Friday, March 18, 2011

Holy Terror

Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a Pakistan state, was assassinated on January 4, 2011 by one of his bodyguards. He was opposed to the Pakistan's blasphemy law. There was a Christian woman in his jails who was condemned to death for blasphemy. He expressed his support for her and he was contemptuous of those who disagreed with his position. He publicly deemed them to be illiterate. He called the blasphemy laws black laws. He was an immensely courageous man who paid for his courage with his life. In Pakistan there are 500 “religious scholars” who are asserting that the government is at fault for not acting sooner against the governor. There were mobs in the streets demanding that the assassin, who was one of the Governor's bodyguards, should be released. There were rose petals strewn in the path of the assassin as he entered a courtroom.

Pakistan's only Christian governmental minister was killed on March 2 by gunmen. Shahbaz Bhatti was the Minister for Minorities. It was generally seen as a governmental role with very little power or influence. However, he did argue against the blasphemy law. He was also the head of a committee to review the country's blasphemy laws. This was a combination that could not be tolerated by the Islamic extremists.

We might look at the de facto abolition of free speech by vigilante action in Pakistan with a certain degree of horror. However, we fail to realize that the same terror is alive and well in our country. Molly Norris is the creative cartoonist who inspired “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.” She drew a whimsical cartoon that had a teacup and a domino and other objects each claiming to be the true image of Mohammed. She immediately voiced her desire to minimize or disown the resulting viral response to her cartoon. She had a wonderful sense of humor and became very unhappy when she was informed of the anger from the Islamic community.

A fatwa against her was declared by the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The 2010 Winter edition of Al Qaeda 's Inspire magazine quoted him saying, "This snowball rolled out from between
her evil fingers. She should be taken as a prime target of assassination along with others who participated in her campaign. This campaign is not a practice of freedom of speech, but is a nationwide mass movement of Americans joining their European counterparts in going out of their way to offend Muslims worldwide."

Molly Norris has moved and changed her name. The FBI said that she could not be protected and they recommended that she “go ghost.” She obviously could no longer make a living as a cartoonist resulting in a huge disruption in her life.

They have instilled terror within our country. Everyone who drew a cartoon is now on the hit list. In Pakistan no one now wants to even talk about the blasphemy law because they have to live there.

What would be the most rational way to end this madness? It is an extremely complex phenomenon but I think there is a path which is more likely to succeed than others.

Let me start by suggesting that Osama bin Laden was brilliant in his move to precipitate our ill-informed “war on terror.” It instantly elevated his stature and the respect within Islam of the Al Qaeda group. It explicitly said that it was worthy of “war” from the greatest military power on our planet. If instead we used the term “criminal” and had a much more limited notion of how to pursue those criminals we would be much more likely to succeed.

The use of “war” is more appealing to religious thinkers who worship a fierce, judgmental father figure. These people are contemptuous of those who approach complex phenomenon with a stance of critical inquiry and a desire to more fully understand the underlying dynamics. We are seen as weak and ineffectual by those who have saturated their minds with the fierce ideology of fundamentalist Christianity. The absurd and disgusting iconography of the crucifixion is indicative of the insanity that is the starting point of this type of religiously inspired thinking. They actually think that a supremely sadistic event can create positive outcomes for humanity and they worship a “God” who supposedly is telling us that we are saved because of this sadistic nonsense.

A rational foreign policy must start from data on the ground concerning the psychology of those with whom we are relating. In Pakistan we are told that we have a ally in the “war on terror.” However, roughly sixty percent of Pakistanis view America as an enemy. They feel that the war is a war on the religion of Islam. I don't have such data on the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan but it is highly likely that the views are similar or worse. Similar views are common in virtually every Islamic country and it is certainly true for all of the Islamicists who have committed terror attacks in America and Europe.

I think the supporters of the “war on terror” would be hard pressed to show that we have derived value from that effort that is worth the trillion dollars plus that is already invested. That does not count what is likely to be another trillion dollars in the future care and support of soldiers and their families and the costs to repair our military preparedness that should be included in the actual cost of this ill conceived “war.” If the government is to spend tax money for some purpose shouldn't the central question be have we derived value that is equal to the money invested?

The war in Iraq was a massive mistake. Sadam Hussein wanted nothing to do with Al Qaeda for a number of reasons, including the fact that his regime was deemed to be secular by the Islamic militants.

The occupation of Afghanistan is also a massive mistake. Perhaps there was good reason to bring our military forces into the country because the Taliban had a strong alliance with Osama bin Laden. We managed to kick the Taliban out of Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. This display of military might sent a strong message to the Taliban concerning what we could do in support of justice. If thereafter we just provided training and weaponry to the groups with whom we could have a positive relationship then a central message that criminals need to be brought to justice would eventually be understood throughout Afghanistan and our costs would have been lower by an order of magnitude. The Taliban historically is not monolithic. It is almost certain that we could have created communication and positive relationships with some Taliban related groups.

We need to understand that for the people that we are fighting we are the terrorists. We are committing a Crusade against their religion and they see their religious duty to be one of fighting the Satanic evil that we represent. We create the “holy terror” that we despise because of the ham handed ignorance of our foreign policy.

I am certainly not arguing against the use of military force. I am saying that we need to be more thoughtful and selective in how and where we use that force. I am also saying that the most important part of any action we take against terrorists is the psychological understanding of the other actors with whom we are interacting. If we can sell the notion that we are after a few criminals and nothing more then we can create the alliances required to get those few criminals.

I am also saying that the mind numbing stupidity of our foreign policy in regard to terrorism is tightly linked to the fierce emotional aspects of fundamentalist Christianity. The critical issue is whether those with power in government can process empirical data and calculate whether or not given actions will work. The secular perspective is required if we are ever going to ever get away from the preposterous stupidity of our current policy. Until we get rid of the mindless stupidity (holy terror) on our side if we are never going to get rid of the mindless stupidity (holy terror) from the other side.


lucette said...

Don wrote:
"We managed to kick the Taliban out of Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. "
I think this is not true. The Taliban simply disappeared in the background: They just shaved their beard. See, no more Taliban.
It was the smart thing to do for a group that could not possibly fight the kind of weapons available to the US.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden was able to escape in spite of an enormous reward offered for his capture. The Taliban protected him very efficiently. (Some even say that the US deliberately let Osama escape.)
And now the Taliban is back, still without beard, but as strong as ever. The burqas are back too.And we don't know how to save face when we get out.

Don Wharton said...

Hi Lucette, obviously you are right that the vast bulk of the people associated with the Taliban did stay in Afghanistan. There were too many of them to flee together to Pakistan. However, Mullah Omar and most of his senior leadership did flee to Pakistan. A relative few of these senior leaders were captured but most of them made it. They set up supply and training camps in Pakistan and much of the operational support for their effort against the American and other allied forces does come from those camps.