Will we Learn?
The efforts of the world at this moment are understandably concentrated on tracking down and punishing.
The big stick, yes, but where is the carrot?
Where is the thought and energy going into long term solutions?
Terrorism is not an accident. It has deep roots and causes. If the causes are not dealt with, and if the roots are not dug up, the big stick will simply reinforce the nurturing of other terrorist plants.
It is extremely disturbing that no public thought has yet been announced on this aspect of the struggle. Here are some thoughts………………… Dear leaders, think about them and do something please.
What happened on September 11th is the latest in anti-Western and anti-establishment terrorism which has been with us since the Second World War, and before. Those acts which have occurred in Europe or the Middle East have been well documented, but they occur in all parts of the world. However much we understand and remove the causes, they will still occur until there is a global reform of youth upbringing, and until those youths become adults, which I will not deal with here — see here.
For the sake of brevity and time I will not catalogue factual sources, but only generalize. Those sources are available in any library and on the internet. They are established by analysts from many cultures and from many political perspectives.
We must be brutally candid with ourselves and at the same time not be sent into a tizzy by historical guilt. We must think of this as a possibility for a fresh and cleansing start.
The balloon of hubris and complacency in the United States was exploded by one blunted and three sharp pins. Voices have been raised to say things like “it was coming to them”. Such a phrase carries undertones of misunderstanding. Yes, it was inevitable that something like that would happen. But why? What in particular about the U.S.A? And the U.S.A. alone? Hardly.
The peaceful nature of the U.S.A. tends to hide its internal divisions. The numerous scholars and travellers who learn about the world outside the continent are hugely outnumbered by citizens, who, even when they travel, do so without learning. When I asked an elderly American couple, studying a map of Vancouver, “Could I help you?” they turned on me with a “Go away” and pretended not to speak English, as if I were a tout in a souk. (That by the way is by no means typical, although Japanese, Chinese, European and others are much more open to such a gesture.)
In other words for most of its life, the major part of U.S. citizenry ignores the world or treats it at best as a barbaric and untrustworthy nuisance.
The U.S. approaches to social services are primitive when compared to those of Europe. There was even one statement to the effect that the $40B emergency fund would be taken partly from social services – we hope that this is not true.
One hundred thousand individuals gathered before Parliament in Ottawa for a memorial service. Apart from the services in London, similar measures of support took place throughout the world. Very few did CNN mention. Certainly President Bush and his officials take care to say always “The United States and it’s allies” but the powerful visuals of the Moscow public laying flowers with tears before the United States Embassy, or the spontaneous horn blowing and streamer displaying by Polish taxi drivers, tears in France, Germany, Japan, Australia and so many other countries, the arrival of Canadian helpers and material – these count minimally for CNN. Yet CNN is a fairly accurate barometer of mainstream America.
Yes, United States policy is strong, effective when aroused. Normally, it is strong and mis-effective day to day. Illustration. At the very moment of Canada’s support, generously welcomed by the U.S. ambassador, with today’s headline quoting our Foreign Minister “Canada is at War”, the Bush administration institutes an anti-free trade measure imposing, on the basis of wrong arithmetic, a unilateral and selfish 20% duty on Canadian softwood – an act which has nothing to do with a strategic alliance, is a simple reflex in support of certain lumber companies in the U.S. and ignoring the consequent rise in house construction prices throughout the country, to say nothing of the throwing out of work in Canada of at least as many individuals as those killed on September 11th.
This kind of short term focussed policy, ignoring the deeper and wider, holistic, consequences, is typical, not only of the U.S., but of all Western governments.
It is one of the many factors which explains wide foreign and some U.S. distrust and cynicism about U.S. policies, even when other governments are similar in outlook. What’s good for the U.S. is good for the world. We will refuse to sign international treaties which may make us modify our policies, even though the rest of the world wants them. We sneer at and starve the United Nations, because deep down we know that we should strengthen it as a true world government, standing above the United States or other individual countries. When Hitler attacks and the democracies have their backs to the Channel, we will not intervene, because this is not U.S. soil – until the wake up call of Pearl Harbour. Cynics will argue that if the current death toll had been on European soil, the U.S. would have taken a great deal of time before joining the alliance. Let us hope that such thoughts are an injustice. Let’s hope their implications are never put to the test.
Hubris and isolation (except through the domination of popular culture and the capitalist side of globalisation) seem to have been justified by results. Peace and superficial harmony. The ability, not to police the world, but choose the time and place, in U.S. interests, of any exertion of influence.
And there’s the rub. What are U.S. interests? It is time we and others stood up and said – “U.S. interests are of less importance today than are global interests”.
This bears directly on current terrorism of the Middle East type, and of the violent demos, as well as the peaceful ones, which disrupt the sessions of “world leaders” who should in fact be called “world political and financial leaders” because they do not lead the peoples of the world into global harmony.
The self-interest of Western powers, of which the U.S. is the dominant partner, have led time and again to the undermining of the very values we are supposed to stand for. Item. We stand for world democracy, no? Thus when fundamentalism is about to carry election day in Algeria we support a coup to return the country to military dictatorship. Item. We support the corrupt, wasteful and totalitarian regime of Saudi Arabia – and other such regimes in other parts of the world. Here cynicism is correct. Desert Storm was not a war waged on behalf of democratic values or even Kuwait, but in defence of oil interests.
Thus a first lesson to learn is to be direct, honest, and uncompromising in support of democracy. The fear in Algeria was that the fundamentalism was extreme and anti-Western. We must run such risks. Democracy is a higher value than fear. Now, when the inevitable happens and both the dictators of Algeria and the Saudis are overthrown, their successors will be enemies of the West, and if the result is another form of totalitarianism, as in Afghanistan, the job of restoring democracy will have to be done all over again. This must be a long term policy, the longer because it has been so tardy in its adoption. And we must now be dissuaded by the possible outcome that the new regime will be, at least to begin with, anti-American, Anti-British or anti-French. Iran is an extreme example, but seems now to be changing, and also giving voice to democratic impulses. The events in Iran would have been very unlikely had international power not supported the Shah in an undemocratic regime. The approach to Iran should not be to condemn the country for past policies, but, in a friendly way, to welcome new ones. Iran can be a valuable ally.
|One of the immediate things to be done is to ensure that President Bush modifies his extraordinarily poor choice of words. Much confusion would have been avoided had he used a phrase such as “international police actions” instead of “the U.S. is at war”. Understandable in the circumstances. But to characterize the war as a “crusade” showed an incredible, even obscene, ignorance of the dynamics of opposition [which, belatedly, has been corrected]. No Western action over the centuries resonates in the emotions of Palestinians as does the history of the Crusades, for whom Saladin, not bin Laden, has been the cultural hero. While U.S. officials have wonderfully and seriously reinforced the ecumenical nature of the struggle, as it affects the interior of the county, such ignorant slips do enormous damage. It seems that President Bush is to be deeply educated before he commands, in the full sense, international policy. Fortunately, he has a man like Colin Powell around him, who resonates strong common sense. But Colin Powell cannot put back the clock, and that kind of mistake is not worthy of a President, and shakes to the core any belief in the wisdom and enlightenment of his policy.|
But all the above still has not reached the centre of the issues. Poverty, displacement, corruption lead without doubt to the embrace of religious answers, and among these answers those which preach a way forward into heaven are likely to be very strong. Furthermore, poverty, displacement and corruption are evils to be eradicated in their own right. What right has a country to claim to be a world leader if it does not put such measures at the head of its foreign policies? Most Western powers (there are some exceptions to this, thank goodness) link the eradication of poverty to their own interests – showing the flag a la imperialism, tying the work to their own “experts” and their own engineering companies and material suppliers, instead of finding the best in the world. They resist such measures as free trade for poor countries. Displacement is handled by keeping their own boundaries open only to a trickle, but supporting immense shanty towns and tent camps, rife with disease and anger, off their own soil. Push these things away. Corruption is dealt with not at all – we do not interfere in the internal affairs of nation states.
That last clause is one of the real blocks in the way of change. Somehow it must go. September 11th was less an attack on a nation state than on people, a citizenry, a social system, and international institutions which enabled those people to go about their work with confidence. One small advance now is that, at least at the level of terrorism, States cannot how hide their activities under the defensive shield “Don’t interfere in the internal affairs of our country.”
As aspect of globalisation that its critics, noisy or thoughtful, fail to understand is that nation states are becoming of themselves of less and less significance in the world order. As an anthropologist I have observed the myriad ways in which, in the last century, small localized cultures have regained life and validity in the face of larger bureaucracies. This is world wide. Thus the re-design of the state (which has never been purely “national” anyway despite nineteenth century historians) as a local or regional government under a democratic United Nations will not in any way destroy what are now seen as “national” cultures – which is one of the main arguments against globalisation. Even matters such as the defence of the global eco-system depend for success on the coordination of local initiatives below those of the level of the State.
So we have the four present day issues which, if dealt with, would cut the roots from the forest of terrorism: democracy, poverty, displacement and corruption.
Right. So what are the practical steps???????? Very difficult, even revolutionary, in the peaceful sense of the word.
At least and at long last take the first steps to reform the United Nations into a well supported fully fledged democratic world government.
Create a multi-billion fund that over-matches the current police action, even, perhaps especially, through the reduction of national military hardware. Place this at the disposal of a well armed United Nations.
Force governments to transfer military expenditures to education and poverty eradication programmes.
Remove the sacred principle of national non-interference, placing it under the guidance of a code which indicates when such interference is justified. Among such points:
Support of democracy, carefully defined so that variations in expression are not imperilled.
Suppression of organisations which preach international violence.
State actions to reform such matters as slavery, ethnic persecution, and poverty.
Reduction of poverty through funding, local initiatives, cultural sensitivity, reorganisation of laws and policies, which must be objective in using the most relevant knowledge and in avoiding linking external support to the interests of particular donor countries.
Massively support education, in a manner consistent with the removal of poverty, women’s place in the new society, and other values.
Resolve the wide spread displacement of persons, not only through the root reforms above, but through concerted changes in state immigration policies; and especially, where relevant, through the direct tackling of racism, through the suppression of minorities, and the like.
Create a world wide inter-faith organisation dedicated to the eradication of violence and intolerance among the faithful.
Create educational institutions world wide which respect local cultures and variations, but are dedicated to the maturation of a youth which rejects violence.
Use every means possible, including the ultimate sanction of strong United Nations occupation, to put a stop to violence in such areas as Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan. [The current (sept.20th) agreement between Israel and Palestine may be a major step forward]
Specifically target countries such as Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria until they create democratic institutions – this under United Nations operations.
Such matters have considerably more importance than the tracking down of bin Laden. It will be a tragedy if the direct suppression of terrorism, necessary though that is, diverts resources and will from the design and implementation of principles such as those mentioned above. They are even more urgent, and even more long term, and thus need to be started NOW!
We remember the Marshall Plan which did so much to create a forward looking, democratic, and prosperous society among former enemies, and to bolster the operation and confidence of the allies, who had been much more severely damaged than was the United States. We need a Marshall Plan #2, if possible operated internationally as a special unit of a United Nations, itself on the way to reform.
If we don’t learn, and do something about it, then we will be in very very deep trouble which will haunt our grandchildren.
But have hope. It CAN be done, if each of us sets our mind to it. And in this century.