By Irwin Abrams
Yellow Springs News, October 4, 2001
Historians date the 20th century as beginning with the shot at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 which led to World War I. They may date the 21st from 11 September 2001 when the United States, the global superpower until then between its two oceans free from invasion, found that its mainland was as vulnerable to attack as those of all the other nations of the world.
The 20th was a bloody century with two world wars and the Holocaust. If our country could turn its mighty forces to waging peace, might it help this new century to start out as a century of peace?
In reaction to the terrorist attacks, President Bush has declared "a war on terror," and proclaimed to the nations of the world, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." United States actions have been both military and non-military: on the one hand, preparations for a military attack on the Taliban government of Afghanistan if it does not turn over to us Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect as leader of the terrorist network responsible, and on the other hand, efforts to close down the financial resources of the network and to build an international coalition against terrorism. The coalition includes allies like Britain, ready to share military actions, and Middle Eastern states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, more or less with us, but asking for evidence identifying the terrorist command.
It is ironic that the Bush administration, which began its tenure with an isolationist posture, withdrawing from international treaties, now is happy to have the support of the United Nations. In less than 48 hours of the attacks, both the Security Council and the General Assembly condemned them and voted to take action against those responsible.
Last year the UN had imposed an arms embargo on the Taliban and frozen bin Laden’s assets. In 1999 the Security Council had grounded Afghan aircraft and frozen the assets of the Taliban, which the UN does not recognize as Afghanistan’s government.
While we must support the effort to find and prosecute the outlaws who perpetrated the mass murders of September 11th, acts of counter-terrorism are not likely to prevent all terrorist attacks in the future. To wage peace we must seek positive ways that would be effective in the long run. First of all, we need to identify the roots of terrorism, so that we can avoid reinforcing them and then we should seek means to weaken them.
The suicide hijackers of the planes came mainly from Middle Eastern countries where a climate of anger and hatred against the United States has been nurtured. The best way to arouse even more anger and to be sure that more terrorists would be recruited would be to wage war against a Muslim state or people and to kill civilians in retaliation for the murders of our own civilians. Rulers of the Muslim states which have joined our coalition, such as Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would find their own populations rising against them.
Much of the anger against us is the result of our support of Israel. Muslims see the United States giving more than three billion dollars annually to Israel and not stopping more than 200,000 Israelis -- half of them since the Oslo Accords of 1993 -- from settling on lands beyond the earlier limits. The United States has been trying to bring about a cease-fire between the two sides, but we need to go further and try to get them both to agree to the recommendations of the international commission chaired by Senator George Mitchell, which include the freezing of the settlements. . Also, the Palestinians should have a state with contiguous land. The agreement which the United States should vigorously try to promote must be one that both sides would regard as fair and just.
The United States should encourage the rulers of Muslim authoritarian states in which extremist movements have been spawned to develop a civil society with permission of dissent and more freedom of opportunity. One proposal is for United States to invest financially in development, education and health in countries surrounding Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Much of the extremist thinking comes from the appeal of outdated orthodox versions of Islam. In the United States and the west in general, more secular and modernist versions of Islam have been developing, but even in the Middle East many Muslims are reinterpreting their faith in the light of economic and intellectual changes and technological developments. With more freedom of opinion in the authoritarian states, these currents would have more chance of expression.
Most immediate, however, is the need for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. People are starving. The United Nations has been doing what it can but warns that a very serious humanitarian crisis is not far off. The United States has already made a contribution, but much more needs to be done. We have heard many voices in our country urging that we drop not bombs, but food upon Afghanistan.
UN Secretary-Secretary Kofi Annan says that the UN is "uniquely positioned" to rid the world of terrorism. It provides the forum necessary for building a universal coalition, he says, and can ensure global legitimacy for the long-term response to terrorism. Moreover, UN conventions provide a legal framework for such measures as extradition and prosecution of offenders and the suppression of money laundering. Kofi Annan points out that to deal with the conditions that permit the growth of hatred, it is the ills of conflict, ignorance, poverty and disease that must be addressed, and this is what the UN is doing. If through the United Nations the world can create "a stronger, more just, more benevolent and more genuine international community across all lines of religion and race, then terrorism will have failed."
May the United Nations continue this great work, and may the United States take the lead in bringing it to pass, perhaps ushering in the Century of Peace.