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The Problem With Terrorism

7.09.2005

Is that it only happens to us. Robert Fisk apparently caused some outrage and offense for his piece in yesterdays Indie and Indo which tries to give some context to the attacks in London yesterday. The article is delivered in Fisk's typically robust style but nothing in it is enough to cause offense, in my opinion. The attempt to give some background, or even context, to the war on terror has been lampooned by the western formula dividing the issue into one of them and us.
I was listening to Dermot Ahern on the radio a while ago and he highlighted, quite correctly, the difficulty that the UN currently has in agreeing a standard definition of terrorism. The current preferred model is 'violence committed against innocent civilians,' he said. However as many on the left are quick to point our this puts the US, UK and China right to the top of terror organisations. In the absence of an objective definition we are bombarded with lopsided media coverage which can dedicate 10 to 15 pages of coverage to London yet both of the Falluja attacks only occasioned a two-page spread if they were so lucky.
The point, as I outlined in the start is that currently terrorism only happens to 'us' and is rarely acknowledged as such when it is perpetrated on our behalf or in our name. This is in no way a defense or mitigation of what occurred on Thursday. It is abominable and it is far too simplistic to say it is simply a result of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What this attack affords us is an opportunity to engage seriously and in a popular democratic fashion with the causes and forms of terrorism. It is a tricky and very emotive debate but I feel it is finally one worth having. As was pointed out over at irisheagle (see post: 'Plan C') the whole issue of international terror is a function of social dynamics in the Middle East. The prescription across the board from Fisk to bloggers is wider promotion of democracy with some going so far as to call for equalisation of wealth globally.
I think many of us realise that our interference in the middle east on the necessity of resource security forces western support for strong arm regimes (Saudi, Egypt, Ex-Iraq...) and does very little to promote wealth redistribution and popular democratic involvement. Outside of Saddam many of our current and ex allies in the middle east were more plutocratic than redistributive. One only needs to consider the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to see how men and women across the society can be drawn to extremism.
I am no middle eastern expert and certainly no supporter of al-Qa'ida but it is certainly fair of Polly Toynbee to point out that the resolution to commit to promotion of democracy and 'doing the right thing' in Africa and the Middle East is not capitulation to terror but the implicit acceptance that, like poverty, the cure lies in helping those societies help themselves. That may mean the removal of strategic partners, like military and autocratic regimes, for the unpredictability of popular democracy.
That may mean removal of support for occupying forces all over the region and genuine promotion of conflict resolution, not inflaming it for political advantage. Many point to the importance and symbolism of Palestine in the cause of al-Qa'ida and other extremists and surely they would be unwilling to countenance a two state solution. However if the two state solution was actually followed and supported the vast majority of popular opinion would accept and support those terms. This turns the issue of extremism into a struggle similar to what we in the west have with far-right/left elements in our political system. We can manage them because our opinions have been granted weight and we outweigh extremists in voice.
The time is fast approaching when western foreign policy exploits shall come home to roost. We must take a brave step to empowering the people of the middle east and promoting Human Rights and conflict resolution. Then we must cooperate globally with stamping out terror.
Solutions are always more myriad than the simplicity of their explanation but with freedom, equality and democracy as a guiding principle we can give societies the power to stamp out extremism.In doing this we must first acknowledge the moral case for our cessation of terror activity in the region also. As I said earlier, terror currently only happens to 'us'. This is history's greatest weakness- it is written by the victor. In challenging al-qa'ida the War on terror is unlikely to solve more than it causes. We cannot allow those at the top to frame and manipulate the debate into an us and them. We have responsibilities for our role and they for theirs. Terror is an emotive word but not one exclusively available to our lexicon. We must realise the experience of terror is a shared one among innocents the world over. To some we are terrorists, to us they are. In truth we all cause terror and it must stop. Fair reporting is unlikely but necessary. A proper working definition is essential and many of us must beseech our states to cease state sponsored terror in our name.
We have the power to stop this, only together and only through democracy.
The problem with terror is that it behoves us to adopt an objective view ofthe issue and realise that none are blameless. It requires us to move forward in cooperation with the people of the middle east to achieve peace and hold unilateral intervention as the final option. It requires of all of us perhaps more than we can give at the moment. When the dust settles however there are and must be hard questions to be asked and unpallatable answers contemplated.
RR

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