What exactly are we witnessing?

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Conflicts And War, Indonesia, Iraq Views: 4873
4873

Politically motivated violence which accepts no limits or constraints and makes no distinction between combatants and civilians is indefensible, both morally and tactically. Public horror and outrage at recent events in the Caucasus and again in Indonesia last Thursday are therefore reassuring expressions of humanity, though as in the past they may temporarily mask the true nature of what we are witnessing. 

Terrorism is a method not a cause. Tempting as it might be to link Beslan, Jakarta, Iraq and New York City together as fronts in a 'war against terror', each one has a unique historical context which needs to be unpacked and examined. 

Regardless of how incoherent the objectives of the perpetrators may be - from forming a caliphate in Southeast Asia, ending the occupation of Iraq to Chechen separatism and the downfall of Saudi royal family - it is a mistake to conflate these attacks into a centralised and co-ordinated struggle between fundamentalist Islam and the West. 

Consequently, the Howard Government's mantra that this a war against "our values" and an attack on "who we are, not what we have done" is dangerously misguided. It precludes an examination of individual causes and grievances, legitimate or otherwise, and prevents a clear understanding of why these attacks occur. 

It also inhibits an effective counter-terrorism strategy. What can possibly be done about people with deviant values systems? The editor of The Australian suggests "controlled aggression," though he doesn't identify a target or explain how escalating the violence will enhance our security. And if we in the West haven't "done anything" to incite the violence, how are these groups able to recruit an inexhaustible supply of foot soldiers willing to die for their various causes? 

Portraying these events as a struggle between 'liberal values and evil' allows governments to plead a common cause as joint victims of international terrorism. This helps them escape responsibility and condemnation for their own state terrorism, which by any measure is a more serious contemporary problem than anything Al Qaeda or Jemmah Islamiah (JI) can pose. 

Palestinian suicide bombers can be condemned without mentioning Israel's brutal 37 year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Moscow's crimes in Chechnya, including the razing of Grozny, can be ignored. Jakarta's murderous policies in Aceh and West Papua can be set aside. Uzbekistan and Algeria receive Western financial support for their human rights abuses against local insurgents, providing they cast their repression as anti-Islamist. Australia's joint invasion and occupation of Iraq can be de-coupled from Thursday's bombing because we were "already targets." 

Terrorism can work. It drove the French out of North Africa, it annihilated the Indonesian Communist Party and it destroyed the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua - to cite only a tiny sample. It is unwise to dismiss it as mindless, nihilistic or irrational. States know how effective it is, which is why so many of them employ it as a method against their political opponents. 

Attempts will be made to construe efforts to understand the motivation of the terrorists as condoning their actions, but this is little more than intimidation from people who have no answers to complex and difficult problems. Revenge may temporarily satisfy our residual atavism but it will do little to prevent a recurrence of violence - in fact it is likely to exacerbate the problem. The strategy employed by Western governments since September 2001 to confront Islamist terror has hardly been a roaring success, despite boastful claims by incumbent leaders about their credentials on national security. 

However distasteful it might be to inquire into the mindset of these people or contemplate dialogue with them, what is the alternative? If it is not possible to negotiate with the hardcore, it is vital to discourage the broader appeal of their respective causes. An approach which berates them for their deformed values or religious obscurantism is unlikely to succeed in thwarting recruitment to these nefarious groups. 

Canberra faces a difficult set of challenges. It cannot protect its citizens overseas, especially in a country where vital intelligence on groups such as JI is either not being shared or doesn't exist. If it is indeed responsible for the embassy bombing, the effectiveness of JI seems relatively undiminished despite the Bali prosecutions and Hambali's arrest. If this wasn't concern enough, in Indonesia both candidates for the forthcoming presidential election deny they have even have a local Islamist problem. 

Governments which commit horrendous acts of violence to crush political dissent, destroy secessionist movements, overthrow unfriendly governments or occupy other people's land should not be surprised when their methods are reciprocated by non-state actors. Tragically for their populations, it is usually the innocent, rather than their complicit governments, who suffer.

Dr Scott Burchill lectures in international relations at Deakin University. [email protected]

Source: The Age


  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Conflicts And War, Indonesia, Iraq
Views: 4873

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Older Comments:
HUDD FROM CANADA said:
Kenlap you made me roll in laughter! Man, are you for real? What on earth are you talking about man? Did you read the article to the end or you blew your top at the first paragraph?! Well here I copied for you the last paragraph:
"Governments which commit horrendous acts of violence to crush political dissent, destroy secessionist movements, overthrow unfriendly governments or occupy other people's land should not be surprised when their methods are reciprocated by non-state actors. Tragically for their populations, it is usually the innocent, rather than their complicit governments, who suffer."
How did you reach to such wild(uncultivated) opinions? There is far from promoting terrorism in this article. It simply states that actions perceived as terroristic by some and independence fight for others worked in the past. Didn't it? Would you like to deny history, now, there! there! Kenlap, behave! Was it terrorism? For the French it was, but do we have an independent Algeria today? Yes we have, mind you sir! Oh, you want us to fight like Ghandi and MLK? What was there lot? Both were killed. This proves that the price for any peaceful movement is death! Didn't John Lennon sing, "Just give peace a chance"? Did they? No, they opened other fronts of military aggression and the poor guy was taken out. We Muslims are neither Hindus(Ghandi) nor Baptists(MLK), name me a pacifist Israeli without a bleak past. Because Yitzhaq Rabin had his youth murked in innocent blood, like any Israeli, since all serve in the army(my respects to those refusenicks). The killing of the children by the hostage takers is debatable. If the Russians treasured their children so dearly why didn't they save them? It was in their power to grant the assaillants all or part of a deal in exchange for the children. Get the children first, then hunt the culprit down. Is this rocket science? If those children would have been Israelis, I bet you your life that Israel would have struck a deal, no doubt.
2004-09-29

PETER FROM USA said:
Charles: Well said my friend!
2004-09-21

CHARLES JACKS FROM USA said:
Terrorism is slowly being redefined to be little more than "asymmetric warfare by non governmental organizations". The asymmetry being due to the difference in power between the governmental organizations and those that aren't and therefore requiring a different set of tactics.
All this largely being due to governments refusing to recognize the human rights of groups of sufficient size to challenge the government, if in unconventional manners.
Howard is wrong in his dichotomy between what someone is and what they do. Failing the existence of a vision for humanity that one adheres to, to others, what a person is is essentially what they do. With out a vision it is the best gage of future actions.
What is Islams vision? Does Islam have one, at least past the hand waving of an detailless vision of kalifate?
Read words written by one who thought of the problem presently facing Muslims years ago.
http://www.forusa.org/nonviolence/mlk-worldhouse-p.html
"Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: "A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together." This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together--black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu--a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
2004-09-21

DR F.M.QURESHI FROM INDIA said:
yes very good analysis. send this article to Bush and Kerry they need to give a thought to it. there is still time to correct their behaviour and save the world from anarchy.
2004-09-19

YAHYA BERGUM FROM USA said:
I would imagine that attaining victory in a global conflict might at some point necessitate that the victors understand their enemies' objectives. And who knows? Perhaps some of that for which our enemies strive might be something we would wish upon ourselves.

Would meaningful employment for our youth seem like a worthy objective? How about a greater degree of economic freedom from a trading partner with a clear capacity for violence and a seemingly insatiable appetite for what we have been given in abundance?

Perhaps there might even be ways of bringing to pass certain portions of our adversaries' plans such that the rewards for doing so accrue to us (perhaps rather than to them). May peace, God's mercy and blessings be yours.
2004-09-18

HJ M ZIN FROM MALAYSIA said:
Dear Dr Burchill,

The government does not bother to understand a complex problem that will take longer to fix than it's short term between elections. Action speaks louder than words. Action, in far-away lands in the past is first preference to win acceptance as there is no pain for the voters.

Through advances in IT & media the world is really shrinking into a proverbial global village. Thus, we are seing the emergence of global causes, Palestine in particular, that has not only fired hatred of the States and but the means for immediate but unpredictable response globally. Short term action = Unpredictable short term reaction & pain.

Current and aspiring world leaders in the States and Russia in particular better beware what comes back!

Kind regards,

Hj Zin

2004-09-18

KENLAP FROM USA said:
The reader writes 'Terrorism can work. It drove the French out of North Africa, it annihilated the Indonesian Communist Party and it destroyed the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua - to cite only a tiny sample. It is unwise to dismiss it as mindless, nihilistic or irrational. States know how effective it is, which is why so many of them employ it as a method against their political opponents.'

This is short of promoting terrorism - which of course is the goal of islam. What stupidy. When people employ such methods of fighting rather than peaceful methods such as Gandhi or MLK, I have no sympathy. When you end up killing the innocent people for a cause you are nothing but a terrorist.

The mindless killing of those Russian kids are so horrendous and so shameful. Anyone who is a muslim must denounce islam and stand against it. Its just mind bogling what lengths islamic terrorist will go to make their point across - even kill children, and how muslims keep their mouths shut when things like this happen. It makes me shudder and wonder why anyone wants to be in that religeon.
This is short of promoting terrorism - which of course is the goal of islam. What stupidity. When people employ such methods of fighting rather than peaceful methods such as Gandhi or MLK, I have no sympathy. When you end up killing the innocent people for a cause you are nothing but a terrorist.

The mindless killing of those Russian kids are so horrendous and so shameful. Anyone who is a muslim must denounce islam and stand against it. Its just mind boggling what lengths islamic terrorist will go to make their point across - even kill children. It makes me shudder and wonder why anyone wants to be in that religion.

2004-09-18

ANTHONY ASHMEAD MOHAMMED FROM CANADA said:
Well written article which all; especially muslims who are against self defence by whatever means should consider. I personally do not believe any muslim who goes on jihad has intent to deliberate kill women or children. Do not worry for the innocent unwrongfully harmed will get a good reward. Circumstances by the will of ALLAH(SWT) dictates outcomes and our 'ONE TRUE LORD AND MASTER KNOWS BEST THE REASONS FOR CERTAIN OUTCOMES'. Let us as believers pray to ALLAH(SWT) we make the right choices in all things and act accordingly. Peace and As-Salaam to believers. I thank even in these times ALLAH(SWT) that HE has called me to Islam and knows 'HE UNDERSTANDS BEST I LOVE MY LORD ALLAH FOR ALL HIS GREATNESS AND HIS GOOD '
2004-09-18