The Misguided War on Terrorism



Kaare Willoch
Former leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of Norway


November 19, 2003

In recent days newspapers in several countries have been carrying large ads directed against suicide bombers. This is unlikely to be of much help. In their summit talks in London this week, on the future of the war on terrorism, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, should direct their attention towards the root causes of this dreadful form of warfare.

They should heed the experience of Israel and would also do well to listen to former US president Bill Clinton, who, during a recent visit to Oslo, asserted that "in a world where it is impossible for us to occupy, capture, or conquer whoever aims to harm us, we need to work harder to achieve a world with more friends and fewer terrorists".

Opinion polls demonstrate an urgent need for a new policy. Over the last two years the percentage of the population with a favorable view of the USA has fallen from 61% to 15% in Indonesia and from 52% to 15% in Turkey.

There is a connection between lack of military power to confront injustice and the use of terrror. Nuclear weapons are an element of one party's crushing superiority in the Middle East. The West - with good reason - seeks to prevent other countries from acquiring them.

But the USA refuses to hear criticism of Israel's nuclear arsenal. On this subject Amir Moussa, leader of the Arab League, has said that "this is a double standard which will destroy the war on terrorism."

The two leaders seem to hope that the war against those behind the September 11, 2001 attack on the USA, and the removal of Saddam Hussein's terrorist regime in Iraq, can put an end to such brutal violence. But according to Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's security service Shin Bet, "Those who want 'victory' against terror without addressing the underlying grievances want an unending war."

At the New York conference on terrorism in September of this year, Pakistan's president Pervez Musharaff mentioned some of these frustrations: "Muslims feel that their claims are discounted, which leads to a feeling of hopelessness. This is a direct cause of suicide bombings and terrorism."

During a recent visit to Oslo former US president Bill Clinton stated that "in a world where it is impossible for us to occupy, capture, or conquer whoever aims to harm us, we need to work harder to achieve a world with more friends and fewer terrorists." Opinion polls show failure in this respect. Over the last two years the percentage of the population with a favorable view of the USA has fallen from 61% to 15% in Indonesia and from 52% to 15% in Turkey.

It's said that if one kills two out of ten terrorists, according to Israeli logic one will have eight left. According to Palestinian logic the new number will be twelve. This explains why Lt. Gen. Moshe Yalon, Israeli Chief of Staff, recently stated that his country's harsh policy towards the Palestinians was, contrary to its intentions, strengthening extremists on the Palestinian side in opposition to its own strategic interests.

This accords with what Thomas L. Friedman wrote in the New York Times early in 2002: "What Osama Bin Laden failed to achieve on September 11 is now being unleashed by the Israeli-Palestinian war in the West Bank: 'a clash of civilizations.'" But in order to prevent more disasters, one must also heed Paul Krugman's warning that "the USA will lose the fight against terror if the Americans don't make an effort to understand how others think."

An example of the sort of attitude that exacerbates conflict is a recent statement by a well-known Norwegian Christian fundamentalist: "what God proclaimed to the world through his angel and through Rebekah has indeed been fulfilled. The Arab people have been like a wild ass engaged in constant conflict, both among themselves and with other ethnic groups. They have always been especially hostile to the Jewish people. "

This type of view is shared by fellow believers in the West. Others look at the way we Westerners have waged the bloodiest wars in history amongst ourselves, turning the entire world into a slaughterhouse. They may wonder, who are we to view Arabs as having a more "wild-ass" mentality than our own? And further, it wasn't Arabs but Europeans who committed one of the most grotesque crimes of history against the Jewish people. But the racist attitudes that Christian fundamentalists justify with the Bible still exert considerable influence on Western policies.

We should be grateful to the leaders of France and Germany and almost the entire range of Christian denominations (with the exception of the leader of the White House prayer group) who so strongly emphasized that this war was not a war between religions and was not a "crusade." If it had not been for them the war in Iraq would have created even greater risks for an expansion of conflicts giving rise to terrorism. But, regrettably, their opposition to the war has not sufficed to eliminate the perception of an aggressive Western world, a perception originating with the Crusades and reinforced every day with television images from Palestine and Iraq. Paul Krugman wrote in May 2003 in the International Herald Tribune that "the Iraq war . . . did the terrorists a favor."

One cannot expect non-Westerners to consider it more a more heroic act to bomb Palestinian homes from airplanes than to blow oneself up. And if we're shocked about suicide bombings, others may note that US-financed missiles and shells are inflicting a much higher death toll on innocent civilians. It is only natural that many outside the West believe that we are against only certain forms of violence and condone our own use, and our allies' use, of far more lethal ones.

Some of the new crop of terrorists may also remember the results that Jewish terrorists achieved when they drove Palestinians out of areas which would become part of Israel. Many in the West now believe that the right of return for those who were driven out is unacceptable, even if this is what international law demands. In other words, one is in principle against terrorism giving results for the terrorist, but makes exceptions when one has sympathy for him.

The Western leaders must turn their attention to the root causes of terrorism, and take action to eliminate them.


Translated by: Jeanie Shaterian, California


på norska


© The author and (IPS Columnist Service. 17.11.03)


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