Half the people in the world don’t have enough to eat and this represents fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.”

On a larger scale, Canada’s Paul Martin offered this analysis. “One of the greatest questions of our age is how the world is going to govern itself in the next 20 or 30 years.” His vision would have nation states set rules to provide bankruptcy protection, instead of allowing a crisis to happen when a nation gets into trouble. Its capital would be frozen, debts locked in and the economy reorganized to protect ordinary people from suffering. Martin would go much further and apply welfare policies for the poor internationally. He stopped short of saying how this could be financed. The Tobin tax levied on financial transactions has been resurrected. But this idea is ten years late, according to Jacques Attali of l’Express. To eliminate poverty and protect the environment, he would tax energy, create a world Parliament to pass laws, and put in place proper mechanisms. “We need new supranational institutions,” he says, “to continue the pattern set after the Second World War when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created.”

This type of optimism may or may not be justified in light of other challenges. Billions of dollars which could have been better spent on eradicating poverty and disease are now going to pay for elaborate public security measures. Efforts to create an international criminal court to deal with global terrorism or allegations of other large-scale offences – which could eventually replace the controversial U.S. military tribunals – have been thwarted by a number of countries, including the U.S., which has failed to ratify the UN treaty. The same thing can be said of a UN rapidly deployable military force to deal with crisis situations and prevent mass murder and other atrocities from occurring. Section 43 of the UN charter has made provision for such a force, but so far members of the Security Council have failed to grapple with the issue.

Getting rid of nuclear weapons entirely is another project which is on everyone’s mind, but is rarely pursued at the diplomatic level because of an implicit reaction that it simply can’t be done. Yet, vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction remain and can be stolen, while terrorists and rogue states are reported to have nuclear-weapons technology and the ability to produce biological agents in large quantities. Is there any other option but to move steadily toward a nuclear-weapons-free world with proper and transparent verification? This is the timely thesis offered in Wilson’s Ghost, Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing and Catastrophe in the 21st Century, written by former U.S. Secretary of Defence, Robert S. McNamara, and James G. Blight.

Whether we like it or not, the future shape of the world will depend largely on the United States. The U.S. has a long history of isolationism and of acting unilaterally when it does get involved. It remains to be seen if the support it has received from the coalition against terrorism will markedly affect its foreign policy. At present, it can pretty well rule the world by virtue of its military might. Its commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights, however, are what makes the U.S. unique as a super-power.
Prepared with files from Lome Monti and Jeanne Poulin, Contributing Editors, and Jean Chevrier, Editor.

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