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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

War on Terror: WHOSE WAR ON TERROR?

"We are all Americans," wrote Le Monde on September 12, 2001. And so it was with most people in the Muslim world, who were as appalled as anyone else at the carnage of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Indeed, when America responded to the attacks, almost no one mourned the fall of the Taliban, who were universally condemned for their fanaticism.

This unanimity of opinion no longer exists. In the 5 years since the attacks, 2 audiences for the so-called "war on terror" have emerged. Indeed, as the "war" progressed, the audience closest to to action began to see the emerging combat in a way that was diametrically opposed to that of the United States and the West.

To the U.S. administration, every act in the drama of the war was seen as discrete and self-contained: Afghanastan, Iraq, Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Bush administration, having proclaimed a war on terror, invaded and occupied countries and yet failed to see that these events were being linked in the eyes of people in the region. Glued to Al Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels, the various battles of the "war on terror" came to be viewed as a single chain of events in a grand plot against Islam.

Worse yet, America waved the banner of democracy as it prosecuted its wars. But hopes for democracy---whether secular or Islamist---for the people concerned have been buried in the rubble and carnage of Baghdad, Beirut and Kandahar.

Many Muslims understand---as well as anyone in the West, and in the same terms---the underlying causes of the alienation that animates Islamic radicalism and violence. They know that the rigid dictatorships of the region have paralyzed their populations. Only those consumed by the fires of their rage seem to be able to melt the shackles of these authoritarian societies.

But the price of escape is a kind of deformation. Embittered, fanatical, vengeful: Those who rebel against the status quo enter the wider world seeking retaliation, not just against the regimes that deformed them, but against the West, which propped up the region's authoritarians in the interest of "stability."

Many Muslims also understand that the problem of Palestine, unsloved for 3 generations, goes beyond the suffering of the Palestinian people. They know that the region's dictators have used Palestine to justify their misrule and to avoid political and economic liberalization.

So when America called for democracy, the hearts of many in the region soared with the hope that reform would come at last. But America, as so many times before, let them down. As people at last began to hope for more liberal and decent societies, the U.S. continued to endorse the regimes that were repressing them. America simply could not adhere to its own democracy-promotion script.

After the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanastan, the U.S. turned its sights on the secular dictatorship of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Instead of encouraging reform of the Saudi/Wahhabi regime---the system that spawned 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks---the average Muslim saw America as waging war on a regime that had nothing to do with that crime.

Many Muslims acquiesced in this deviation, viewing the invasion of Iraq as partof the passing of dictatorship and the coming of democracy. But the bloodstained shambles of the U.S. occupation led America to abandon the quest for democracy. The deeper America sank into the Iraqi quagmire, the more the U.S. began to turn a blind eye to the region's surviving dictators, particularly those in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan.

Indeed, the last thing the region's dictators wanted to see was a democratic Iraq. Almost from the moment of Saddam's fall, Saudi/Wahhabi jihadists poured into Iraq almost unimpeded. Worse yet, the Muslims who supported the project to democratize Iraq widely suspect that the Sunni resistance that incited the Iraqi civil war has been financed by Saudi oil money. [Terrorism also kept Iraqi oil from becoming a serious challenger to Saudi Arabia].

So the effort to democratize Iraq---indeed, the entire American project to democrtaize the region---has fallen under deep suspicion by even most moderate of Muslims. America, they believe, only wants a democracy that suits its interests. If Palestinians freely vote for Hamas, their choice is actively opposed. Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution," which galvanized the West in the same way as Ukraine's Orange Revolution, has been systematically undermined.

With democracy in most of the region still a long way off---indeed, perhaps a more distant prospect now than 5 years ago---U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice repeats her mantra that the dead civilians of Beirut, Sidon, Tyre and Gaza represent the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. But until the West stops regarding dead babies as political props, we cannot understand how the Muslim world perceives all that has happened since 9/11. Only then will we understand why the unified view of 5 years ago has fractured so violently.

Tom Paine dot com
By: Mai Yamani
September 11, 2006

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