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The Tragedy of a tragedy.
Global terrorism
and repressive globalisation




Radmila Nakarada, TFF Associate

Professor, Belgrade University and senior researcher at the Institute for European Studies, Belgrade

With Miroslav Pecujlic, Faculty of Law, Belgrade University



America has experienced a horrific tragedy, thousands of innocent civilians have met a terrible death. The terrorist acts in New York and Washington have further extended the boundaries of destruction, setting in motion a new spiral of violence. The world is once again moving in a dangerous direction.


1. Terrorism - lethal disease

Terrorism undoubtedly is one of the most dangerous enemies of democratic order, of decent life itself. It successfully combines pre-modern fanaticism and the destructive power of post-modern technology. By killing innocent civilians it simultaneously destroys the "soul of society", creating and recreating a state of permanent fear, provoking and legitimising authoritarian answers. Spectacular terrorist actions will strongly stimulate alienated and frustrated individuals to undertake their personal "wars" in order to settle their grievances.


2. Inappropriate therapy

Responses to this cancerous disease have, by and large, been inappropriate for at least three reasons.

Firstly, terrorism invariably appears as fanatical reaction by individuals or small groups ("social deviants"). But, this is an insufficient explanation of the phenomena of terrorism.

Secondly, "terrorism" has been inconsistently applied. The term terrorism has been reserved exclusively for the official enemy, similar acts undertaken by friends are designated as acts of freedom fighters, justified retaliation, or perhaps, as "extremism". Furthermore, global powers, the U.S. in particular, have appeared as the supporters, if not creators, of certain terrorist groups. They provide logistic assistance, training, money and arms to terrorists if they were the enemy of their enemy. Furthermore, terrorism has been associated mostly with (barbaric) groups targeting the civilised West, while the problem of state terrorism, its victims and tragic social consequences, has been absolved by powerful states the right to defend their interests and privileges by all/any means across the globe.

Thirdly, responses have been inappropriate because a blind eye has been turned to the deeper ethnic, social and cultural roots of terrorism. The most widespread form of terrorism is linked to unresolved national aims and the denial of a statehood that is violently pursued. The tragedy in America represents a "novelty" because, for the first time, the target was not just the U.S. as a state but as the hegemonic actor of global order. This signifies a decisive shift from the national to the global level of terrorism

The repressive, inhuman side of globalisation is a powerful source of terrorism. Hand in hand across the planet march the fabulous wealth of the greedy giants, and the globalisation of poverty. The passive hopelessness and helplessness is transformed into active extremism and fundamentalism which constitute the broad social base of small terrorist groups. In addition, the aggressive globalisation driving forcefully the world into a uniform cultural mould, inevitably provokes violent reactions.

Inappropriate answers stem also from the unequal reverence of human life. The super-rich democratic and technologically sophisticated West demonstrated in numerous ways that the lives of the others, non-Westerners, are of lesser value. It has become an imperative that the life of a single American citizen-soldier must not be sacrificed, while at the same time whole societies may be totally destroyed by lethal bombing from safe distances. However, the modern kamikazes, willing to die for their causes, have now demonstrated, by the great pain they have caused to the citizens of the U.S., that "your lives are not worthier than ours, you are not safer than we are." Here lies the morbid power of terrorism and the limited reach of self-confidence based on military might.


3. The distorted logic of Unlimited Justice

It is an illusion and a false expectation that terrorism can be eliminated by a demonstration of military force, by war as envisioned by Operation Unlimited Justice. The planned Operation suffers from grave inherent contradictions.

The Operation is planned although it still unclear whether, according to the available evidence, Bin Laden is the great mastermind and organiser of the terrorist attacks in U.S., an accomplice or the personae dramatis is someone else. Organising a great military operation on inconclusive evidence, will inevitably be perceived as a war against the Islamic civilisation, generating new waves of terrorist counter-attacks in unpredictable forms and locations.

Since the actors and supporters of terrorism are globally dispersed, having their secret cells in many states, the planned military strikes must be selective. However, which among the terrorist-supporting states will be punished and which will be called to join the Great Alliance against terrorism, is likely to be decided as the result of a "geo-strategic roulette". Thus, the diagnosis and treatment will be distorted by narrow political calculations, leaving untouched important parts of the global terrorist body.

This inconsistent and particularistic approach to terrorism is, however, the central contradiction underlying the U.S. call for a "war on terrorism." Launching the war cry "who is not with us (in this operation) is on the side of terrorists", the U.S. seems to forget that until yesterday they have supported, and financed various branches of the planetary terrorist trunk. The arch-terrorist Bin Laden represents the vivid metaphor of the creature who turned against its creator. When his mujehedeen assassin groups operated in Croatia, Bosnia, later in Kosovo and Macedonia they did not encounter any U.S. protest or resistance. On the contrary, they enjoyed its support.

The enormous cost of the new war will drastically decrease the financial means for mitigating global poverty, this crucial source of extremism. It will deepen the all ready existing human catastrophe of Afghanistan itself; it will destabilise the region, probably producing new internal conflicts in a number of countries, caused by radicalising the divide between the secular and fundamentalist Moslem populations.

The waves of war consequences may reach the shores of Western European countries with large Moslem population.


4. A real tragedy and its possible misuse

Perhaps the greatest danger is the possibility that the Global Hawks may misuse a real tragedy in two directions. Firstly, for their geo-strategic interests and purposes, i.e. gaining military control over Euroasia, the huge and virginal space of natural resources.

Secondly, the war operation "Unlimited Justice" might easily turn into a new breed of world wars, i.e. prolonged global war-fighting that is likely to result in an increasingly repressive form of globalisation and authoritarian global rule.

In other words, a new wave of militarisation and the creation of a world garrison state in which we may come to witness global surveillance, an all-inclusive control of private life, and a drastic reduction in the free circulation of citizens across the planet, across borders.


5. New principles needed

For the successful struggle against global terrorism three principles are of decisive importance.

a. Superior ethics, and strong commitment to the rule of law in contrast to a political philosophy that argues that grand aims justify all means, a philosophy which turns the mass killing of civilians into its conscious target or "collateral damage".

b. Political principles of universalism in contrast to particularism and double standards. It must use principles which give equal treatment to equal tragedies of innocent civilians, recognise counter-terrorism as violence and terror too and accept a shared responsibility for ending every cycle of retaliation.

c. A permanent struggle to narrow the social and cultural sources that generate extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism. Security does not lay in a new round of militarisation and arms races, but in relationships based on respect for the lives of all human beings, development of global democracy, increased sensitivity to social justice.

If we uphold relationships that produce distress for the many and privileges for the few and keep on developing a world order that runs against the interests of the weak and the needs of the poor then false security must be sought in coercion and weapons.

The true alternatives to the present dangerous course of events lie in the combination of:

a) a "Broad Social Alliance against social, cultural and political roots of global terrorism, an Alliance for "globalisation with a human face";

b) a strengthening the international judicial institutions and procedures; in particular, the International Criminal Court should have a key role in dealing with terrorism;

c) a restrained security policy response including military and police operations against terrorist organisations but only if based on conclusive evidence and a UN mandate.




© TFF & the author 2001  


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