I'm finishing up a 25-city book tour that took me from New York and Chicago to Elizabethtown, PA, and Spearfish, SD. I met with college students, farmers and laid-off workers. Most people in the US now oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I found a lot of confusion about the War on Terrorism.
Here are four of the more commonly asked questions:
1. Isn't it true that while not all Muslims are terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims?
Well, just asking the question reveals a lot about how those in power have manipulated our concept of terrorism.
To begin, I point out that plenty of non-Muslims have carried out terrorist acts. Here's a partial list.
- Timothy McVeigh was convicted of detonating a truck bomb in front of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, which resulted in 168 deaths. He was Catholic.
- In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish-American Israeli settler in the West Bank city of Hebron opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 150. He died at the scene, and his grave later became a pilgrimage site for extremists in Israel.
- Murderers of abortion doctors in the US frequently carry out their crimes in the name of evangelical Christianity.
- In 2010, in a protest against federal government policies, Joseph Stack flew a plane into an Austin building housing IRS offices. He came from a Christian background and ranted against all religion.
I understand if you didn't think of those examples right away. We've been conditioned to think of terrorists as foreigners, or people trained by foreigners, preferably dark skinned people with a grudge against the West. But a white guy with a bomb trying to kill civilians for political purposes is still a terrorist.
Targeting civilians with political violence is terrorism, whether carried out by individuals, groups or governments. But the US government and major media have so distorted the word that virtually anyone who uses violence to oppose US policy is branded a terrorist. Conversely, anyone using violence against civilians to support US policy is a freedom fighter.
2. Yeah, but didn't Arabs and Muslims initiate the use of terrorism?
Zionists fighting in Palestine prior to the formation of Israel pioneered many modern day terrorist tactics. In 1947 an extremist Zionist group called Lechi, also known as the Stern Gang, was the first to use letter bombs. It mailed them to British Cabinet members.
The Stern Gang assassinated major British diplomats and the chief UN mediator trying to negotiate a two-state solution in 1948 Palestine. The Irgun, another Zionist extremist group, planted bombs in Arab East Jerusalem, seeking to kill civilians and drive Palestinians out. Arab insurgent groups also planted bombs intended to kill civilians and used other terror tactics against Jews.
In 1954 Israel became the first country to hijack an airplane for political purposes. It seized a Syrian civilian plane in a failed effort to trade hostages for Mossad intelligence agents captured by the Syrians.
Nor did Muslims originate suicide bombings. That dubious honor belongs to the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, who were Hindus.
3. Others may engage in terrorism, but isn't Arab and Muslim terrorism a serious threat to US national security?
Some extremists acting in the name of Islam do pose a threat to American civilians. The perpetrators of such crimes should be arrested, given fair trials and, if found guilty, severely punished. Muslims and everyone else around the world would cooperate with such police action. After all, extremist groups have killed far more Muslims than Christians or Jews.
But isn't that rather naïve to think police action can dismantle al Qaeda? After all, didn't the US have to invade Afghanistan to put al Qaeda on the run?
It wasn't necessary to invade and permanently occupy Afghanistan to rout al Qaeda. The few hundred members of al Qaeda living in Afghanistan fled the country and set up shop in Pakistan. Today, autonomous cells operate in Yemen and other countries. And, after nine years on the most wanted list, the US has still not managed to capture Osama bin Laden or other top leaders.
Fighting extremist groups such as al Qaeda requires both political and armed action. Undercut their base politically and isolate them among their followers. Turncoats and local officials will help capture the leaders.
But US military actions have had the opposite effect. The US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the covert war in Pakistan, help recruit angry young men to the extremist cause.
Instead of narrowing the target to the small number of extremist groups, US leaders intentionally expand the enemies list. They lump together al Qaeda with Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. We are told that they are all part of a worldwide terrorist network.
In fact, groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas have significant bases of support, and have won free and fair elections, while also maintaining armed wings. They consider themselves national liberation movements opposing foreign occupiers.
If I lived in Lebanon or Palestine, I would never vote for such groups. They represent a conservative, religious trend that opposes real freedom in their countries. For the same reasons, I would never vote for Israel's religious parties. But just as Israel's religious extremists are part of that country's political reality, so Hamas and Hezbollah must be treated a serious political players - not marginalized as "terrorists."
4. So why is the US fighting in so many countries?
Under the guise of combating terrorism, the US has expanded its fleets of aircraft carriers, battle ships, and fighter-bombers - armaments particularly ill-suited to fight terrorist cells. But they do allow the US empire to forcibly expand around the globe, helping guarantee profits for US corporations. Oil pipeline and drilling companies got lucrative contracts in Iraq; US oil companies are preparing for a bonanza if Iraq finally privatizes its oil industry.
Over the past nine years, the US has built over a dozen new military bases throughout the Middle East and Asia. The US has over 750 military bases at home and around the world.
But the empire is in decline. The current wars have cost over a trillion dollars, and the meter is still running. A significant part of the current economic crisis, with 9.5% unemployment, flows from never-ending spending on war. A majority of Americans have come to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People in the Middle East and in the US will eventually force a withdrawal of US troops and an end to the wars.
The US will never win the War on Terrorism. The term will simply fade into the history books, along with the empire itself.
Information cited in this article comes from freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich's new book "Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire." His national book tour takes him to Miami on Nov. 19-20. For details, see www.reeseerlich.com.