Thursday, September 11, 2008

Intemperance Keeps Terrorism Alive

Agence Global

by Rami G. Khouri

BEIRUT -- In this week marking the seventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States, three noteworthy events related to the US and the Middle East caught my eye: Al-Qaeda’s number two man Ayman Zawahiri released a new videotape; Republican Party vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin started her foreign policy education by meeting with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an extremist organization that puts Israeli interests above American interests; and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was meeting and dealing with the heads of state of Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria, three of the most authoritarian figures in the world, not just in the Middle East.

Why is this worldwide web of extremism noteworthy? It helps clarify that the terrorism scourge persists because its root causes continue to thrive. Those causes are multiple, complex, and ever changing, and relate primarily to events in four orbits: the Arab-Asian region, Europe, Israel, and American foreign policy.

It is impossible in analytical or historical terms to separate the four main strands of sentiment and policy that have given birth to the contemporary Salafist terrorist movements we all suffer today: dictatorial or merely corrupt and incompetent Arab and Asian governments; violent and colonial Israeli policies; hypocritical and Israeli-influenced American policies that often manifest themselves in warfare; and, the consequent, more recent, phenomenon of demeaned and disoriented young Arab-Asian immigrants in Europe, often second and third generation immigrants.

None of these four principal reasons by itself is likely to cause a person to become a terrorist. The combination of two or more often drives otherwise normal young men or women to embrace wild ideologies that promise an escape from the degradation, confusion and despair that define their lives.

The two principal accusations and complaints against the United States in most of the Arab-Asian region were vividly on display this week, as if the Washington establishment were asking Ayman Zawahiri or Osama Bin Laden to emerge and make an appearance, which Zawahiri did.

Those accusations are: 1) US foreign policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict is hopelessly skewed towards Israel and shows no desire to return to any semblance of even-handedness. And, 2) Washington is most comfortable supporting Arab dictators and life-long presidents, totally disregarding both its own rhetoric about ‘promoting democracy’ and the rights of hundreds of millions of Arab-Asian citizens to fundamental human rights and a decent life.

These two foreign policy traditions in Washington combine with a deadly homegrown modern Arab legacy of political authoritarianism and state-run incompetence to create the volatile mixture that generates terror on a large and recurring scale.

Terrorism is a symptom of other ailments and distortions, and a tool that fanatics use to express themselves and change conditions in society. It is not an ideology that springs out of purely religious milieus. It can be defeated and eliminated only if its underlying causes are recognized and seriously addressed.

Two major trends have remained constant since that terrible day of death and destruction on 9/11: First, those who practice terror in the lands and the wider orbits of the Middle East and South Asia continue to proliferate and dissipate, making it harder to stop their criminal acts. Second, the American-led “global war on terror” persists in a mistaken emphasis on police and military actions to tackle problems that only get worse -- in part because of the political foreign policies that Washington pursues.

Sarah Palin’s first foreign policy journey to AIPAC and Condoleezza Rice’s swan song last journey to three North African Arab dictators suggest that the American political establishment -- or at least its Republican side -- has learned nothing in the past seven years.

Another interpretation is that Republicans and all Americans know this, but do not care -- because they can live with the violence and volatility that define the Arab-Asian region and their relations with much of it. I don’t think this is the case, though, because most Americans prefer peace over war, friendship over rancor, and lawful good governance over rampant criminality.

In the end, the combination of native Arab-Asian dysfunctional governance, exported American hypocrisy, and sustained Israeli aggression creates openings that sick men like Ayman Zawahiri exploit with glee, and some success. There should be no surprises that he and his ilk continue to do this, because the underlying conditions that allow terrorists to breed remain fertile.

Seven years after 9/11 and an American-led “global war on terror” that has cost trillions of dollars, not only do the formative forces of terror persist virtually unchanged from 2001; in some cases (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Algeria) they are more acute than ever before. The really sad thing is that Sarah, Condoleezza, Ayman and Osama all think they are doing just fine, while the rest of us pay the price for their respective and distinct intemperance.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

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