Monday, March 07, 2005


Informed Comment

The professor Juan Cole writes quite eloquently today on terrorism and its root causes.
Let's think about terrorism in the past few decades in a concrete and historical way, and it is obvious that it comes out of a reaction to being occupied militarily by foreigners....

In contrast, authoritarian governments like that of Iraq and Syria, while they might use terror for their own purposes from time to time, did not produce large-scale indepdendent terrorist organizations that struck itnernational targets. Authoritarian governments also proved adept at effectively crushing terrorist groups, as can be seen in Algeria and Egypt. It was only in failed states such as Afghanistan that they could flourish, not in authoritarian ones.

So it is the combination of Western occupation and weak states that produced the conditions for radical Muslim terrorism.

Democratic countries have often produced terrorist movements. This was true of Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. There is no guarantee that a more democratic Iraq, Egypt or Lebanon will produce less terrorism. Certainly, the transition from Baathist dictatorship has introduced terrorism on a large scale into Iraqi society, and it may well spill over from there into neighboring states.
Add to this Abbas Kadhim's comparison of pre-invasion Iraq to post-invasion Iraq.
When I lived in Iraq (1960's, 1970's and 1980's), Iraqi streets used to be among the best in the world. You could walk any time in the 24 hours and never think that someone will rob you. Men, women and children alike used to walk in the streets without fear. The sanctions changed the situation in a negative way in the 1990's and up to 2003, but Iraq still remained a very safe country (the same safety standard in advanced countries). Exceptions to that is the behavior of Saddam's son (`Uday) and his trouble making. But in a country of 20 millions, the chances of meeting him in the street is like being hit by a comet. There were also problems with economic reasons behind them -- due to the sanctions -- and some incidental highway theft. Not enough to justify calling Iraq unsafe.

After 2003, Iraq has become a living hell for all Iraqis. One needs to kiss his kids good-bye every time he leaves home, even for buying some bread. No place in Iraq is safe. It is true that some places have more problems than others, but the recent attacks in Hilla proved that it is fake safety that can be shattered any time.
The problem is that, just as with the conflation of al-Qaeda and the Baath party, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of terrorism in the United States has been completely intertwined with the idea of unfriendly regimes. To "win" anything, though, the two must be separated. As Cole writes:
I'm all for democratization in the Middle East, as a good in its own right. But I don't believe that authoritarian governance produced most episodes of terrorism in the last 60 years in the region. Terrorism was a weapon of the weak wielded against what these radical Muslims saw as a menacing foreign occupation. To erase that fact is to commit a basic error in historical understanding. It is why the US military occupation of Iraq is actually a negative for any "war on terror." Nor do I believe that democratization, even if it is possible, is going to end terrorism in and of itself.

You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there is some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism.


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