|Home Articles Destroying Terrists...|
Printer Friendly Version
Subscribe to our FREE monthly e-mail magazine.
Destroying Terrorists Weakens Our SecurityBy Ron Kraybill
9 November 2001
To make ourselves safe from terrorists, we must outsmart and outmaneuver them. We must understand what our attackers want and what they expect us to do. To our great peril, we have allowed anger and misplaced confidence in military operations to distract us from the realistic analysis required to secure our future. As a result, day by day we make the world less safe for ourselves.
To understand bin Laden, picture a cluster of dozens of dots on a piece of paper, representing the Muslim world which bin Laden falsely claims to represent. On the fringe of that cluster, imagine a small handful of red dots. These dots represent bin Laden and his disciples.
In the view of bin Laden and many Muslims, opposite this worldwide Islamic community towers a powerful, prosperous and wicked adversary, the United States. They see us as evil because our troops occupy holy territory, Saudi Arabia; because we back Israel which has thrown Muslims out of their homeland in Palestine. We back oppressive and corrupt Muslim leaders, we bomb Iraq, and we disseminate sexual immorality via the media all over the world. Bin Laden believes he must wage holy war against us in the name of God.
However, bin Laden has a problem: He and his disciples are a minority in the Islamic world. Like the vast majority of human beings everywhere, Muslims are averse to warfare. However deep their frustrations, they have incomes to earn, families to support, friends to visit. Thus Bin Laden is in a quandary. He and his supporters are too few to defeat their enemy and the people whom he requires to support him are unwilling to join the battle.
Two generations ago, revolutionaries throughout the world confronted a similar problem in their struggle against colonial powers. The answer, argued Che Guevera, ikon of revolution in Latin America, is not direct conventional engagement with the enemy. Instead extremists must engage in surprise guerilla actions that outrage the enemy, and then disappear into the civilian population.
The enemy will be so angry that he will strike wherever he thinks the extremists are located, inflicting casualties on innocent civilians in the process. This will accomplish what the extremists themselves were unable to accomplish, for now the civilian populace will hate the enemy as well. Some will go in anger to join the extremists and the less courageous will quietly acquiesce. Voices of moderation will go silent. Instead of being on the margins of their own communities, extremists will be strengthened and catapulted into the mainstream, from where they can organize the next and bigger phase of battle.
Bin Laden clearly holds a similar strategy and, thus far, he has succeeded brilliantly at every step. He has pulled off an outrageous series of attacks. We have reacted with predictable anger, striking back with brute force and causing deep suffering of millions. The evidence is now mounting daily that all over the world Muslims, even our friends, and even those who hate the Taliban, are reacting strongly against us in support of bin Laden. After all, external attack unites any group or network of people against the attacker - think about how September 11 united us.
The red dots at the fringe of the Muslim community have now leaped towards the center, and they are increasing in number. Every casualty of our bombs, every person who dies from cold or starvation this winter will be remembered by dozens of family and friends as a victim of America. Extend this scenario a few months, and the result will be thousands of new recruits for bin Laden, and millions cheering them on. At every step of the way, our compliance with bin Laden's fondest hopes is assisting him to create our worst nightmare.
We could turn this around if we responded differently than bin Laden expects us to. His goal is to radicalize the Muslim community and multiply the numbers of those eager to join him. He knows that nothing radicalizes complacent people like being the targets of military attack. To succeed, he depends on us to direct massive force against Muslims.
Our security demands that we deprive bin Laden of significant military response abroad. Not because we want to be nice, but because we must be pragmatic about winning the long-term struggle we are engaged in.
Winning requires utter clarity and discipline of purpose: Our goal must be to build security, not to destroy bin Laden and the Taliban. Were this criminal and those who harbor him isolated on an island, their destruction would increase our security. But they are not. They are embedded in a society with intricate links to the hearts of millions around the globe. If we make destroying bin Laden and associates our goal at any cost, we may win the battle but we will surely lose the war for our own security.
More pivotal to the security of America than the life or death of bin Laden is the long-term goodwill of the Islamic masses of the world. If they conclude we are the enemy, they will make us permanently unsafe, long after bin Laden is gone. If they recognize in us a generous and respectful friend, they will limit bin Laden's influence to the margins, assist us in bringing him to book, and discourage and contain his sympathizers.
Thus our first criteria for any action must not be, "does this assist us to destroy bin Laden?" Rather it must be, "will this assist us to develop the broad base of good will and appreciation among Muslims that is necessary in the long-term if we wish to keep extremists in the margins of their communities?" Imagine the goodwill we would reap if we directed the billions already spent on the war effort to improving the well-being of Muslims worldwide.
We must take measures to protect ourselves against terrorists at home, but we dare not indulge ourselves in the dangerous fantasy that we can move aggressively to eliminate extremists abroad, for this will multiply our enemies. Instead we must rely on other dynamics to limit them. After all, extremists reside in all communities at all times, yet few ever advance their cause beyond the margins of their own societies. Specifically, we must make space for constructive processes internal to the region of Afghanistan as well as the Muslim community worldwide to unfold in response to this unprecedented outbreak of terrorism.
These internal processes would not likely yield us bin Laden or the Taliban immediately, but we have rightly been cautioned from the beginning that this will be a long and difficult struggle. What would we lose if we chose to end the bombing and focus on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people and their neighbors? Suppose we bombarded Afghans with food, medicine, seeds and traditional farming implements for a year or two while blockading all importation of weapons and related technology? In the meantime we could assist the millions of Afghani refugees in Pakistan and other locations to engage in the lengthy relationship-building processes that will be required to put aside their internal differences and form a sustainable government. With a little luck, Muslim governments elsewhere in the world, starting perhaps with their previous patrons, the Pakistanis, would engage their embarrassingly hard-line Taliban brothers in some serious heart-to-heart talks. The UN might overcome its reluctance to play a role. And, given enough time, bin Laden would surface somewhere, betrayed perhaps by someone eager to assist his departure.
Could it work? No guarantees. But there is already evidence that bombing the Taliban to death will be harder than we thought and after that, then what? Even if a non-military strategy were only partly successful, we would be far more secure a decade from now than if we succeed in a military rout of the Taliban. No American policy maker has yet explained how our current strategy will prevent the further deterioration of our security that will inevitably follow as Muslims around the world react in anger to our military campaign. The only thing worse than one bin Laden would be a dozen, a thousand, or a hundred thousand of him. Day by day, we are currently building such a nightmare for ourselves.
Ron Kraybill was deeply involved in the South African political transition from 1989-1995 as Director of Training at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, and as Training Advisor to the South African National Peace Accord. Since 1995 he is Associate Professor of Conflict Studies in the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. He has served as a trainer and advisor to peacebuilding processes in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. In 1999-2000 he spent 10 months living, studying and teaching in India.