Monday, September 11, 2006



I think the fifth anniversary of 9/11 calls for some introspection. Who is our enemy? The usual answer is "the terrorists" but this describes the means of action of the enemy rather than the enemy itself. The word "terrorism" describes something like "crime." A problem that must be dealt directly with security measures but also indirectly by looking at the processes that produce the agents of such actions. The typical conservative reaction is to focus on the security measures and the typical liberal reaction is to focus on the long term causes. As a centrist I believe that we have to do both.

Our highly complex technological society is vulnerable to disruptive actions and we have to guard against such eventualities in spite of the inconvenience. It is not only common criminals or political activists that may want to cause damage but also mentally unbalanced individuals. One could theorize that a certain degree of mental illness is present in all those who commit extremely violent acts, even if the rational given may be political or in support of a criminal activity. I recall reading about a month before 9/11/01 that having unsecured doors at the airplane cockpits was inviting disaster. A small group of physically strong individuals could overpower the crew without using any weapons (by applying chock holds for example). I doubt that the 9/11 hijackers would have been as successful with secure cockpit doors. Thus we need security as well as intelligent intelligence gathering for possible disruptive actions.

A lot of the recent terrorist acts (and not just 9/11) have been committed by Moslem men in protest of various perceived injustices, American troops in Saudi Arabia, the Arab/Israeli conflict, the dispute over Kashmir, etc, etc. The extreme liberal view is that if these injustices were rectified we would not have to worry about terrorism. I find that extremely naive. (What would stop a group of religious fanatics from demanding, for example, that Americans stop eating pork?) What is true is that there is a widespread feeling of malaise amongst young Moslem men that may cause some of them to undertake desperate actions. If a person is alienated from society and frustrated about his prospects he may be likely to commit suicide and a political cause may make it appear more noble.

Ultimately, we must search for the cause in the societies these men came from. What do these societies have in common? It is not only religion but also the fact that most of them are rich in natural resources and, in particular oil. The availability of such wealth has let a small group of individuals in each country to benefit themselves while oppressing the rest of the population. An excellent description of such a society (in particular the Saudi society) and the way western countries aggravate the situation can be found in the book Trench by Abdel Raman Munif. As long as the industrialized world sees such countries only as sources of natural resources and pours money into the coffers of the local oligarchs who control the resources there is no motive for them to either share the wealth or establish democratic institutions. (Fareed Zakaria explains why in his book The Future of Freedom.) This explains not only the problems of the Middle East but also the overall misery of Africa (see the book Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith). People in these country direct their anger at the West not only because of the support it gives to their oppressive rulers but also because the rulers themselves try to divert the popular anger away from themselves by various ruses. (This is where the abuse of religion comes into play.)

It seems the long term remedy is a hard one. The West must stop (or at least reduce) their purchases of raw materials from countries that have oppressive regimes. How about not buying oil from any country that is not a parliamentary democracy and does not respect human rights? That seems like an impossible dream but unless we take such measures the process that produces terrorists will continue unabated.

"Regime changes" cannot be imposed from the outside and unless the economic structure is changed, even internal regime change is not going to work. (For example, in Iran the dictatorship of the Shah was replaced by a theocratic dictatorship.) There are no quick fixes!

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