By James M. Crotty
In the week or so since the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, I've begun to form a clear opinion on how a single, white, son of the Nebraska plains, who's never known prolonged poverty or hardship, or dispossession of land, property and family, can respond to this atrocity.
To begin, I unequivocally know that indiscriminately demonizing ethnic groups only plays into the hands of the terrorists seeking to destabilize not just our political and economic foundations, but our moral underpinnings. I for one will not succumb to that temptation. Furthermore, I will not succumb to the clarion cry for the horrible swift sword of vengeance against any and all enemies of the United States. For that too would be affirming the terrorist m.o. A nation built on eternal principles of justice and liberty does not impulsively respond based on knee-jerk emotion.
Where America has been most successful, she has been most deliberate. Yes, with the sad consequence of many lives lost, but with the gratifying conclusion of goals achieved. We took several years to enter W.W.II, but once we entered, we did so with the full cooperation of all but diehard conscientious objectors, and we did so with a clear desire to not only win the war, but win the peace. And we did both spectacularly well. Which is why our enemies in that conflict, Germany and Japan, are now among our strongest allies. Stronger in the rhetoric of appreciation than our purported closest ally, the United Kingdom, some of whose solipsistic citizens feel the incessant need to nip at our heels with endless rebukes, like a pesky little pet with a chip on its shoulder. Over the last week Brits on both American and British media have uttered a series of ill-timed bromides, such as "now America knows how WE feel," or Martin Amis' twisted "America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated," delivered with an almost sinister glee. One day all Brits will lay down that axe they've been grinding since 1776.
Fortunately, this country is big enough in spirit to not be led off track by the bitter jealousy of a former world power. We are the planet's only world power. And "make no mistake," to use a bit of G.W. vernacular, WE are under attack. The events of September 11 made it terrifyingly clear that terrorism is no longer a question of "law enforcement." We tried that approach after the last World Trade Center bombing, and it only emboldened our adversaries. As the Bible says, "there is a time for peace, and a time for war." And this Pope John Paul, Thich Nhat Hanh, and all you other tender, good, but misguided proponents of the peace-at-any-cost school of extreme nonviolence, is a time for war.
This is why, regardless of how our purported "allies" respond, we need to put ourselves on the same war footing we held in W.W.II. The threat of terrorism is not going away. And in a security "situation" where we are always playing catch-up, where we're always playing Monday morning quarterback, the spectre of terrorism is only going to grow worse.
The reason is simple: terrorists require no pretext. No matter how gracious we are towards Middle Eastern countries, no matter how much we back away in our support of Israel, no matter if we withdraw all our troops from Saudi Arabia, no matter if we produce only G-rated films, G-rated song lyrics, and ban any and all G-strings, Osama bin Laden, Imad Mughniyeh, Ayman Al Zawahir, and other radical Islamic psychopaths will never be satisfied. With each compromise, they only become more heartened. Just ask the Israelis, who less than a year ago were ready to accede to almost all Palestinian demands without demanding a shred of compromise in return, and STILL the Palestinians balked. Why? Because the terrorist organizations that Mr. Arafat knows would unseat him if he signed such a deal want nothing less than the total destruction of Israel. There is no middle ground for Hamas or Hizbullah. Just as there is no middle ground for Osama bin Laden. This sick son of a Saudi construction billionaire cannot be reached by persuasion or money or dramatic shifts in culture or policy. He and his worldwide Al Quaeda network of Islamic militants seek the complete annihilation of the American way of life. Why? Because it is based on principles it finds fundamentally abhorrent: freedom of women (a violation of strict Quaranic thinking); freedom of religion (which would legitimate other religions besides fundamentalist Islam); free enterprise (which invariably involves the export and import of goods, services and ideas, however benign, that are anathema to fundamentalist Islam); and freedom of speech (which inevitably allows for the occasionally tasteless and impure cultural byproducts deemed "Satanic" by fundamentalist Islam).
It's long been a cliché in Israel, but now is becoming clear here--radical Islam doesn't hate America because of its support of Israel. Radical Islam hates Israel because of its support of America. America and Western values are the target, have been the target, and will continue to be the target. Israel, the Saudi regime, the Jordanian regime, and others in the Middle East, will continue to be targets as long as radical Islam perceives them to be "proxies" of its main target, the United States of America.
While adept at the most sophisticated tools of the 21st century American technocrat--including satellite phones, offshore banking, computer encryption, day trading, espionage, and the like--Osama bin Laden wants a cultural and political landscape that closely resembles a 14th century Caliphate. Those who might sympathize with such a vision, those who romanticize a complete resistance to capitalism and globalization, and who fetishsize a world free of world banks, world trade organizations, world trade centers, and private ownership of the means of production, need to closely look at what that kind of world would be like. Go back to the Dark Ages for a history lesson--high infant mortality, abominable sanitary conditions, serfdom, oligarchies, the lack of genuine justice, violent fanaticism, to name just a few of the evils one would encounter on a daily basis. If such a society seems appealing, take a look at today's Afghanistan. There you will see how this fantasy plays out in reality.
Alas, this sort of fanatical thinking is not unique to fundamentalist Islam. Glorification of a distant past, accompanied by a violently fanatical quest for cultural and ideological purity, is typical of all fundamentalists, from David Koresh and his Waco wackos, to the late Timothy McVeigh and his modern militia monsters, to Operation Rescue and their murderous "pro-lifers," to that loony Luddite poster boy, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
This absolutist quest for purity is a form of clinical psychosis. We who live in the world of bargaining and negotiation, compromise and common sense, know that ideals have to be funneled through the dirty dharma of daily life. A bodhisattva knows when to break the vows. An American patriot knows that the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact.
A violent fundamentalist abjures the reality of compromise. "Purity or death" is their unspoken mantra. We as a nation need to quickly disabuse ourselves of the fairy tale notion that such a mind is responsive to care and feeding, to persuasion, to expressions of soul-searching guilt, to compromise of any kind. Just as an anorexic is never thin enough, to a fundamentalist we can never be pure enough. Which is why their numbers are inevitably small. There is a messianic rapture inevitably attached to these groups: only a select few will be chosen, only a select few will survive the Holocaust that their God, or their ideology, are prompting them to facilitate.
The violent fundamentalist sees himself as blameless, no matter how ghastly the atrocity he induces. It is an essential component of his psychopathology. The evil is external. And that evil must be exterminated to its core.
One of the greatest dangers a nation and its leader faces in combating violent fundamentalism is in forming structures of response that echo the psychosis of the fundamentalist. Creating sharply dualistic black and white scenarios, churning out rhetoric calling for the complete extermination of the enemy and his supporters, talking of "crusades" of "good versus evil" are habits of thought the victim has appropriated from the terrorist. Proof, in fact, that the terrorist has succeeded in seeding his mindset into the victim.
It must be remembered that, for the most part, the violent fundamentalist does not seek his ultimate reward in this life. Rather, he seeks a tabula rasa--a complete cleansing of the evil he sees everywhere in the world. His is like a maniacal housekeeper, cleaning out the house, then burning it to the ground, so that a new and better house may be built in its place. Or, so that no house will ever, ever be built again.
To the extent that his victim adopts his radically dualistic frame of mind, the sooner the terrorist will get his wish. For in his quest to unleash fury, the victim plays right into the terrorist's desire for annihilation. For purity through earthly immolation.
>From the rhetoric heard now in Washington we are
headed down this
precarious path. But in sympathy to our leaders, I admit they are facing a difficult conundrum. Because, on the one hand, the only surefire solution to existing terrorism is the complete elimination of the terrorist. But with a crucial caveat: without the simultaneous destruction of the anti-terrorist. As Machiavelli, the legendary master of statecraft advised back in the 14th century, it is better for the prince to be feared than loved. However, it is just as important that he not be hated. Our President has to steer a fine course between being feared abroad, loved at home, and hated nowhere.
Here's my advice to our suddenly princely Prez on how this delicate balance can be achieved. First, President Bush must realize that any sort of American action in the Middle East, no matter how much international support we elicit, is bound to stir up hatred. The key matter is to localize the hatred to the fundamentalist fringe, which will never be persuaded, which will never change, and work towards keeping that hatred from spreading to those moderate mainstream elements who have the potential for becoming radicalized.
It is clear by now that once radicalized, violent fundamentalists need to be either imprisoned or killed. Except in rare cases, there is no middle ground. Like long-term cult members, there is little hope of reprogramming the structures of thought that gave birth to their fundamentalism. Which is why the President is on the right track in seeking the capture of bin Laden "dead or alive." However, how does one prevent the contagion from spreading while pursuing an implacable enemy?
Speak softly, move clandestinely, and carry a big carrot.
Speak softly because the more loudly we declare our intentions the more intransigent becomes the opposition. The American people do not need to be riled up. If anything, we need to be cooled off. We need level heads leading this response.
Move clandestinely because no permanent solution will come from large-scale bombing of host countries, only innocent civilian casualties, further emboldening our guileless opponents. We need as a nation to realize that an Iraqi life, an Iranian life, a Pakistani life, an Afghani life, are all equal to an American life. We need to showcase our humanity by skillfully and quietly hunting down our attackers with a minimum of "collateral damage."
Most important, we need to carry a big carrot. Those not yet radicalized are still humane in the sense that they have a vested interest in remaining alive, in supporting their families, in enjoying the sensual pleasures of this earthly plain. While violent fundamentalists come from all economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, it is also patently clear that people in dire straits are far more likely to sympathize with these violent radicals, to give them aid, and even join their ranks.
It is on the fringes of support for Osama bin Laden that we as a nation need to do the hard work of turning box cutters into plowshares. The inevitable hatred towards us can be ameliorated by many kinds of aid, especially economic. Debt relief, lifting of sanctions, and free trade agreements could be a vitally important start. A people, no matter how much they support a fundamentalist terrorist or his creed, can become mighty complacent if they can suddenly afford houses, food, cars, refrigerators, televisions, computers, new clothes, a night out at the movies, and investment in new business. Peace and prosperity is boring in that way. We need to seed the host countries with precisely this sort of boredom. We need to aid the hosts and benefactors of our adversaries, while simultaneously insuring that the kind of aid we provide does not bolster terrorism, but rather bolsters political and economic stability in the host countries. When an economy and political culture is in crisis, fringe elements flourish. Just look at the rise of black market gangs that feasted on the collapse of the USSR. That is why, after COVERTLY destroying the terrorists and their networks, we need to OVERTLY rebuild the countries that gave them safe harbor. Just as we did in Germany and Japan, we will need a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and South Asia.
The birth of fundamentalism has myriad causes. It can occur in the best possible economic circumstances--witness the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City (which occurred during a time of unprecedented U.S. prosperity). It can flower in the mind of the rich or the poor. We were a nation founded in part by fundamentalists--religious sects who were simply too far out for the motherland. If the Puritans had had chemical weapons, who knows what they might have wrought. As it stands, fundamentalism is a permanent part of the human psyche. We cannot change that. Because in whatever direction we move, there will always be a fundamentalist opposing that direction. If we tilt towards the right, then left-wing fundamentalism seen in, say, Sixties and Seventies terror groups like the Red Army Faction, the Black Panthers, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and, yes, the Manson Family, will gain the upper hand. If we tilt left, then the likes of Terry Nichols and Eric Rudolph will seize the limelight.
While we cannot change the fundamentalist, we can change the conditions that allow the weed of fundamentalism to grow. Unfortunately, the favorable conditions that allow for violent fundamentalism have never been better. They are particularly fertile in the Middle East, and amongst one segment of the world's population, Muslims. We as a nation are partially to blame--our $43 million in aid to the Taliban for its help in the war on the Afghani poppy, our strengthening of Islamic rebels in the fight against the Soviet Union, and then our wholesale disappearance once the Soviets had been evicted, are well documented--but there is still time to not only eradicate the weed of terrorism, but to create conditions such that it never springs forth again. The Frankenstein of Osama bin Laden is here. But we need to not only kill this monster, but make sure there are no sons of bin Laden waiting, like Orestes, to avenge the death of their father and king.
Today, in Germany, there are occasional, and at times quite virulent, acts of Neo-Nazi violence. But because we were so careful, so thorough in creating the conditions for both democracy and free enterprise in the former West Germany, the disease of Naziism, the worst example of fundamentalism the world has ever known, is unable to take up roots. And so strong is the ballast we built that over the next few years the collective weight of a unified Germany will continue to succeed in marginalizing and eventually destroying the vestiges of this former world threat. Yes, Germans need to remain ever vigilant, but they have the tools, and, more important, the consciousness, to continue down the path of freedom.
Nevertheless, it's a staggering fact that over 50 years after the death of Hitler, the world is STILL managing the aftershocks of Naziism--a fundamentalist creed that was rejected almost everywhere. Imagine then how long Islamic terrorism, which has supporters around the globe, will be with us. We need to wake up to the long-term generational threat of terrorism, and Islamic terror in particular.
Unfortunately, it takes a world war to generate such a wakeup call. And that is precisely why our government is calling for one now. Because, unless we realize this is a serious long-term struggle, Americans will go right back into a comfortable sleep. It's good that we like to sleep. It's the healthy sleep of safety, security, and relative peace and prosperity. We wish such a sleep on the entire world. In due course.
But right now is not the time for sleeping. Right now is not the time to go back to our our mindless celebrity drivel, our tasteless and demeaning reality programming, our obsession with the sexual peccadilloes of our elected leaders. We need to look to our parents and grandparents, and the kind of example they set when faced with W.W.II. The entire country got on the same page--doing whatever it could to aid the war effort. We cannot let others do the work for us. We need to examine our lifestyles in detail. For example, if am an Arab-American, I could show my commitment by offering my sorely needed language skills to the FBI. If I am a non-Arab American, I can show my commitment by working to protect Arab-Americans, their businesses, their churches and mosques, and their homes, from misplaced hatred. If I am a Hollywood producer, I can look squarely at the kind of values and images I export to the world.
This is not a McCarthyesque litmus test of national allegiance, but simple decency. We need to seize the moral high ground. But how can we do that when many of our citizens are ignorant of our own constitution, of our own founding principles, of our long and distinguished cultural heritage. How can we lead by example when our contribution to world betterment is a a rejection of attempts to curb global warming, a rejection of attempts to stem the import of our genetically modified foods, and blind support of the export of our basest entertainments. Look, I have as healthy an appetite for low-brow pop culture as the next American. But not only is it not my steady diet, but I appreciate it because it is a necessary antidote to the more intelligent fare that forms my steady diet.
Unfortunately, The Muslim world overlooks the fact that we are the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and that we essentially saved the Muslims of Bosnia, because our good deeds are overshadowed by the export of the crudest culture America has to offer. Is it any wonder that Muslim clerics preach against the American way of life when their conception of America is formed by "Baywatch," Aaron Spelling psychodramas, and gangsta rap? Message to Hollywood: The export of American pop culture is not benign. It has dramatic political consequences, for better and for worse.
We can never win over Islamic fundamentalists, but we CAN win over the hearts and minds of moderates in the Muslim world. To win the long-term battle, there needs to be a sea change in the way the world looks at America. And for that sea change to occur, there needs to be a sea change in the way that America looks at the world. And all of us can participate in that sea change.
Americans of all stripes are saying they want to "help," but they don't know what they can do. Want to really make a difference? Refuse to doze off into mindless media minutiae. Give some allegiance to the serious, in-depth, and responsible news coverage provided by CSPAN, NPR and PBS. Demand that our networks focus on what is vitally important, not the least common denominator entertainments that play to our worst attributes and whose vile presence on our news networks at this sensitive time insults the memory and integrity of this great nation and this horrible tragedy. What's more, demand that if the networks truly believe in freedom of the press, they need to stand up for those journalists whose footage of unbridled and widespread Palestinian celebrations following the attacks of September 11 was illegally confiscated and altered by Palestinian authorities. Fight for the right to show that footage to the American people.
In addition to vigilant awareness, we must build deeper bridges to our Islamic neighbors and friends. Studying the Koran does not make us terrorist accomplices, but helps us understand a people many Americans stereotype--to put it crudely, but realistically--as those guys who sell rugs and baba ghanoush. There is a bit of terrorist in all of us any time we place a person in a virtual internment camp of our own making, any time we judge a group by the actions of a tiny segment of its members. The more we get beyond that thinking, the more our goodwill translates into goodwill towards our country. Tolerance is patriotic.
At the same time, we need to realize this is a world war--a quiet, controlled, and covert world war, I hope--against the genuine forces of terror, who, like Hirohito's suicide bombers, will take as many with them as they can. Those who are currently brainwashed by the terrorist agenda, those who suffer from this seductive psychosis, must, to tweak the memorable Auden phrase, be permanently imprisoned or die. We must destroy the existing terrorists before they destroy us. But concurrently, as I've shown, the conditions that allow for the spread of terror must be systematically abated. To use a medical metaphor, after employing serious medications to eradicate the contagion, we need to engage in the complementary medicine of prevention, so that the contagion doesn't return. We can only dramatically eradicate this menace once, or, at best, twice. If we use our full military capacity more than that, we risk damaging the host. We risk damaging the soil of democracy. We risk destroying ourselves.
James M. Crotty is the cofounder and editor of Monk: The Mobile Magazine, the travel/culture website, Monk.com, and the web development firm, Monk E-Biz (http:www.monk.com/web/).
If you would like to PURCHASE or simply reprint this piece, please contact Mr. Crotty at Jim@Monk.com.
Original file name: PART 2- The Solution (Jim Crott - converted on Monday, 24 September 2001, 21:28
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