The terrible price of responding to terrorism with war.
THE horrific attacks in Mumbai have brought back to the world the sickening image of terrorist carnage at a time when the economic crisis had largely driven such fears from our subconscious. The economic meltdown had temporarily displaced a largely irrational fear, that of dying at the hands of a terrorist (we are far more likely to die in a car accident), with a far more realistic one, that of lean times ahead, tighter belts, even redundancy or repossession.
Yet terrorism is so successful precisely because it strikes at our deepest fears. It is indiscriminate, random, unexpected. If you're worried about the economy, you can rein in your spending, if you're worried about the roads (and you should be), you can drive cautiously, wear your seatbelt, buy a car with robust safety specs. But the terrorist can strike as you're walking to work, on your honeymoon, as you're sitting in your office, as happened on 9/11.
Indications are that this latest attack was the work of homegrown or at least regional terrorists. To put it in perspective, India saw 2,700 people killed in terrorist attacks last year by a wide range of groups and individuals. The vast majority of victims of this week's attacks are Indian, and the choice of a railway station and hospital as targets suggest the primary desire is to strike at the Indian state. But the fact that the gunmen also attacked luxury hotels, apparently trying to single out American and British nationals, as well as taking hostage an Israeli family at a Jewish centre, suggest a desire to mark themselves in a more global perspective inspired by the outrages of al Qaeda.
This reminds the Western world, still euphoric at the electoral triumph of Barack Obama, that the legacy of George W Bush and his criminally inept 'war on terror' lives on. Indeed, we may even be at greater risk today, with fanatic radicals desperate to revive the 'clash of civilisations' at a time when the election of the son of a Kenyan Muslim to the White House has muddied the waters of the simplistic bipolar world they seek to project.
Today, we are paying the price of the brutally disproportioned policy of responding to terrorism with war, a policy disastrously pioneered by Israel whose only result has been to breed an endless stream of volunteers for martyrdom. Instead of fighting terrorism with intelligence, infiltration, community policing and political engagement, as European governments have done, gradually wearing down their own separatist terror groups, the United States and Britain unleashed the armies of the Cold War to find a needle in a haystack, burning down the haystack only to find the needle was not there.
Radical fanatics would love nothing better than to lure Obama down the same path. We must brace for more outrages designed to bait the new administration into repeating the mistakes of the old. It is a trap the President elect must brush aside, if his message of hope is to survive as a beacon against the fear on which his enemies will thrive.
Copyright Cyprus Mail 2008
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