The United States has today begun its war against terrorism in a very familiar way: by use of terror. Ignorant of thousands of years of violence in the Middle East, President George W. Bush thinks that the horror of September 11th can be exorcised and prevented by bombs and missiles. Today we can add more names to the long list of victims of the terrorist airplane attacks. Because today Afghanis have died in terror.
The deaths in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania have shocked Americans and rightly so. We are all scared of our sudden vulnerability. We are all shocked at the level of anger that led nineteen suicide bombers to give up precious life to start such a literal and symbolic conflagration. What they did was horrible and without justification. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.
The terrorists committed their atrocities because of a long list of grievances. They were shedding blood for blood, and we must understand that. Because to understand that is to understand that President Bush is unleashing his own terror campaign: that he is shedding more blood for more blood.
The United States has been sponsoring violence in Afghanistan for over a generation. Even before the Soviet invasion of that country, the U.S. was supporting radical Mujahadeen forces. We thought then that sponsorship of violence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been experimenting with violence in the region for many years. Our foreign policy has been a mish-mash of supporting one despotic régime after another against a shifting array of perceived enemies.
The Afghani forces the United States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. We have rarely if ever acted on behalf of liberty and democracy in the region. We have time and again sold out our values and thrown our support behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that military adventurism in the region could keep terrorism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new generation of radicals, bent on revenge.
There are those who have angrily denounced pacifists in the weeks since September 11th, angrily asking how peace can deal with terrorists. What these critics don’t understand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twenty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promises for democracy, and acted in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the interests of our oil companies) to keep the cycles of violence going. The United States made choices that helped keep the peoples of the Middle East enslaved in despotism and poverty.
And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not necessarily this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop combat terrorism with terror. In the last few weeks the United States has been making new alliances with countries whose leaders subvert democracy. We are giving them free rein to continue to subject their people. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and destabilizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kabul feeds terror more.
And most of all: we are making new victims. Another generation of children are seeing their parents die, are seeing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncaring America. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democracy and hear nothing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turning against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our lesson of terror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. History will continue to turn, with blood as it’s Middle Eastern lubricant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.