Living with Terrorism
Colombiani's arguments show that among our worst enemies are reactionaries such as Bush, the Religious Right and individuals such as General Boykin who are playing the game of radical Islam.
Living with Terrorism
We’ve known it since 9-11. The London and Sharm al-Sheikh bombings, on the heels of Madrid, Bali, Casablanca, are only the confirmation that we live in extraordinary and profoundly destabilizing times in a complex age, which will test the ability of our societies to survive. I’m going to attempt an analysis through a few bullet-points.
1. Islamic terrorism is here to stay
It is dangerous to entertain any illusion concerning this fact. One of them is to imagine that France is sheltered from the terrorists who have struck in England and in Egypt. The French authorities do not entertain such an illusion, and they are correct.
Because is no form of diplomacy which by its nature is able to protect a “Western” country from an offensive led in the name of resisting the "West". Because it is really is a struggle led by small groups of Islamist terrorists against democracies and what they represent: moral freedom, materialism, equal status for women, and the resolute separation of the spiritual and the temporal. They have one objective: to kill the largest numbers of civilians possible in the West—Americans or Europeans-- where they live or where they vacation en masse. The killing could also be carried out to punish or destabilize regimes in the Arab world whom they accuse of impiety or pro-Western attitudes. But it is always the same enemy: the West and enlightenment. Enlightenment is a threat to the kind society which they want to create and impose in the Arab-Muslim world: a dictatorial, interfering system founded on the refusal to separate Mosque and State, tradition instead of reform and The Rule instead of life.
2. Islamic terrorism may not be reduced to a single cause.
Behind the actions of autonomous cells of young Sunni Moslem men, a terrorist generation which strikes at us today, there is a odd mixture of feelings making for a dangerous cocktail. The West is perceived as dangerous because it seduces and it attracts; detestable because it causes jealousy. It is considered illegitimate and humiliating by these young people, who are brought up on scripture claiming that Sunni Islam is the highest and most complete form of monotheism.
How does one explain the backwardness observed in the Arab-Muslim world if it is the repository of the most recent and most perfect among revealed religious? The terrorism that besets us today cannot be explained without an examination of the relationship between Islam and modernity and between the Muslim world and the West. Here and there around the world, the globalization of the Western way of life provokes frustration, marginalization, alienation and competing feelings of seduction and rejection when it collides with other cultures. They imagine that this globalization is first and foremost a globalization of values perceived as a destabilizing enterprise meant to target their religiosity. Their targets are all symbolic places representing contemporary cosmopolitanism.
3. Islamist Terrorism may not be reduced to regional conflicts taking place in the Arab Muslim world from Kashmir to Palestine and from Afghanistan to Iraq.
The Sunnis involved in radical Islam have selective outrage: the martyrdom of Shi’ites or Kurds in Iraq never caused them to shed a tear. They only remembered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when they wanted to use it to justify the attacks of 9-11. But it is true that these conflicts do lead to paranoia, conspiracy theory and persecution complex among those whom they wish to recruit as terrorists. But terrorism may not be reduced to these conflicts alone. Their hatred for the West and for democracy will persist even after the Gaza evacuation. But it has eaten its fill. Each step towards resolving these conflicts is in itself an important step for those who desire peace and those who are fighting terrorism in engaging public opinion. As eminently desirable as it is, especially in the Middle East, each step is only a small part of the response.
4. Iraq was not and is not the answer to terrorism.
The US military intervention into that country, as the Europeans predicted, has only exacerbated the rancor of the Islamists militants: it is playing the role of “recruiting sergeant” for terrorism, as the Chatham House report says. The war reinforces the hatred for the United States Iraq felt by a good many in the Arab-Muslim world and evidently serves as a pretext. Even worse, in a world of instantaneous global reach of the visual image, the responsibility for each car bombing in Baghdad is not blamed on this or that group of insurgents: it is blamed on the US occupation and is considered as an extra proof of the “war” waged by the West on the Muslim world. Hundreds of millions of television viewers blame the United States for the daily carnage in Iraq. We can reject the validity of their reasoning, but it is the predominant perception and cannot be ignored.
From this point of view, it is vain on the part of Tony Blair to deny the evidence: the link between the London bombings and the British involvement with George Bush is a strong possibility. But it would be dangerous to draw the conclusion that the only exit is retreat. Although it is true that the Americans and the British invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons, they now have the obligation of assisting the birth of a future democratic Iraq. It is a task which will require long, patient and painful efforts.
5. Westerners don’t have all the answers.
Of course, the West must get more involved in regional conflict resolution, better integrate their Muslim populations and distance themselves from regimes considered longtime friends that are obstacles to reform in the Arab-Muslim world.
But the West doesn’t hold all the answers. The struggle against Islamist extremism must be waged within the Arab-Muslim world, and it is outside the reach of the United States and Europe. It is a struggle of progressives vs. autocratic and dictatorial regimes; it’s a battle of reforming imams versus fundamentalists, of pragmatism versus purity. These changes are slow, because they are decisive.
6. The fight against Islamist terrorism is not a war.
It’s not WWIII or WWIV. It’s unfortunate as well as dangerous to use these expressions. A war ends when one of the belligerents surrenders or by negotiation. But this is not applicable to Islamist terrorism. This struggle requires multiple, multiform and diplomatic (resolving regional crises) as well as police work (infiltration and surveillance of the terror networks) but above an all ideological response (supporting moderates in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan). The people who want to adopt the al-Qaeda label work in autonomous cells and do not obey a central authority. Al Qaeda is less of an organization than a label. This label designates a struggle against democracy and all forms of liberty.
7. The focus of their hatred is on Europe, perhaps more than the United States.
This reality was suggested by the events September 11, even if certain sectors of opinion had and still have difficulty allying themselves with the United States in this struggle. The hatred germinates in Europe. The first al-Qaeda militants, veterans of the war against the Russians in Afghanistan in the early 80s, have passed the standard to a new generation. Researcher Olivier Roy calls them disenfranchised nomads, victims of globalization. They come from the ranks of immigrants to Europe. It is not in the Maghreb or in Pakistan but in Europe that they rediscover Islam, forging a naive and ultra-radical vision. They become, in their absurd dialect, “good Muslims” which translates into “good fighters”. It is in Europe that they intend to deepen the fissures which isolate Europe’s Muslim communities. Islamophobia is the objective of the terrorists. If it develops they will have realized their ambition in creating a clash of civilizations and placing the The Old Continent in their sights.
8. Our “models” are in question, right here and now.
In many regards we are facing endogenous terrorism. Born in our cities, narratives abound of young men who waiver between the most complete integration and irreparable marginalization. We must realize that this internal struggle within the Muslim world—the struggle between a modernity that subverts and the usage which radicals intend to make of tradition (i.e., the takeover of Muslim society by the Sunni radicals)—is taking place in our European cities and recruits our young people. Both the British model—remaining at arm’s length from communities--or the French model–- interventionist--are attempts at integration but we continue to have our heads in the sand. We must question the pedagogy of modernity, which by all evidence is insufficient or unsatisfactory. When our educational system produces so many marginalized, what is it that we need to do to counter the influence of those who claim that integration is a waste of time and that “truth” may be found elsewhere?
What everyone must realize, in any case, is that there is no salvation outside of modernity and the vivification of our republican ideals.
9. The epicenter is Pakistan.
As research by Bernard-Henry Lévy on the assassination of US journalist Daniel Pearl has shown and as we witness every day in reports, Pakistan is a roiling caldron and a sort of huge factory producing fighters for holy war. Despite efforts by General-President Musharraf, Pakistan is the place from which the most radical ideology emanates, where the worst of the Salafist organizations rule the streets and where nuclear weapons are produced. This is one of the many contradictions of the Bush government’s war on Iraq when it should have focused its attention on Pakistan.
10. Resist regression, and ever-present risk
Nothing could be worse in the War on Terror then to renounce our values by placing restrictions on personal freedom, canceling habeas corpus, torturing or prisonment without due process.
In an article in the journal Commentaire (Summer 2005), Pierre Hassner writes: The dialectic of terrorism and counterterrorism on the worldwide scale, beginning with September 11 and President Bush’s War on Terror, risks being written as the catastrophic version of what we call the dialectic of the bourgeois and the barbarian. If modernity was an immense undertaking to bourgeois-ify the barbarian, then it may produce the opposite reaction of barbar-ifying the bourgeois in his response to terrorism.
Let us be on our guard to resist the temptation roll back our freedoms.