Rick Steves, author of the "Europe Through the Back Door" books and host of the popular public television travel program, "Rick Steves' Europe" asks the burning question: "Can we fight terrorism constructively?".
Let's take this apart...
On Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center towers collapsed and angry clouds of dust chased U.S. citizens through the streets of New York City. The world was outraged. And the United States was outraged. So much so that -- three long years later -- many Americans still refuse to even dignify the attack by asking, "Why did they do it?""Why" is probably the most important of the 5 W's - more important than "what"; way more important then "who", "where" and "when" combined. At least, that's in my humblest of opinions.
When you consider the fact that the United States is the template for most funtional liberal democracies and arguably the most prosperous nation of the G7/8/9/whatever, the answer may be obvious.
But we must understand the enemy to combat them. Let me play the role of one of the thousands of Muslim parents who've named their babies Osama in the past year and look at the situation from the point of view of these devout Muslims offended and threatened by the reach of U.S. power.This is where things get a little bit out of hand. Part of our human frailty is the ability to objectify, exoticise or eroticise alien cultures/practices/ideologies. Communism and fascism all started out as alien and hostile, but thanks to Mao and his oh-so-stylish peasant suit, Hitler in his über-butch stormtrooper drag and Che Guevara in his proto-grunge getup, people started becoming attracted to them. It takes quite a bit of good fashion sense to win the hearts and minds of aimless people.
Of course, it's doubtful that the ugly Amurrican Steves has ever picked up the Qur'an and went through the Suras, let alone spent some time in an Islamic nation. And watching "Midnight Express" doesn't count. But I'll leave the metaphysics to someone who is better qualified.
Who was actually being attacked on that terrible day? The targets chosen were not symbolic of average Americans (say, a shopping mall or sports stadium). They weren't symbols of the freedoms that this country stands for (Statue of Liberty). Rather, the 9/11 hijackers went straight for the institutions of U.S. might in the world: international corporations (the Trade Towers), the U.S. military (the Pentagon) and -- had the fourth plane reached its likely goal -- our commander in chief (the White House).The fact of the matter is that something on American soil was attacked. Pre-9/11 America was a complacent, self-centred entity, smug in its own assumption that "big-things" happen to other countries and that the land of the free, home of the Atlanta Braves would end up bailing-out those countries where the "big-things" wound up out of control. Of course, since the Vietnam war, the country was on the verge of cocooning itself into a relatively isolated corner, only to emerge if its interests were in danger of being threatened.
And don't get me wrong: the country still had a viable military as evidenced by Desert Storm (Grenada and Panama don't count, by the way). Yet when Bill Clinton ruled the White House for the full 2 terms, the nation reverted to its comfortably numb state.
If you remember the old-school candy raves back in the nineties, you'd probably remember the PLUR that went around (along with E, K and Crystal). That was Clinton's America at the time. Never mind Oklahoma City, the WTC car-bomb or Columbine. And don't get me started on Kosovo or the occasional strikes on terror targets or Saddam's Iraq - they were all but tiny hiccups in the Prozac nation.
But in the end - it was all business as usual. Corporations expanded, contracted, downsized and expanded again. Money was being exchanged as usual while people struggled with everyday decisions.
But a foreign terrorist attack of such enormity? On U.S. soil? Horror of horrors: it just coudn't happen, right?
Sadly, 9/11 is an example when someone underestimates or dismisses an enemy threat. And throughout the 8 years that Clinton was in power, the enemy was being dismissed, and the policies that spawned it weren't being positively addressed.
A billion Muslims throughout the world have three serious concerns: Palestine needs security and self-respect; they want the American military out of Islam; and they want control of their natural resources (to charge whatever they like for their oil). These are three basic foreign policy questions that any U.S. president could address without compromising the security and interests of America or Israel.BULLSHIT! Muslims are plagued by so many people claiming to be the Messiah, thus they get caught up by whatever delusions the self-appointed saviour may have, such as: a) Palestine must thrive, so Israel must be destroyed; b) people who praise Allah must live in abject poverty and ignorance in order to be sincere; c) Muslims don't need any help - they're perfect enough as it stands; and d) everyone else is beneath us.
Not all Muslims think like that. Sadly, those who think differently wind up with huge prices on their heads and a one-way ticket to Hell by their respected mullahs/imams/Messiahs. So as far as Moderate Muslims are concerned - assume that any existence of them is nothing short of a miracle.
The United States' overwhelming global dominance is unprecedented in human history. Many Muslims fear the Americanization of their culture. In addition, the United States declares natural resources (such as oil) in Muslim countries "vital to its national security." And our immense military -- as big as the rest of the world's combined and unfightable by means other than terrorism --defends U.S. access to markets and natural resources throughout the globe.The problem is that those same Muslims eventually immigrate to the U.S. (and by extension, Canada, and any other "western" nation) because they have virtually no rights in their own countries. No right to prosperity. No right to advance. No right to dissent and speak one's mind. And as I have said before, the United States is an example of a liberal democracy at work. True: there have been times when injustices have been done - it was a liberal democracy only for Whites until after the Civil War, peoples were ghettoised in the latter part of the 19th century, etc., etc. But because people dissented, changes came out easily in the U.S., if not painlessly, compared to other countries.
It's clear that maintaining our dominance by force is costly in civil liberties, our moral standing in the world, tax dollars and human lives. So my Burning Question is:
Could we more effectively fight terrorism by understanding what motivates it and then taking away the source of the anger? Wouldn't it be cheaper and wiser to just face our enemy, ask "Why?" and respond constructively?
But most people with half a brain and an acceptable amount of literacy and reading comprehension should be able to have figured out the "why" by now.
If you're a despot whose people are fleeing your dictatorship for better opportunities elsewhere, you'd probably have a reason.
If you're an ambitious cleric who's worried about all those questions regarding your interpretation of the faith and its holy books, you'd probably have a reason.
If you're a "freedom fighter" paranoid about defections because someone has found truth about the "other side", you'd probabaly have a reason.
All in all, if you're someone worried about losing your unquestionable grip on the population because of a "better idea", you'd probably have a reason.
Question answered. NEXT...