Dec 03 2007

A civilized way to fight terror

Published by at 1:30 am under Uncategorized

following is a chapter in a book published by Hoover

Daoud Kuttab

 It might seem like a contradiction to pose the question of howthe United States can deal with international terror in a civilizedway, but there are many nonviolent things that can bedone short of, or alongside, violent responses. To understandwhat these might be, we must first recognize the nature of the

main actor: the United States.

 America the Exceptional In a unipolar world, in which the United States has lonesuperpower status on the political, financial, and military levels,much more is expected of America than of any other



As the world leader, the United States has both a kindof authority as well as a level of responsibility toward the restof the world that no other actor has. Consequently, U.S.actions, and nonactions, carry much more weight than theactions of other countries. The country’s leading status makesHoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 163everything it does shine brighter than do actions of othercountries and sets such actions as reference points, especiallyfor countries in the third world that look up to the UnitedStates, even as they criticize it from time to time.In short, America is exceptional; hence, its words haveexceptional impact. What America says or even hints at haswide-ranging effects the world over. This means that with theinformation age in which we are living, the United States canno longer hide from the rest of the world what it says and doesin America. As a result of twenty-four-hour live television,beamed nearly everywhere, every utterance of the U.S. president,his spokespersons, or people in his cabinet and his partycan be heard, read, and analyzed within seconds. Statementscan no longer be packaged only for a local or ethnic audience.Everyone can hear and read everything within the public discourse.This consequent need for consistency is essential not onlyin the content of statements but also in the mood and style oftheir delivery. A smile, a frown, as well as noteworthy bodylanguage can often be interpreted and explained differentlyfrom what is intended. So it is not enough for U.S. officials toguard what they say; they need to take an active stance in followingup and correcting, if need be, how their views areinterpreted the world over.The authority and power of the words spoken by U.S. officialscarry great responsibility. This responsibility requires agreater degree of care about how words might be interpretedand what they might mean in different cultures. When PresidentBush used the word crusade to describe the U.S. campaignagainst terrorism, the word took on a life of its own. Inthe Arab world, the term was translated as “Christian war.”The modern American usage of the word as a mere campaignwas totally missing. It took some time for the correction to beHoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 164164 Daoud Kuttabmade and even longer for many in the Arab and Muslimworlds to accept that what was meant was not a religious warbut rather a campaign against terrorism.Words, Values, and Double StandardsAlthough words are important, values are an even moreimportant reference point. America has taken on the positiveimage not only of a successful, powerful, and rich country butalso of a country based on great values. The United Statesstands for the best things people everywhere can hope for. TheU.S. Constitution, the First Amendment, and the respect forindividual rights are values beyond dispute virtually the worldover. These are not just words on paper; for every American,these values are experienced every day in every state of theunion.Unfortunately, however, that is sometimes as far as it goes.Once outside the United States or when dealing with foreignpolicy, these values are often replaced with a variety of otherconsiderations. People who have not lived in America, especiallythose who have been on the receiving end of certainrealpolitik-oriented U.S. foreign policies, have little appreciationof what America stands for.For years, people in the Middle East have been exposed towhat seems to them a Janus-faced U.S. foreign policy. Humanrights, the great Wilsonian concept of the people’s right to selfdetermination,seems to stop when the subjects of discussionare Palestinians. But this has been the case for some years, sowhy is antipathy to the United States so high in the Arabworld today? What has the United States done recently to triggerthis unprecedented response?Although these are important questions, the answers arenot necessarily in any specific action by the United States, butHoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 165A Civilized Way to Fight Terror 165rather in the fact that people around the world have muchmore access in real time, and in full Technicolor, to acts,events, and pronouncements of American officials regardingforeign policy issues. The spread of satellite television, forexample, has meant that stories about, say, the human sufferingof Palestinians living under Israeli military occupationenter the sitting rooms of hundreds of millions of people everyday. When top U.S. officials defend or justify or merely lookaway from human rights violations in third world countries,few people can go back and think of the rosy picture of Americaas the defender of rights and the protector of freedoms.When Vice President Cheney told Fox television that theUnited States “understands” Israel’s need to assassinate topPalestinian officials, his statement was widely broadcast allover the Arab and Muslim world. To have a senior U.S. officialunderstand the use of U.S. Apache helicopters by an ally in anoffensive attack was hard to fathom. Some Arab commentatorsnoted that even Timothy McVeigh was entitled to a trial,while in Palestine, Israeli generals are allowed to act as judge,jury, and executioner, with full support from the world’sgreatest champion of human rights, democracy, and the ruleof law.The double standard that is seen to be part of U.S. policymystifies people in the Arab world. They cannot see how suchpolicies can be based on U.S. national interests, let alone U.S.values, if these policies lead to 1.3 billion Muslims being alienatedfrom the United States. Most people know that a country’sforeign policy cannot be based solely on values, butwhere is the interest of the United States in such a result? Thisquestion leads many to conclude that the power of domesticgroups to influence external policies that are not in the bestnational interest of the United States must be the explanation.Most Arabs and Muslims cannot imagine that U.S. sym-Hoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 166166 Daoud Kuttabpathy for Israel is based on genuine concern with Israel’s securitydilemma and its being an outpost of democracy in anotherwise authoritarian region. Their view of Israel has beenshaped by a very different historical prism, which manyassume America must share because it is so obvious to them.The result is that most Arabs and Muslims have becomeunsure of whether they are America’s friend or foe, and theyare prone to explaining U.S. policy behaviors in ways thatmost Americans, in turn, judge to be peculiar, if not conspiratorial,in nature.Whatever the reasons for Arab and Muslim attitudes, thepublic attacks by many of America’s own Arab allies againstAmerican policy in the Levant and in Iraq have not satisfied apopulation that daily witnesses what it defines as humiliationagainst fellow Arabs and Muslims. This is partly because Arabgovernments have proved themselves completely inept atdoing anything about it.Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington,President Bush spoke to the American people callingwhat happened an attack against America’s values. He endedby saying, “We go forward to defend freedom and all that isgood and just in our world.” For Americans living in theUnited States, these words sounded true and genuine. But formany around the world, these values have not been translatedin U.S. foreign policy; these words were empty rhetoric.The values that America stands for are the envy of wellinformedhuman beings living in authoritarian countriesaround the world. Those who have lived in America and whohave experienced that great country try their best to tell peoplearound the world about it. They do so hoping that thesevalues can be emulated in their own countries. Those whoonly see the results of American foreign policy, however,Hoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 167A Civilized Way to Fight Terror 167often attack such efforts by pointing to the apparent contradictionbetween values preached and practices observed.In the past, the U.S. government was often able to getaway with this contradiction. Although accused of not doingenough by some right-wing circles in America, friendly Arabcountries would protect the U.S. image, and their government-controlled media would ensure that America’s policieswere defended. But globalization, which has been a mainvehicle of America’s recent economic and political successes,has also brought with it media instruments (Internet and satellites)that circumvent government-controlled media andallow people freer access to the reality of U.S. foreign policy. Isit possible that the very instruments of its own success nowhaunt America? Preaching democracy, human rights, andtransparency while supporting despots around the worldweakens the U.S. position tremendously.Within international agencies, this same issue also arises.In 2000, when the U.S. delegation walked out of the UNWorld Conference against Racism, held in Durban, SouthAfrica, many around the world felt that America had allowedits policy to be hijacked by a single country, and for clearlydomestic reasons. A world leader like the United States isexpected to have a much more tolerant attitude and to understandthat being on top means that it is more likely to be criticizedthan others. If the United States wants to defeatterrorism, it will have to tolerate indignities it might not otherwisetolerate.Against HopelessnessAlthough terrorism has different shapes and versions, themost dangerous kind is based on religious conviction. Thisdanger is multiplied when one’s mortal life is seen as beingHoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 168168 Daoud Kuttabworthless, while the eternal life promised by religious leadersseems so grand. To counter such religious zealotry, variouslevels of responses are needed. Proper religious education andpreaching are extremely important in this case. It is also criticalto provide young people with alternative examples of religiousleaders who can combine spiritual knowledge with arealistic and moderate view of life and world events.Media geared toward the community where terrorism isbased are critical. What is needed is not alternative mediathrough public diplomacy channels, because people in theregion will not trust it. Instead, local, indigenous media mustbe influenced. Although it might be more difficult to get amessage into these media outlets, any success with such mediacan have beneficial long-term effects. Influencing local mediashould not be limited to news. Drama, soap operas, gameshows, and children’s programs provide many opportunitiesthat are rarely used to effect change in attitudes.Public opinion is not restricted to media, of course. Positiverole models are needed to encourage young people. For example,sports heroes and music stars can be tapped to give messagesof tolerance and moderation.After all, terrorism does not fall from the sky. It needs afertile environment in which to develop. Terrorism is not avirtual reality but a real act that requires flesh-and-blood individualsto carry it out. A true search for the causes that drivepeople to act in such a violent way is a necessary first step inunderstanding and dealing with this threat. Such an attemptought not be done in a heavy-handed, arrogant manner, butrather with a genuine interest in understanding thoseaffected. Such empathy is a prerequisite to a true understandingof the underlying causes; without it, we will be unable totackle those causes in an effective way.Finally, to tackle these worldwide problems, one mustHoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 169A Civilized Way to Fight Terror 169come down to the level of the individuals who are involved.Understanding that terrorism is the weapon of the weak andhelpless is a step toward understanding what drives people tocarry out such inhumane acts, even at the cost of their ownlives. A psychological profile of those carrying out acts of terrorismclearly shows the extremely high level of frustrationand helplessness they felt. When a person’s own life becomesso worthless and when the hope of a future disappears, individualshave little care or concern for the lives of others.Therefore, the best ways to combat terrorism are to changethe atmosphere in which it grows and to replace the sense ofhopelessness that so many young people experience with avision for a better tomorrow. Naturally, lip service is notenough. People need to see that realistic and genuine visionsare being followed in such a way that they can be convincedthat their lives will likely improve. Public diplomacy can be anadjunct to such a process but never a substitute for it.Hoover Press : Garfinkle/Terrorism DP0 HGARWT1300 rev1 page 170 

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