Closing the gates of hell: countering terrorism

by Mizanur Rahman Shelley

cover01TERRORISM is an over worked word. Depending on the contexts and the times it has been used and abused. As a result, it has often lost its true meaning and significance.
In very many ways terrorism may be called the mark of our times. Though as old as life and civilization themselves terrorism as it is commonly used today since to have become a feature of the present age civilization. Militancy and terrorism are now widely associated with a thoroughly distorted extremist interpretation of Islam which is basically the religion of peace. When did the new phenomenon begin? Was it with the injustice propelling the Israeli — Arab conflict? Or did it start with the 9/11 attack on mainland America?
The stunning events making the inception of contemporary terrorism are clear. Nevertheless, its sources and foundations are not transparent. Are these rooted in the decay and degradation of present day capitalism? Or could it be related to the shattering of idealism and sense of values which made earlier civilization transcend crude materialism!
I wrote on September 11, 2002: ‘A tumultuous year has elapsed since the tragic happenings in the USA on the 11th September 2001. Future historians of World Politics may very well describe the fateful day as the mark of a “Great Divide”. On that day unprecedented attacks were mounted by terrorists using hijacked American commercial aircraft piloted by suicide-squads in New York and Washington. These attacks resulted in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and in great damage to the Pentagon and the grievous loss of some 3000 lives. These horrific events changed the entire world for the worse. In many respects, these tragic happenings also reflected the quiet changes, which our world had undergone since the disappearance of the bi-polar world and the end of the Cold War.’
The new emerging world order is marked by uncertainty. The ‘command and control structure’ characteristic of the bi-polar world is no more in existence. In an uncertain ‘unipolar world actors other than the nation states have emerged with gradually increasing strength and expanding roles. multinational corporations have been joined by international groups and coalitions, which are not under the control of any particular state or group of states. The al-Qaeda terrorist group led by the late Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, which the United States found responsible for the attack on America, evidently appeared to be such a non-state group. Its membership cut across national frontiers and its location spanned many countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Such groups often claimed to be founded on ideological considerations, however, misguided. For achieving their avowed ideological aims, they might resort to virtual wars against states. Obviously this is a new kind of struggle which reflected an unprecedented change in relationship between various countries, states and individuals. A new and totally unexpected turn of this war took place with the advent of the so called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which continued the fierce violence in many states and societies.
Furthermore, the transition to the new uncertain world order has been marked by a grave weakening of the state as a governing entity. In many areas, states are in the throes of debilitating internal and external conflicts.
After his initial success in destroying the Taliban’s fundamentalist rule in Afghanistan in 2001, the then US president George W Bush said that ‘the first war of the 21st century’ has ended. He could not be more wrong. It was under his leadership that a new war of this century was started. This was the attack on Iraq in March 2003. This invasion did not enjoy the support of the majority of the world’s nations. The resulting scenario lead to the rise of extreme terrorism in the name of Islam centring round the Sunni dominated areas of Iraq which in the post invasion period became naturally dominated by the majority Shias. A horrified and bewildered world finds itself confronted by the terrible terrorism spawned protected and spread by the so called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Was this why the then secretary general of the Arab League Amr Musa said at the meeting of foreign ministers of Arab League on the September 5, 2002 that an attack on Iraq would ‘open the gates of hell.’
It does not matter at this tumultuous juncture of world’s history as to who opened the gates of hell. The more important thing is to find out why and how can these gates be closed effectively.
Allah the Almighty directs human beings to be just. The Qu’ran is replete with counsels to the human beings to follow the path of justice. It is more than evident to a terrified world that extremists are doing the opposite of this by themselves killing and maiming innocent people including children and women of all races and all religions.
The injustice that the mighty and rich nations of the world have inflicted on the unfortunate and the poor nations which are often predominantly Muslims may naturally cause them rage and anger. Nevertheless, it does not mean that a mislead segment of militants would themselves indulge in butchery of the innocents. It is no use advising them with this wise counsel. It would not work. The world is facing a distorted armed and cruel protest against injustice of all kinds. The world is changing, the more it changes the more it remains the same. ‘The true global divide’ remains largely intact between the rich north and the poor south. The north, however, is visibly no more split by ideology. Political and social systems as well as development strategies are converging among yesterday’s contenders who are in the rapid process of emerging as today’s friendly collaborators.
The hitherto existent world economic order was loaded against the many nations of the South who are poor and weak. The emerging economic order with increased and intensified collaboration among the nations of the north may hold out even grimmer prospects for the less developed and developing countries of the south.
A major factor that may lead or probably is leading to the rise of terrorism is the weakening of the capitalist system itself. Experts and analyst are gravely concerned with the decay of capitalism, the capitalist order, they say is marked by the unhealthy increase of inequality of income and wealth between the few rich and the many poor. In consequence, the very strength of the capitalist society, a strong and thriving middle class is shrinking. The net result is the concentration of power in a few hands, leading to the reduction of democracy. In its turn this undemocratic order encourages terrorism of all kinds by the deprived. Not only that but even the children of the rich and mighty few often rebel against injustice and ‘betray their own class.’
Further, the ‘Great Divide’ caused by the terrorist attack on America on September 11, 2001, seems to have brought forth a new and unprecedented global political scenario. Too much concern with and stress on national security by western nations, especially the USA, are increasingly eroding the bases of democracy, human rights and civil liberty. There is a marked tendency to disrupt the basis of the existing international order and states-system by:
(a) Overwhelming domination by the USA acting alone or in concert with its selected allies (eg USA’s refusal to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over its citizens and soldiers; defiance of majority opinion in the UN with regard to unjust Israeli action in West Bank),
(b) Limitation put by military might (on the plea of fighting terrorism) on the sovereign rights and powers of weaker states.
These depressing and disastrous trends can be arrested only by sound, informed, far-sighted and tolerant statesmanship in the mighty societies of the west and north. The leaders must learn and understand the societies beyond the pale of their way of life and respect and tolerate the ‘other’ ways of life. They need to work in cooperation on the basis of equal partnership with the appropriate leaders of these societies. They require to move with care and caution, blending concerns and measures for security against terrorism with respect for and commitment to the principles of democracy, toleration, human rights and civil liberty. The demands are exacting, yet these must be met because the stakes are very high: the continued existence of civilization and peaceful International order as we know it.
It will need great care and patience of the concerned leaders and their peoples to ensure that terror is not only defeated on the surface, they will need to go deep into the root causes that spawn, nurture and strengthen such terrorism. The lack of human rights, freedom, social justice and economic equity from which people in such lands in many of the predominantly Muslim states suffer. Only then can a world transforming itself into a global village root out all forms of terrorism including the variety which haunts our terrified planet.

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, a noted thinker and social scientist, is the founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh, editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs. He was member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan and a technocrat (non-partisan) minister for information.

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