Terrorism: Theirs and Ours

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Brandon Sellers

Intro International Politics

Dr. Josh Gold


Summary Critique of

“Terrorism: Theirs and Ours”

By Dr. Eqbal Ahmad

On October 12,1998 Dr. Eqbal Ahmad gave a presentation at the University of Colorado entitled, “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours.” Eqbal Ahmad was a Pakistani writer and college professor and was very outspoken about all situations occurring in the Middle East up until his death in 1999. In this presentation he discusses what he determined to be the United States motivations for their actions against or for terrorism, the motivations of the private political groups of the Middle East for their part in terrorism and his recommendations on how to avoid terrorism. The points he makes in his presentation seem very substantial to me considering the state of the world we live in now. U.S. foreign policy on terrorism is very elusive even though many Americans believe they know exactly what it is.

In the beginning of the presentation, Dr. Ahmad discusses seven reasons for how the United States actions toward terrorism are based. First, the determination of who is a terrorist and who should be considered a freedom fighter changes depending upon the situation and circumstances. Dr. Ahmad points to a time when the Afghan Mujahiddin came to the White House in 1985 as allies in arms against the Soviet Union and President Ronald Reagan described the men as “the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers.” 13 years later, fifteen American missiles were deployed in Afghanistan in an attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden and his men. Bin Laden had been among those men who had been compared to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Second, the US State Department has never given a concise definition of what exactly makes a person or group a terrorist, but instead uses statements that categorize them as enemies. Third, the reach of the US is a global reach and therefore has the capability to influence all people in the world. Fourth, the US never tries to explain the cause of the terrorist’s actions. Fifth, the US uses their vast network of information gathering to know for a certainty, according to former Secretary of State George Shultz who commented, “We know the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters, and as we look around, we have no trouble telling one from the other.” Sixth, the United States determines the moral feelings of its people by approving or disapproving of certain group’s actions by supporting these actions or even just ignoring them altogether. Seventh, the United States sponsored many of the groups now considered terrorist during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. These points made by Dr. Ahmad are why, in his view, the United States foreign policy on terrorism is flawed.

Dr. Ahmad’s point of how the definition of who is considered a terrorist by the United States and how it is always changing of who is a friend and who is a foe seems to be very concise. In class we have discussed how alliances in International Relations are based upon mutual goals and are usually short lived. In the world today many of the allies that the US has had in the Middle East have turned into enemies. Osama Bin Laden was an ally of the United States for many years until he turned in 1990. The U.S. put troops on the ground in the most holy land of Muslims. Never before had there been a foreign force in this land but due to the fact that the Americans were there to help the Saudis against Iraq Osama remained quiet. It was only after the Gulf War was over and the troops remained that he had a problem with them. They had worked so hard to dispel the Russians from their land and now their “allies” were occupying the holy land. It is easy to see why he turned into an enemy. The sixth point that Dr. Ahmad made resonates because of how easily it seems that the American populace is swayed by the many stories that the government and mass media give them and for the ignorance that Americans constantly show when it comes to foreign affairs. Take, for example, Al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the attempted attack on the Capitol. Many Americans believe that it was a religious attack. That it was Islam striking out at a culture that was in opposition to their views, when in fact if you look at the three targets of the attack separately you can see what they were trying to damage. The Twin Towers were a monument to the United States economic superiority in the world. The Pentagon is in command of the United States military that has invaded the holy land. And finally the capitol is where the government of the United States is based. These icons of America were destroyed by desperate men, not crazy religious fanatics. They are desperate because they feel the US is stealing their ability to live by undermining their ability to support stable economies by intervening in oil production.

Dr. Ahmad then discusses the motivations for terrorism by private political groups in Middle Eastern countries. He states that these groups need to be heard. When a minority attempts to be heard to state their case in the injustice they feel and are ignored or rebuked they may turn to terrorist acts to get their message across. Dr. Ahmad gives the example of the Palestinians who were dispossessed in 1948. They attempted many times to have their case heard by the worlds courts and recognized by the world and when that didn’t work they turned to terrorism in the form of hijacking commercial airlines. Another way these groups get involved in terrorism is due to feelings of helplessness and anger after they have endured what they feel to be oppressed. Eventually they let the resentment of their oppressors grow until it breaks and they see an enemy in the force holding them down. Dr. Ahmad also points to examples of terrorism spreading. When a people see an effective way that someone else got their message out they may adapt it to their cause. The last thing Dr. Ahmad mentions is that there are key differences between terrorists and revolutionaries. The absence of revolutionary ideology is central to victim terrorism. A people or group seeking revolution plan, scrutinize and debate over every action they take. Terrorists are looking to inflict pain and destruction. These motivations can be seen in all the terrorist’s attacks that have been perpetrated by private political groups.

All of these points seem to be valid in the state of the world today. In the case of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda it can be seen where every one of these has been used. When U.S. forces were occupying the Muslim holy land Osama sent letters asking why the forces were still present and asked them to withdraw. His attempts to be heard were largely ignored by the US. Being ignored made him feel angry and helpless against the larger, more powerful American military. He saw the examples of the Palestinians hijacking planes and he adapted it to his own means and used American commercial aircraft as missiles against the U.S on September 11, 2001. The final part about the differences between revolution and terror is another good example. The attacks on the U.S. weren’t revolutionary strikes against an opposing military force. They were blindsided acts of violence against defenseless innocents.

In the final part of his presentation, Dr. Ahmad has recommendations for the United States to prevent terrorism and promote peace in the Middle East. His first recommendation is to avoid double standards. The U.S. must not continue to condone terrorism by one group and decry it by another when it benefits the goals of the US. A superpower must be even-handed and cannot promote terror in on one place and discourage it in another. They must focus on diplomatic solutions to promote the peace and try hard to avoid military solutions. Military solutions can backfire, as one did in the attempt to kill Qaddafi, which resulted in his innocent 4-year-old daughter being killed or when a U.S. missile strike was launched on Pakistan and a missile was recovered fully intact. The United States was trying to keep Pakistan from building nuclear weapons and essentially gave them missile technology to study. Dr. Ahmad points out the need for the U.S. to support international law and quit using unilateralist methods because it lowers the credibility of all international organizations that promote law and stability in the world.

The recommendations made by Dr. Ahmad are ones that could benefit the US. By promoting its own self interest in foreign countries by aiding or by decrying terrorist groups, the US isn’t seen as a superpower that strives for justice, but as a domineering nation that is only looking out for itself. Having the most powerful military in the world had made the US use domination tactics in its affairs with the world. The US looks to destroy and demoralize its enemies by force instead of seeking a peaceful resolution through diplomacy. International organizations need the support of the most powerful nation in the world in order to gain legitimacy. If the US ignores what these organizations are trying to accomplish just because it doesn’t further the US short term goals then there is no chance of the organizations being successful.

The presentation and article “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours,” by Dr. Eqbal. Ahmad. Dr. Ahmad was very critical of the United States strategy in the Middle East and their actions in dealing with terrorism. He was never able to gain tenure at any Universities because of his views. His points about the motivations of the United State, the private Political group’s motivations and his recommendations were all very well thought out and portrayed. I can see that his descriptions of the motivations are vey apt but his recommendations seem to me to be too lofty and may never come to exist.

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