Countering terrorism

It is 15 years plus a couple of days since 9/11 rocked the world.


It is fitting that Foreign Affairs has republished (from 2002) an important article, by Dr Michael Scott Doran, and internationall recognized expert on Middle Easter politics and conflicts, who is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and was previously a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a visiting professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service atNew York University. The main thrust of the artcle is a review of the history of conflicts in the Islamic world which leads Prof Doran to conclude that America’s “policies, for instance, on both West Bank settlements and Iraq, are sorely in need of review — but only after bin Laden has been vanquished. These policy changes might help, but the root problem lies deeper. Once al Qaeda has been annihilated without sparking anti-American revolutions in the Islamic world, the United States should adopt a set of policies that ensure that significant numbers of Muslims — not Muslim regimes but Muslims — identify their own interests with those of the United States, so that demagogues like bin Laden cannot aspire to speak in the name of the entire umma. In 1991, millions of Iraqis constituted just such a reservoir of potential supporters, yet America turned its back on them. Washington had its reasons, but they were not the kind that can be justified in terms of the American values that we trumpet to the world. Today we are paying a price for that hypocrisy. This is not to say that we caused or deserved the attacks of September 11 in any way. It is to say, however, that we are to some extent responsible for the fact that so few in the Arab and Muslim worlds express vocal and unequivocal support for our cause, even when that cause is often their cause as well.

(It’s pretty clear that too few Americans, especially those advising both Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama either read or grasped the message Michael Doran sent.)

Persuasive as Dr Doran is in explaining “why they hate us,” he raises an even more important point in how we counter the terrorism that hate engenders.

First Dr Doran reminds us, again, of some history. He cites, first, a 1975 article In Foreign Affairs by by David Fromkin,who is Professor Emeritus of History and International Relations, and Law at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, where he was also the Director of The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Long-Range Future, and who is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Terrorism,” Professor Fromkin noted, “is violence used in order to create fear; but it is aimed at creating fear in order that the fear, in turn, will lead somebody else — not the terrorist — to embark on some quite different program of action that will accomplish whatever it is that the terrorist really desires.” When a terrorist kills, the goal is not murder itself but something else — for example, a police crackdown that will create a rift between government and society that the terrorist can then exploit for revolutionary purposes. Osama bin Laden sought — and has received — an international military crackdown, one he wants to exploit for his particular brand of revolution.

I have commented on this before and I have expressed the view that we need to bring the “fight” home and the “battlefield” will have to be our classrooms where “we have to propagate (sell) a better, even more attractive narrative to all Canadians.”

But, it needs to be part of a multi-phased approach.

In my opinion ~ and it’s an opinion not shared by very many ~ the most correct first steps after 9/11 would have been:

First, to have invaded Afghanistan, because that’s where Osama bin Laden was and hunt him and his followers down without regard to the niceties of “nation building” and so on while, punishing the Afghan nation for allowing the Taliban to take over and give bin Laden a “base,”and

Second, but at almost the same time, isolate most of the Islamic Crescent, from Morocco to Indonesia. And I mean isolate ~ every North African, Arab, Persian, South West Asian and Indonesian visiting or studying or receiving medical care in America, Australia, Britain, Canada and Europe would have been rounded up, detained and sent home, immediately, and no new visas would be available for anyone for any reason. The explanation would have been clear: You, North Africans, Arabs, Persians, West Asians and Indonesians and so on must sort out your own problems, in your own ways, so that the vile creatures who perpetrated 9/11 are crushed, forever. If you cannot or will not then we will come to you, country-by-country, and do to you what we are doing to Afghanistan …

… we cannot, we would explain, do it (reorder your society and culture into acceptable patterns)  for you, but we certainly can do it to you, in ways that will protect us.

The problem with these two courses of action is that it is precisely what David Fromkin warned against: a reaction that actually promotes further terrorism by enraging the people against whom the wrong tactics are used. It is what the terrorist wants, right? So it must be wrong, right? Well, partially … mostly, this is wrong and counter-productive …

… but, in the wake of an provocation like 9/11 then this …

… was both a warranted and an appropriate, even “limited” response. Some times, as I have said, more than once, killing is the only answer.

But, there has to be a third leg to the stool, one which can also be counter -productive if it is not managed with some care. We must, as I have said, again several times, enunciate and teach,in our schools and communities, a “gold standard” of Canadian values, which I described as being: enlightened, secular, rooted in our unique Anglo-Saxon social and political history, liberal and democratic. I also said that we need to enunciate and practice the culture of “Main Street,” which I defined as being: respect for others, hard work, independence, individualism, cooperation, sharing, tolerance and thrift. None of those values are “dangerous,” they aren’t “racist” or “Islamophobic” about that, it ought to be broadly comprehensible and appealing to a wide range of Canadians …

… it, the “happy accidents” of history that gave us that “gold standard” which is one of the main reasons that most new Canadians came here.

But, we need to be careful that teaching and propagating (publicizing ≈ propaganda) positive values does not disintegrate into something like McCarthyism and the 1950s “witch hunts” by the US House Committee on Un-American Activities, known popularly as HUAC:



There is, I fear, a faint whiff of McCarthyism in too many so-called conservatives here in Canada who are in thrall to the more radical (and almost always wrong) fringes of the American “right.”

We, the entire US led West, must be cautious and responsible in the use of both force and propaganda, but both have a vital role to play in countering terrorism. But both need to used, judiciously.

2 thoughts on “Countering terrorism

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