How can we defeat terrorism?
How can we beat terrorism? Presently, as the recent spate of incidents suggests, we are not winning the battle. We need to try something different. If you wish to defeat your enemy, and still more if you wish to make peace with him in an unwinnable war, you need to understand how he thinks and what he wants. Why does fear and hatred of the West burn so hot in the breasts of some Muslims that they are willing to commit suicide and take as many randomly unlucky westerners with them as they can? In the minds of many westerners they are insanely wicked people driven mad by religious fundamentalism who loathe alcohol and education for women and hate our freedoms. This is totally naïve and worse than unhelpful. Every Arab child has heard of Sykes-Pico, but how many adults in Britain, let alone children, have?
Before the First World War, the Arab countries were part of the Ottoman Empire. During the war, the British promised them that they would be given their own homeland if they came in on our side, which they did. But after the war the British did not keep that promise. On behalf of their governments, the English Sir Mark Sykes and the French François Pico divided up the Middle East, the British taking what is now Iraq and Palestine, and the French Syria and Lebanon. Greedy for Iraq’s oil, instead of keeping their promise the British absorbed Iraq into the British Empire, and when the betrayed Arabs rebelled the rebellions were put down with brutal efficiency. To make matters worse, the British, desperate for support from Jews in America in order to bring America into the war, had also promised in the Balfour Declaration to give the Jews a homeland in Palestine, a country that in the eyes of the Arabs was already someone else’s home and not theirs to give.
It is only when we understand this history that we can appreciate the vast folly of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In my view, the trouble with Tony Blair was not that he was a devious liar but, far more dangerous, a naïve romantic. He really believed that he had a duty to topple tyrants and bring democracy to enslaved people. Not so George Bush. In the late 1990’s a group of influential Americans, several of whom later became members of Bush’s cabinet, published a book called The American Century. In it they argued that the great conflict in the coming twenty-first century would be between the United States and China, and to win that conflict the U.S. needed to get control of the world’s oil. America needed to take over a Middle Eastern country to serve as a command and control centre in the world’s oil producing regions. 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror was, to their great surprise, a heaven-sent opportunity to realise their ambition. But it was not heaven sent, it was al-Qaida sent. Osama bin Laden had surely read that book too and set a trap that the fools blundered straight into. He realised that a war would ignite the incandescent Arab hatred of the West, because of the history, of which the western politicians seem to have had little comprehension. To the Arabs the war on terror was proof positive that the U.K. and the U.S. were bent on taking over the rest of the world and plundering it of its riches, just as Britain had in the nineteenth century. Indeed, this was far worse. Nineteenth century imperialism had robbed its colonized countries of their wealth but it had never attempted to colonize their souls. As they saw it, the U.S. now wanted not only to take over Iraq but to destroy their religion and their culture. Iraq was to become Americanized. Who, after all, would not welcome the blessings of coca cola and popcorn with open arms? The Muslim faith which meant so much to them was in danger of being destroyed by what they saw as shallow and vapid western materialism. And indeed, much of the point of the war, one might think, was to destroy Iraq so that American companies could build it up again and become a permanent presence in the country. Wars, after all, are great for business. Not only can you make money out of the arms needed to pulverize a nation, you can make even more by re-building it. And in your own image too. What an opportunity Iraq, with its huge oil revenues, presented for a take-over by western capitalism. Hey, the invasion and the investment will pay for itself. It’s win-win.
But of course, it all went wrong, as it was always going to. The Arabs didn’t want coca cola and popcorn, they wanted the profundity of their religion, the extreme beauties of their culture and infidel western soldiers off the sacred soil of Saudi-Arabia. Instead of turning Iraq into a little America with the white picket fences and turkey at Thanksgiving, the West has unleashed volcanic forces that have turned the Middle East into a hell. And if the terrorists are able bring to our streets their deeply wounded sense of betrayal, violation and injustice, whether or not such feelings have any justification and they do not, for one crime does not justify another, hell is heading our way too. Can we find a way out of this dreadful entanglement? Yes, we can, for now we have a wonderful opportunity to begin again. If we want to avoid even more dreadful hells we need to take it.
There are two forces that move the soul most deeply and they are love and money. There can be no doubt that for several centuries now in the West, despite the baby Jesus lying with the ox and the ass amongst all the tinsel and the tat in his crib at Christmas and the pious asseverations of bishops, it has been money. This was what imperialism was mainly about. By gaining control of other peoples’ countries you could suck their wealth out of them. It is an era of history that, whether we like it or not, is coming to an end because of climate change. Either we pay more money than we have to halt it or we pay even more still to deal with the devastations it will cause. Climate change is international, it heeds no national boundaries, it is a challenge to the whole of mankind and only mankind acting as one body can turn it back. We need to recover our humanity, which as the world implies includes all humans. Only if we have a love and concern for the whole of mankind and all the lovely creatures of the earth we are currently destroying at such an incredible rate, burning brighter even than our love of money, will we survive. What an opportunity is here! We must say to the terrorists we no longer wish, and most of never did only the idiots who rule us, to pillage your countries and replace your cultures with ‘democracy’ and ‘western values’ which have become inseparable from rampant capitalism making fortunes only for the few (and please help us to put that right), we have sincerely repented, all we want is to save the earth our only surpassingly beautiful home for all of us, including you. Join us in this great undertaking you Muslims with your intense love of Allah and your sense of brotherhood and your beautiful ceramics. Let us demonstrate our earnest by opening our wallets to save the Muslims of Bangladesh from going under water, for if Bangladesh is drowned it will only be a matter of time before Norfolk is too. Would the terrorists listen? Would the overwhelming threat of our common situation release them from their compulsive obsessions just as it can release us from ours? It just might. We rightly condemn the terrorists for their inhumanity. But let us not forget we ourselves were prepared to burn 25,000 men, women and children alive in Dresden and 40,000 in Hamburg. People do dreadful things in wars, and the terrorists believe they are fighting a war, even if the only weapons they have are home-made bombs put together in bedrooms. Let us turn our back on all that past history by remembering it. Let us begin again, for now we can. Love knows no boundaries either.