"The strange thing is it happened in the London underground and in World War II that was a place of safety and now it's a place of terror." -- Ray Flood, Vice President, Commonwealth Club, Warren, Mich.
DETROIT -- The carnage in London brings home, again, the abject failure of the "war on terror" as President George W. Bush and his only significant ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, conduct it. They are focusing on the wrong enemy in the wrong place. Their war in Iraq makes the world less secure and breeds more terrorists.
Bush and Blair are consistently wrong in their understanding of who the terrorists are, what motivates them, what their goals are and the evolving nature of their organizations.
The posture of the American and British governments, relying on military might as the principal defense against terrorism, is a manifest failure. We don't spend nearly enough money on intelligence and developing vital information about terrorist activities. We must be more creative, shrewd and cunning. We need better minds, not more machismo.
First, we must recognize that Bush's "flypaper" argument about Iraq is as wrong as the phony reasons for the invasion.
"We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us," Bush said on June 28 in his feeble attempt to justify the quagmire in Iraq and buttress eroding public support for his war of choice.
"We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad," Bush proclaimed to a Fourth of July crowd in West Virginia, just as a cell of jihadists was working to take the fight to the streets of London.
Ray Flood grew up in Southampton, England, and clearly remembers watching the waves of Luftwaffe bombers flying overhead as the Nazis brought terror to British cities. I chatted with Ray as we watched reports on the BBC last Thursday. We were at the Commonwealth Club, a private pub for British expatriates. The mood was somber as we saw the deadly destruction, listened to casualty counts and heard interviews with the survivors.
We marveled at the stoicism and resilience of the wounded and the cool competence of the police and emergency response people working to make order out of chaos and get help for the suffering.
Ray's sister still lives in the U.K. and he called her when he heard of the bombings to check on the fate of other relatives and friends. He was relieved to hear all were well.
Ray compared the summer of 2005 and the horrors of the Battle of Britain.
"The difference is, during the war you could see the bombers coming up the river and you knew you could get into a shelter and get out of the way. But at least you could see what you were running from. But now you don't know when to run. And when you are running, you don't know what you're running from. That's the problem," Ray said with resignation.
Phil Connor, who was born on the Isle of Wight and is the president of the club, joined us. The Brits were very cordial to their Irish-American visitor. The fact that my grandfather and namesake was born in Glasgow and many in my family migrated to Liverpool facilitated our bonding.
Phil had been on the phone most of the morning, checking on family and friends. He had suffered a heart attack on the Fourth of July, but was feeling much better, after shunts were placed in the muscle. The terror in London outraged Phil, and he left his home recuperation to meet me at the club. He understands the murderous simplicity of the bombings.
"It's a soft target because in the underground it's impossible to maintain total security, because there are so many millions of people going in and out, in and out, at any given time," Phil said. "Because people are so packed and because it's rush hour, it's going to cause the maximum amount of damage and the maximum amount of terrorism, which is why they are called terrorists."
Both Phil and Ray are sure their resolute relatives will endure and the terrorists will not succeed. But what is it they want?
To destroy western civilization? Collapse capitalist economies? Seize our territories? Bring Islamic world domination?
Tony Blair and George Bush have similar views and they're both wrong. On the day of the London bombings, Blair said, "It is important, however, that those engaged in terrorism realize that our determination to defend our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world."
Bush added his usual evil refrain.
"And the contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions of those who care deeply about human rights, and those who kill, those who've got such evil in their hearts that they will take the lives of innocent folks," Bush said after the London attacks.
Of course, his own assaults on human rights never occurred to him, nor did the loss of thousands of innocent lives in Iraq. Then he solemnly said, "The war on terrorism goes on."
Yes, and with Bush in charge, that war will remain misguided, unproductive and doomed to failure.
Bush always sees terrorism in well-defined, good-versus-evil terms. The struggle is a biblical battle between the stewards and planters of freedom and liberty and the custodians of tyranny and sowers of evil. It is civilization against the forces of darkness. In this corner, George W. Bush, the crusader for righteousness, and in the other corner, Beelzebub and his Islamic hordes.
"You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," our cocksure president told the world. Fight the devil my way or go to hell.
Bush insists on defining terrorism as inextricably linked to evil regimes (Iraq), evil people (bin Laden and his fabricated understudy, Saddam Hussein) and, of course, evil organizations, notably al-Qaeda.
Scott Atran is a gifted social scientist doing pioneering work that is challenging many of the assumptions about terrorism George W. Bush holds so dearly. Atran is a director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and professor of anthropology and psychology at the University of Michigan. I e-mailed him after the London bombing to get his read on the attacks. He had just returned to Paris from a trip to London.
Atran said, "What happened in London was not unexpected."
He warned that assigning responsibility for the atrocity may be difficult, and politicians and pundits rushing to claim al-Qaeda did the dirty work may be missing the mark.
"Any such claim is misleading," Atran wrote. "Actions are now executed by self-forming cells that swarm for attack, then disappear or disperse to form new swarms. Living mostly in the diaspora, and unconcerned by retaliation against their home populations, jihadists increasingly connect through the World Wide Web and more readily harbor apocalyptic visions of global change."
Atran calls this new model of terrorists "the virtual hand of born-again jihad." While Bush still insists Iraq is the forefront in the war on terrorism, Atran doesn't buy it.
"Arguably the greatest potential terrorist threat in the world today lies with uprooted and egalitarian Muslim young adults in European cities, who provided the manpower for the 9/11 and Madrid train attacks, and quite likely for the London bombings as well," Atran argued.
He has systematically studied suicide bombers and what drives them. What Atran has learned upsets our conventional assessments. "Most jihadists have no history of religious education prior to becoming 'born again' radical Islamists, and many are well-educated, middle class and married. Most would-be suicide bombers I have interviewed say they act to restore dignity to their communities -- real or virtual -- marginalized by globalization and humiliated by military occupation." He sees the jihadists as "committed idealists" on a world mission to "save humanity" -- a notion he traces to the popes who started the Crusades and a movement that was "secularized during the French Revolution and retooled by every major and murderous revolution since."
Atran argues it is nonsense to claim that al-Qaeda and its sympathizers "have no morality and simply want to annihilate Western civilization." He says, "Charges of nihilism against an adversary usually reflect the willful ignorance of those leveling the charge regarding the adversary's moral framework."
Atran sees European governments handicapped in dealing with networking jihadists because they are "hidebound to national territories and politics and to professional hierarchies and traditional languages."
So how are we coping with global, increasingly decentralized terrorists?
"Like pounding mercury with a hammer, applying raw military power likely won't do the trick but only generate more varied and protean forms of the jihadists hydra," Atran notes.
Robert A. Pape, the author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece that a strategic goal, rather than Islamic fundamentalism, is driving al-Qaeda today. Pape sees the desire "to compel the United States and its Western allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries" as the goal motivating the terrorists.
Robin Cook, the Blair government's former foreign secretary, who nobly resigned because of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, spoke to Parliament about the bombings in London.
Cook, who has been consistently correct in his world view, said, "So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won by military means, it is doomed to fail. The more the West emphasizes confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world."
Cook reminded his colleagues, "President Bush is given to justifying the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that by fighting terrorism abroad, it protects the West from having to fight terrorists at home. Whatever else can be said in defense of the war in Iraq today, it cannot be claimed that it protected us from terrorism on our soil."
On our side of the pond, talking heads on the Busheviks' favorite news channel would never dare mention such disturbing facts. Instead, the Fox News Channel's Brit Hume focused on the positive side of the mass murders in London. Why not grab a bloody quick profit? While dead bodies were being pulled from the subways and bus, Lord Hume thought about his portfolio and said on live TV, "I mean, my first thought when I heard, just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been an attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, 'Hmmm, time to buy.'" The ignoble Mr. Hume reminds us of just how civilized we are, and morally superior, as we fight to preserve our way of life.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||July 12 2005|