Al Qaeda’s actions on 9/11 2001 changed America’s view of the world. After the terrorist attacks the Bush administration came to the conclusion that America as a whole was under attack from the Middle East and that the solution was to move that war away from home into the Muslim countries. But what if the US government, first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration, are wrong and the incredibly successful Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11 were not the beginning of a war on America or the West but a freak event?
In 2005 Safe Democracy, my foundation co- organized the largest conference ever put on the subject of terrorism. The conference was attended by many heads of state and 1300 experts from the Middle East and the rest of the world. One of the highlights of the conference was the decision of Kofi Annan to choose this event to announce the UN Principles for Nations to apply when fighting terrorism. These principles were understood by many as a warning to the US that terrorism could not be fought with more terror, a la Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Also around that time it become clear that the subsequent attacks that seemed to resembled 9/11, namely the bombings on March 11 in Madrid and July 7 in London were home grown efforts of a very different kind. These tragic post 9/11 terrorist bombings were found to be not so much a continued attack by Al Qaeda but the story of angry immigrants who were reacting to Spain and UK participating in the invasion of Iraq. In other words, these attacks were not originated in the Middle East but instead the consequence of our involvement in the Middle East. Terror in the form of brutal air bombings, torture on behalf of the US and EU occupying forces, led to more terror in Europe. Out of fighting Al Qaeda with methods perceived as unreasonably brutal by Muslim immigrants in Europe a new type of home grown terrorism was born. It was this realization that made Spain’s President Zapatero pull out from Iraq and since then the threat of Islamic terrorism has diminished.
So the question here is why the USA and EU continue to believe that occupation of either Iraq and Afghanistan, or only Afghanistan, is the best regional strategy. Many commentators still believe that we are safer because we occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. But lately many have been changing their views and are beginning to agree that Osama Bin Laden was a freak terrorist with a very personal agenda, who because of his own international background and skills, had his own global war to carry. We should not manage our international agenda thinking that the globally minded Osama Bin Laden is the rule but that even the most radical elements in the Muslim world are now focused in regional objectives in countries that are mostly Muslim or have large Muslim populations, such as the tragic attacks on India. Few critical observers believe that whoever is fighting Europe and the US in Afghanistan, for example, wants to actually attack Europe or the US the way Osama Bin Laden did. Instead most conflict in Afghanistan, and the Middle East in general, now is against occupying forces or Palestinian/Israeli, Sunni/Shia and moderate vs radical Islam.
Al Qaeda type attacks outside of the Middle East, like the attack in Mumbai, are serious but not the driving force of violence in the Middle East. The only way to prevent those is not for India to invade Pakistan, where a lot of radical Islam is based, but to better protect itself. By now it is clear that most of the fighters in Afghanistan just want the US and EU out of their country and will fight us like they fought the British 100 years ago and the Russians 30 years ago. But just like they did not go on attacking Great Britain after it pulled out of Afghanistan a century ago, I don’t think that even a Taliban Afghanistan will include a successor to Osama Bin Laden planning the next 9/11 out of there. I think that part of the message the Taliban got as well as Qaddafi got his when we bombed his home. And indeed, our enemies in Afghanistan want to turn the country back into the Middle Ages forcing men to wear beards, oppressing women, banning music and so on, but is it our role to turn the Middle East into Western democracies or to protect our way of life and economies in our own countries? Because if the answer is the former we could invade Saudi Arabia next, as most 9/11 attackers were Saudis and they also promote a way of life which we find that violates the rights of women, homosexuals and other groups who deserve their human dignity. But can we afford a global crusade for dignity? Would you send your child to die so the homosexuals of Iran, for example, stop getting the death penalty? Nobody seems to advocate that.
We have squandered over a trillion dollars occupying and policing Iraq and Afghanistan, trying for those countries to become something they don’t want to be. In the meantime we have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, the devastation of Iraq and Afghanistan’s fragile economies and we have given an impossible task to our military who are dying for a dubious cause in tragic ways. What we should be doing instead is focusing our precious human and financial resources in making sure that those who intend to destroy us, freaks like Osama Bin Laden, do not get hold of nuclear weapons or the infamous weapons of mass destruction and achieve their personal objectives. And I say personal because I travel the Middle East enough to conclude that most Muslims want to be like us rather than see us become like them. But to make sure that the next Osama does not show up with real weapons we need better cooperation with Russia and China who also suffer terribly from Islamic terrorism. We have to work with them not only because they are victims of the same phenomenon, their countries border the Islamic world but also if we antagonize them, they can be the reason why the next Osama Bin Laden does show up with a nuclear weapon. In short what we have to do is to make sure that 9 11 continues to be the biggest and most successful terrorist attack in history, a freak event that is never again repeated.
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