Bombing in Kabul, suicide bombers in Gaza, street fighting in Baghdad and hatred in the streets of Cairo — don’t you think it is about time we re-evaluate the war against terrorism? Don’t you think it is time to change strategy — time to introduce a new form of warfare — one aimed at hearts and minds?
With every bomb we drop we have only produced potential new recruits for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Don’t you think it is time we got engaged in sane dialogue — one based on justice, humanity and love — instead of Tomahawk missiles and dumb soldiery?
Serious mistakes have been made in the campaign against Al Qaeda, but there have also been considerable successes. Exaggerating the setbacks and errors will only be grist to Al Qaeda propaganda. The good news is that the Taliban regime which gave valuable safe haven to Osama was swiftly overthrown.
A new interim government, backed by the UN, was swiftly established, and Al Qaeda lost key training camps and many of its arms caches. Roughly a third of Al Qaeda’s top leadership has been captured or killed.
Thousands of Al Qaeda suspects have been arrested, and international intelligence-sharing, the key to success against Al Qaeda, is at the highest level ever attained in the history of counter terrorism. The bad news is that recent attacks have shown Al Qaeda is still in business as the most lethal international terrorist network ever.
You are correct in claiming that the hearts and minds campaign against terrorism has been neglected, but it is not by itself sufficient. There is no simple military or political solution. We need a far more complex intelligence-led, multinational, and multi-pronged strategy to unravel this elusive global terrorist network.
The fact is Osama bin Laden remains free, and the causes which created him not only remain but have actually increased. Even in “liberated Iraq” he is more popular than either Bush or Blair. Together with the thousands jailed as Taliban suspects are thousands of other innocent Muslims: in jails in the US, Europe and in “friendly Muslim countries”.
Fighting terrorism with terrorism is not a moral or intelligent thing. There is no weapon of mass destruction we can come up with that can destroy the human spirit in its calls for freedom and justice. Our smart bombs and dumb tactics will only provoke the same. We need an end to the gung-ho mentality; to appreciate the cries and pain of people who continue to suffer because of policies adopted by the west.
Until we do that we will continue to be hated. Otherwise we should expect to reap what we are sowing: violence and terrorism.
Osama at large remains a potent symbol and mentor of Al Qaeda’s global network. However, I believe that Al Qaeda’s so- called holy way would continue even if he is killed or captured. The coalition against terrorism has failed to provide the vital economic assistance to the interim government in Kabul. The peacekeeping force is too small to maintain peace beyond the environs of Kabul. Already residues of Al Qaeda and Taliban, in collaboration with war lords, are moving back into country and constitute a huge danger to the survival of Mr Karzai’s government.
I share the relief of the huge number of Iraqis freed from Saddam’s brutal tyranny, but I believe that to defeat Al Qaeda the money would have been better spent on creating a more stable and economically viable Afghanistan. It is also true that Al Qaeda was able to use the invasion of Iraq as a potent weapon for propaganda, recruitment and for increasing donations.
I also believe that the US, the UK and other democracies should not suspend basic human rights and the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism. We can respond effectively and maximise vital multinational cooperation while remaining true to liberal democratic values.
Yes, the death of Osama bin Laden would be of no great significance; the one thing the war against terrorism has achieved is to make Osama bin Laden and what he represents the mainstream in most Arab states. Mr Karzai and the strategy of terror and occupation he represents (in the eyes of many Afghanis) cannot be sustained much longer. I would suspect the Taliban are today more sophisticated and organised than before and are ready to make a comeback of some sort.
Today Afghanistan is as lawless and violent as it ever was; in Iraq, though many are relieved at being freed from Saddam’s brutal regime, there are even more who are now gearing themselves up to fight against the occupation, subjugation and exploitation of their country.
“War on Terrorism” is a very misleading and unsatisfactory label. It creates expectations that there is a military “solution” to terrorism and it implies that we can shut down every terrorist campaign of any international significance within the foreseeable future. Both these assumptions are false.
More dangerous still, the label is being used as a justification for draconian and oppressive counter-terrorist measures by countries such as Russia, Israel and India to deal with deep-seated ethnic or ethno-religious conflicts which are potentially corrigible by political and diplomatic efforts. However, the current belated but welcome efforts to rejuvenate a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace process are a sign that western leaders are becoming more aware that the search for a military solution to such problems only leads to more deaths of the innocent on both sides.
As regards the invasion of Iraq, I believe this has provided a major boost to Al Qaeda and has intensified anti- Americanism in the Muslim world. However, I fundamentally disagree with your claim that the war against terrorism has made Osama and what he represents the mainstream in most Arab states. This is certainly not the case in Iraq, despite its sufferings, or in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia or even in Palestine. Most people in the Muslim world want to live in peace and be free of terror, which has so often brought death and destruction to their own people.
But what else could the “war against terrorism” be labelled as? What would have justified the random bombing of Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations on earth? You omit to point out the draconian laws embraced by the United Kingdom and the US. Thousands are in jail in these two countries under new laws which allow the arrest and detention of any suspect without trial. Recently, a Zimbabwean official told me there are “more political prisoners in Britain and the US than in my country”. And who would argue with him; we don’t even know how many there are ourselves.
Does anyone believe the innocent shepherds, farmers, women and children killed in Afghanistan have helped in the war against terrorism? Does anyone believe that the 10,000-plus civilians killed in Afghanistan are any less a source of pain and grief to humanity than the 3,000 killed in New York and Washington?
Sometimes I wonder to what extent Al Qaeda is more a figment of Washington’s imagination than a piece of reality. Despite my travels and contacts in the Muslim world I have never come across anything that one could associate in a tangible way with such a super-structure such as Al Qaeda. I am one of those people who have an allergy to the CIA and the like: I can never forget that both Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were instruments of the American intelligence services and neither is the product of traditional Islam.
I would, though, bet my last penny that Osama would now win any vote against any Muslim leader in any country in the Arabian peninsula. And his reach is now, unfortunately, much wider — Osama posters are hanging up in the rooms of young people in West Africa, the Far East and in the Midlands here in Britain.
The failed war against terrorism should be stopped; the aim should be not to batter people to submission but to listen and act on their genuine grievances, injustices and pain. Otherwise, “the chickens” — as Malcolm X pointed out — “will come home to roost”.
I agree with you that draconian measures only undermine democracy and help people like Osama in the long run. We need moral courage and maximum international cooperation and support to help find peaceful pathways out of violence. To do this we must ensure that the UN is given a more central role and the resources to support the peacekeeping, peacemaking and economic development so tragically missing at present.
A Boer general once said: “Peace is a thousand times more difficult to make than war.” This is surely true, but it is no reason for us to abandon the effort.
(—Fuad Nahdi is publisher of the Muslim magazine Q-News.
—Paul Wilkinson is director of the centre for the study of terrorism and political violence at St Andrews University)—Dawn/The Guardian News Service.