The roots of terror
NADEEM M QURESHİNot that it is ever far away, but two events in two different continents on two consecutive days, have brought terror once again to the centre of the world’s attention.
The dastardly attacks on a mall in Nairobi and churches in Peshawar have killed and maimed hundreds of innocent children, women and men. No net of words can capture the outrage, the pain and the sorrow caused by this needless and senseless carnage. And no amount of condemnation is nearly enough.
In the aftermath of the attacks the media, old and new, have provided round the clock coverage. The Nairobi event received special attention because it lasted for three long days and nights. And also because many of the victims were Westerners. As their identities became known interviews were conducted with distraught relatives. Heartbreaking stories were told of young people and families with promising futures whose lives were ended abruptly and brutally.
Political analysts and journalists have discussed the attacks threadbare: Who are the attackers? What are their objectives? What are their links with the fountainhead of global terror – Al-Qaeda? How can we stop them?
In this rush to detail a more fundamental and vital set of questions is ignored: Why do these attacks occur at all? Why is there global terror? And, why are the most powerful nations on Earth not able to suppress it?
The questions call for an understanding of the origins of terror. And there is no evidence that those who rule the world have this understanding. The explanations for ‘Islamic terror’ – assuming for a moment that there is such a thing – are: They hate us. They hate our way of life. They hate our freedom. These are glib banalities not worthy of thinking people. The reality as always is much more complex.
Let’s understand first that Islam has nothing to do with it. As a religion it categorically rejects the concept of suicide regardless of context. And just as categorically it rejects the killing of innocent people – not only in times of peace but also in times of war. Those who carry out these attacks are as removed from Islam as Hitler was from Christianity.
Understanding terrorism today and the nature of the West’s confrontation with Islam requires returning to 9/11 because in some sense this is where it all began. The question that came to mind after the events of that day was: Why? Why would 19 educated, young Arab men, with ostensibly bright futures, want to sacrifice their lives? This was a natural question. And many American commentators and analysts initially sought to know the answer. But then, suddenly, it was disallowed, on the spurious ground that posing it was tantamount to justifying terrorism. This warped logic was then wrapped in the fervour of patriotism. So it was suddenly un-American to even ask!
This was a tragedy of its own. Had the question been allowed, the American people would have learned that the 9/11 attacks were in fact a direct consequence of their government’s policy in the Middle East. It was the consequence of (the still) simmering Arab anger over America’s seemingly blind support for Israeli repression of the Palestinians.
Those who have not lived in the Middle East will find it difficult to guage the extent of this anger. Arab TV channels regularly carry footage of the happenings on the West Bank and Gaza: Heavily armed soldiers assault women and children. Bulldozers tear down modest little houses as their distraught occupants watch in horror. Jewish settlers on Palestinian land destroy ancient olive trees. This never ending cycle of violence and repression by an occupying power against the local population is played out on Arab TV screens every day.
The appropriate response to 9/11 would have been to adopt a just and balanced foreign policy in the Middle East. But America under Mr. Bush chose a different path. It had been wronged and it wanted revenge. Afghanistan was destroyed from the air. Iraq was invaded. Somalia was destabilized. And drone and air attacks continue today in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. This is terror of a different kind, but terror all the same. And its victims are and have been tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent, men women and children. But there is no coverage of their heartbreaking stories and of their lives and futures destroyed.
If the world, really the Western world, is serious about combating terror then it needs to begin by ending injustice wherever it exists. This may not be possible in all situations and at all times. But it is certainly possible in the context of the Israeli Palestinian dispute. The Palestinians must get their state and the Israelis must withdraw into theirs. This is where the modern day story of terror begins. And if there is any wisdom left in the world today this is where it will end.
Nadeem M Qureshi is Chairman of Mustaqbil Pakistan