I think that history will judge the current mess in the Middle East as having been exacerbated by the United States’ response to the airplane attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. While there is no question the horrors of that day were intended to induce terror, the U.S. government had a choice to respond to the devastation as a crime or an act of war. It is hardly a surprise that a government that included the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove chose the latter.
The response was not surprising, but nor was it unprecedented. Americans like their wars, even if they don’t involve attacks on Third World islands and other inferior opponents. Successive administrations have declared “wars” on crime, poverty, drugs and other flavours of the day, even appointing “czars” (an odd choice for a title if there ever was one) to lead various crusades.
If the choice to craft a war-like response to the 9-11 events was predictable, the details weren’t. Invading Iraq and Afghanistan, two crappy examples of nationhood to be sure, might have had an appeal but neither mission had a direct connection to the terrorist attacks. Saudi Arabian nationals were at the controls and their financing almost certainly came from their home country, but Saudi Arabia gets the same free pass as Israel from the U.S. Both countries seem to have carte blanche to behave badly without threat of retaliation from their buddies across the Atlantic.
By labelling the air attacks an act of war, the U.S. (and its allies) gave instant credibility to all the misfits and miscreants who see no future in building their own countries up, and so seek to tear others down. Being classed as warriors instead of crooks played right into their hands, giving them a cachet amongst their own and elevating the fear of citizens around the world.
As radicals in largely impoverished countries work to recruit others to their cause of dismantling the western world, their prospects improve dramatically when they promote their actions as a call to war. It wouldn’t be as fashionable to join up with a bunch of seedy criminals as it is go to war and fight for a cause in the name of Islam.
As brighter minds than me have pointed out recently, Islam is not the problem democracies have to be concerned with. Most major religions have been used over the course of history as an excuse to kill others. Christianity is no exception.
If the choice had been to respond to terrorism as criminal activity, the buildup that led to ISIS might not have come so easily. If there really is some kind of sick belief that blowing up oneself and others creates a path to the hereafter, it doesn’t seem likely that it would have become so widespread if we in the west viewed them as criminals.
At every step of the way since 9-11, the western response has rewarded the radicals. They want to be seen as martyrs and they want us to be anti-Islam. It feeds their own pathetic worldview and tells them that they are on the right path. We did, after all, fall hook, line and sinker for the rhetoric of our own leaders when we were told about “weapons of mass destruction” (as if nuclear arms don’t qualify) and some actually believed George W. Bush’s assertion that Iraqis would greet invading troops with bouquets of flowers as we worked to “win their hearts and minds”.
So now we have this roving state we call ISIS, in which terrorists commit unspeakable crimes (yes, crimes) against what we mistakenly believe to be their own people on a mission that really has no goal other than to disrupt and create havoc. Heck, if I was living in squalor and misery with no hope for a better future, it wouldn’t take much to rouse me to a level of hatred against those whose lives are luxurious by comparison, and not devoid of hope.
The saddest evidence that our own “war on terror” has backfired is in the response by those who decry taking in refugees, claiming it puts us at risk of the ne’er-do-wells who blow things and people up in the name of Allah. The same knuckleheads who think that free trade is OK even if it reduces a signatory country’s own sovereignty suddenly get all huffy and paranoid about people who fear for their own lives in ways we cannot even imagine.
Game and set to the terrorists. We are going to have to get a lot smarter, and not meaner, if we want to have any hope of winning the match.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.