Monday, January 19, 2009

War on Terror

Mark Jurgensmeyer is top-notched, credible scholar on terrorism, and he has spent years in the field interviewing notorious religious extremists. So, I was excited and intrigued when I saw this article yesterday about our current War on Terror. The article is definitely worth the read. With the incoming Obama administration, Jurgensmeyer offers five ways in which we could drastically reduce the spiral of violence done in the name of the "War on Terror." Each of his five points of advice have a thorough rationale, which I have perhaps oversimplified - in a teasing manner - for you here.

1.) We must recognize that we are not confronting war but a war mindset. - The us/them - good/evil mentality forces everybody to take sides (i.e., poor teenagers predisposed to anti-Americanism) and treats potential allies like enemies.
2.) Accept that America is the enemy [in the eyes of extremists] because of what it does, not what it is. - Terrorists still have an idealized understanding and appreciation of American principles, but our military actions abroad, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, breed agitation.
3.) Stop acting like an enemy. - Our military presence fosters discontent, and a quick end to military action - especially in Iraq and Afghanistan - would neutralize most anti-American and jihadi logic.
4.) Become a problem solver not a problem maker. - Our one-sided relationship with Israel colors Islamic perceptions of American interaction in the Middle East. Our strong support of Israel should not come at the expense of security and autonomy for Palestinians, and helping to broker a fair-minded peace negotiation between Israel and Palestine would assist in our efforts overseas.
5.) Take the moral high ground and adhere to international standards of justice. - We must restore our moral standing in the world by repealing the most "pernicious" anti-terrorism legislation (i.e., torture, Guantanamo).

Jurgensmeyer admits that this likely won't eradicate all terrorist activities, as there will always be a small group of people disaffected with authority somewhere. This advice, however, would go a long way in reducing the spiral of violence in this war. Some of this advice would be difficult to achieve, but other parts, could be relatively easy.


Kent H said...

Well, let's get it started.
I think the article has merit (I agree we need a moral clarity on these matters), but it seems to forget huge chunks of history.

We weren't in Iraq or Afghanistan when terrorism became a factor in the Middle East for the US. We ARE hated for what we are first -- we are an ally to the only democracy in the area. We are the wealthiest country in the world. We are a free people who allow men and women, Jews, muslims, and Christians equal liberties. Don't see that in Tehran or Ankara.

The fundamentalist Muslim regimes of the area are only interested in making sure they wipe Israel off the map. They are pro-war if that war is against American
"infidels." Before there were any American actions in the region, there were anti-American terrorists. The 9/11 monsters weren't angry with us because we liberated Afghanistan in the eighties. They hated us because we refuse to give equal time to people bent on destroying non-Muslims.
A hasty withdrawal from our actions in the region are exactly what Bin Laden and the like want. If we evac the area, they can retool and rearm.
The fact is we have "brokered" a boat load of peace settlements between the Israeli and Palestinian factions. Carter, Reagan, Clinton all had ceremonies in the rose garden and still Palestinians lob bombs over the wall and demand more land from the most able military power east of D.C. If Canada was bombing us, we'd laugh to scorn anyone demanding that we give them New York. But Israel lives in that tension while civilians ON BOTH SIDES die.
Frankly, I have more questions than answers, but a blame America first, last, and always, while we genuinely try to assume the high ground seems terribly naive to me.

Darren Staley said...

I agree with everything Jurgensmeyer said. Of course I once again must respectfully disagree with Kent.

First, terrorism in the Middle East has always been a factor for the US, at least in modern times, so I assume you mean in the last dozen years or so.

Going with that, the US has a presence all over the Middle East including in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. as well as sanctions on several countries and constant military flyovers of Iraq. This is a huge sticking point.

True, so long as we are a secular nation and support Israel, these extremists are still going to hate us. But, they hate us more because our presence their is a threat. Not physical, but if given the option, most people prefer some form of democracy.

So yes, they hate what we are, but they fear that what we are will spread and put them out of business, and fear is a much more dangerous and powerful emotion than hate. Hate can be tempered by mercy, fear evokes a primal survival response, such as kill or be killed.

Of course there are no easy answers. We can not nor should not withdraw our support of Israel. But neither whould we give Israel carte blanche to expand or agress with our unconditional approval. A two-state solution should be demanded with real consequences for both sides if they fail to negotiate in good faith.

What we can do is get off oil. This will make our need to keep troops in the region less strategically necessary while simultaneously weakening the economies or rogue nations.

Once we do this, we must encourage the people of those regions to establish democracy with a promise of substantial aid in return. Allowing them to delve into poverty by choking off their key economic source can not be an option.

Finally, I'm not sure these "blame America" people really exist. America is a country led by humans and humans will always make mistakes. I do not see how admitting to and learning from mistakes is blaming America. To me it is all about helping America be the best we can be.

Drew said...

I wrote a great reply, Kent, and it didn't take. Let me retry ...

I didn't read Jurgensmeyer's article as a blame-America-first-and-last manner. I read it to say that we must recognize that our actions have consequences, some of which are breeding discontent within the region.

At the root of the problem is how Islamic cultures perceive us. These cultures truly appreciate our ideals and freedoms, but they resent the McDonalds and the MTv's and, in their eyes, our lax morality being shoved down their throats. To them, while we idealize freedom, we won't let them be choose to be free from our culture. Add in the permanent military bases in Saudia Arabia, an unfounded occupation in Iraq, and torture of "enemy combatants," and a perceived one-sided relationship with Israel (a relationship where we don't speak out against the atrocities committed against the Palestinians), and some Muslims are agitated.

I think that we must recognize that some of our actions are, in fact, fostering and exacerbating a logic we seek to quell. We should be mindful of this fact. And, as Obama said yesterday, maintaining our security does not come at the expense of our ideals. We should respect the dignity and freedom of other cultures, yet we shouldn't forgo a muscular diplomacy with a serious threat of military might for those who wish to do us harm. I am not exactly sure what this tension looks like in practice, but I think Jurgensmeyer gets the ball rolling in the right direction. And in the circles of scholars on terrorism, there are few, if any, better than him.

I am sure my first stab at this comment was better ... but there you go.