On the struggle for civilization
When I became aware of the Manchester bombing, I immediately went and checked the news and found a link to an op ed published in the New York Daily News entitled “The civilized world must unite and mourn, and to battle terrorism.” The headline has since been changed and I find the perspective of the headline so problematic that I see no point in sharing it here except to say I am glad they changed the headline.
I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr who, speaking out against what he called the great triplets of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism said:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
When American drones bomb wedding parties and count all of the dead among the militants, as has been common in the last decade of foreign policy, few of us stood up and said this was not just. I did. I was one of them. I ask now if that is the way the civilized world handles things, to bomb wedding parties and assume that the men, women, and children in attendance are all militants while condemning the bombing of concerts at home by those of less means. Is civilization merely a tag line for wealth? Would a military attack be less barbaric merely because it requires more resources to carry out?
The above is not to condone the attack but to broaden the need for what must be fought and defeated. Terrorism will not be defeated by a military policy that in Dr King’s words injecting poisonous drugs of hate into people normally humane. We must recognize what has been known for decades, that diplomacy matters more than bombs, that apologies mean something and that it is better to stand in solidarity with the friends of one’s enemy than to become that enemy ourselves.
The UK has a serious terrorism problem which stems from a complex web of sources, from the legacy of empire to geopolitics following the world wars. A wide range of terror plots have a strong nexus to England in particular. The networks of terror must be disrupted and their leaders imprisoned and brought to justice. The survival of every justice loving people on the planet depends on this. In this regard there is no doubt.
But if we stop there, if disregard the larger problems, we merely turn the struggle against terrorism into a vehicle to push a Western supremacy of the world. The struggle cannot be won if we fight it in those terms because the interests of those fighting will win out over the struggle itself. Paraphrasing Dr King, the idea that we know what’s best, that we have everything to teach and nothing to learn must also be fought against.
Instead we must accept that a part of the struggle must include a fight for a more humane foreign policy regarding the Middle East. Our leaders must be held to account when mistakes happen, and the victims of those mistakes must not be slandered or ignored. For mistakes happen in war but the buried human cost has a tendency to rise from the grave, so there has to be a second prong to the struggle there. When our countries support terrorists against governments we don’t like, that has a tendency to come back to bite us hard.
So we must change our policy in Syria, Yemen, Libya and other countries in the Middle East. We must start to push for peace and security of average people rather than imperial domination. We must accept that we may have to fight but we must also accept that we are not perfect. We must stop delivering weapons to terrorists in the interest of expediency in foreign policy. A struggle against terrorism cannot be won unless we do these things.
Successful terrorist attacks take a lot of money, they take a support network, a lot of planning, and an ability to do these while evading the watchful eyes of law enforcement. In this regard, England has a very serious problem.
That brings me to the Jakarta attacks, where two suicide bombers killed themselves at a busy bus stop in Jakarta, killing three police officers and themselves, and injuring a dozen people. One wonders if the police officers had not been able to intervene if the casualties would have been much worse. However, this is a good example of what happens without sufficient support or planning. Indonesia has, in the past, seen major terrorist attacks but periodically you see some small poorly planned attacks like this one.
In this case, my suspicion is that this is a terrified reaction by radicals under siege in the country. Indonesia requires that groups respect the need for national unity and solidarity across religions, and following the recent political protests, the government has been cracking down on certain Islamist groups on that basis. At any rate this will put more pressure on the government to crack down.
But there are things that nonetheless don’t make sense to me about the blast. Why target a Ramadan parade? Or was the real target the police force? If the latter this would fit a growing pattern of small-scale attacks on government buildings and personnel in Indonesia.
But the struggle against these terrorists begins and ends at home. It has to include hunting down and dismantling the support structures that they use to carry out attacks, and it has to include a shift in values as to how we conduct the struggle abroad so as to avoid creating two terrorists for every one we stop.