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The new 21st century

A Global War on Terrorism?

The longer and deeper confrontation is now between the only remaining civilization which fills the globe and those who would not be transformed by it, nearly all of whom live in the deserts of Araby, or Africa. The confrontation has been building ever since Islam destroyed its own pan-African, Arabian and southern European civilization, abandoned the ways of learning it had gained form Greece and Rome, and returned to the desert.

By Ian Winchester

Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

The World Trade Center is bombed by two large passenger-filled aircraft and the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse entirely. The Pengagon is hit by another. A fourth plane is downed in Pennsylvania. Cell-phone contact with passengers before they die indicate that the planes were hijacked by men with knives or threatening bombs. The loss of life is feared terrible. Some fifty thousand people work in the World Trade Centre alone. Twenty-four thousand in the Pentagon. All airports in the United States and Canada are closed. All international air traffic is diverted from the United States, 90 percent to Canada and the rest to Mexico. Osama bin Laden and his network are suspected. Planes from Korea landing in Canada are impounded and hijacking is suspected. All high rise towers in the United States and Canada are evacuated and the centers of all cities in both countries are closed. The American president takes a circuitous route by Airforce One back to Washington from his literacy class to school children in Texas, stopping briefly to send a television message condemning the terrorists and vowing the U.S. will find those responsible and will not spare those harboring them. The U.S. armed forces are on high alert worldwide. In the streets of Palestinian cities and towns there is cheering and rejoicing though Arafat condemns the senseless horror. The FBI has 4000 operatives working on the question of who were the terrorists. Wednesday, September 12

All of the United States NATO allies pledge their support and voice their condemnation. Germany, France and Britain are specially forceful in their condemnation of terrorism. France lets it be known that an attempt by bin Laden to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower was foiled. 300 firemen and 80 policemen in New York are missing and feared dead. 200-800 are feared dead in the Pentagon. Perhaps 25,000 are dead in the twin towers. Firemen, policemen and an army of volunteers begin to dig out the four stories of rubble amidst fires and smoke in New York. Afghanistan condemns terrorism and says bin Laden could not have done this since they have cut off all his communication. Five people are removed alive from the rubble in New York.

Thursday, September 13

American international diplomacy is full throttle. Pakistan and China are approached as well as all the traditional allies of the West. Both Pakistan and China are troubled by fundamentalist Taliban-like extremists whose numbers are growing in Pakistan generally and in northwest China where there are significant Arab-speaking minorities. Survivors are thought to be communicating by cell-phone from under the rubble and frantic rescue efforts are made in New York. The FBI says it is looking at passenger manifests and suspects the middle-eastern terrorists were involved. George Bush says those responsible will be hunted down and punished.

Friday, September 14.

A memorial service is held in the "national cathedral" in Washington attended by all the living Presidents except Regan, and all the powerful. Islamic, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant religious persuasions are represented and Billy Graham gives the sermon. The rescue digging goes on in New York and Washington. No more survivors are found. Other buildings threaten to collapse in New York and smoke rises and fires break out as steel is moved. The FBI says that they have found 18 suspected terrorists on the passenger manifests of the planes hijacked and are questioning many who may have met them. It is possible that some of them had flight training at schools in Florida or elsewhwere in the U.S. George Bush visits the destruction in New York and is greeted with tremendous displays of patrotism from the firefighters, policemen and volunteers he meets. George Bush says that the culprits will be hunted down and punished.The U.S. congress passes a $40 billion dollar appropriation bill to fight terrorism and repair New York. Flights resume in some airports but in New York arrests are made on a number of immigration-related considerations.

Saturday, September 15

A national day of mourning is proclaimed in the U.S. and the first funeral services are held for fallen firemen and policemen in New York, including the Fire Commissioner, his deputy and the Chaplain of the New York fire fighters. American flags are everywhere. Islamic groups in the U.S. say they are being threatened, as are Hindus and Sikhs and anybody looking vaguely middle-eastern. Pakistan says it will close its borders with Afghanistan and let the U.S. use it as a staging area if asked. Kaboul says Afghanistan will retaliate and seek revenge if attacked by the U.S. It says bin Laden is not sponsored by them and has had his communications cut off for some time. Iran expresses its strong condemnation of the terrorist acts in the U.S. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein says that the U.S. should use more common sense. Elsewhere in the Arab world the general sentiment is that the U.S. is the Great Satan and should change its policies with respect to Jerusalem, the Palestinians, Israel and Iraq. Flights resume in New York and all other American cities. The New York Stock Exchange goes through a practice run for Monday's reopening. George Bush says that the country is at war and that the culprits will be hunted down and brought to justice. He mentions bin Laden for the first time.

Sunday, September 16,2001

Nato has pledged its support to the United States which now considers itself at war with an undisclosed international enemy. Using the "Musketeer" clause in which if one member is attacked and at war the whole alliance considers itself attacked and at war, the United States and its allies are on a war footing. More digging out goes on in New York. No new survivors are found but hope is still widespread that in the seven stories underground there may be pockets of air and some survivors, as sometimes happens in earthquakes. The FBI is widening its search and has arrested 25. It may take three years to repair the damage at the Pentagon. Sporting events resume in the U.S. Government officials recommend that people go on with their normal lives.

What do the events of these six days mean?

After the horrifying and tragic events of six days ago and their aftermath, after the extent of the terrible loss of life is known, and after the United States has awakened to the twenty first century, where now? The North Atlantic alliance, not only for reasons of sympathy but because its members are all threatened too, will undoubtedly offer moral and perhaps military support. The United States will try to line up most of the world on its side for the "battle against terrorism", a battle which at leas the U.S. will probably take seriously this time. But what are the prospects for victory?

It seems to me that the prospects for victory are great if the root causes of the terrorism can be addressed. I think it is a mistake to identify these, as is usually done, as: (1) Jerusalem, a city which Islam considers one of its three most holy sites and which is in the control of Israel; (2) the military and financial presence of the U.S. in Saudi Arabia, the physical center of the islamic faith; (3) the U.S. policy of sanctions against the regime in Iraq leading to the starvation of the Iraqui people. Painful as these things are, they are only surface manifestations of a deeper and much longer confrontation, a confrontation which is at least 1000 years old and of which the Crusades were but an earlier responsive sally.

The twentieth century has forced most of the followers of Islam to leave the comfort of the desert and to dwell, unhappily, in the pan-global civilization. The United States just happens to be the symbol for that civilization, but we are all caught up in it. It is not the American civilization. It is more properly a European one in which the Americans, for historical reasons, participate. But even that is misleading. For it has become a global civililization in which the whole world participates, including most of Islam. It is entirely all encompassing. In China, in Pakistan, in India just as in Russia, Germany and the U.S., we travel, communicate and educate according to the norms of the pan-global civilization which has us in its grip. It is ironic that the desert dwellers who would be left alone must learn to fly airplanes in the United States in order to blow up the financial nerve center of the pan-global civilization, in order to prosecute their ends. We could, of course, isolate them completely if we did not covet their oil. They could rapidly be reduced to the state they were in 100 years ago, unable to make or repair anything and unable to use or sell the one resource they possess.

But the civilization, whatever its benefits, does not come without costs. For example, it is a civilization that has made or attempts to make women equal to men in all, or nearly all, walks of life. The desert dwellers who would hold to the word of Islam as they interpret it consider that anathema. Women have, according to their interpretation of the Koran, an inferior place in this world and no place at all in Heaven. It is also a civilization that is struggling to create national and international law that is not based on a holy book, but on human needs and human variety. And that, too, is anathema to the dwellers of the desert. If it wasn't thought of 1300 years ago, then it shouldn't be thought of now. It is a civilization that is based on large flows of capital on which interest is charged. And that too is anathema. For usuary is forbidden and usuary is the charging of interest on money loans. It is true that Islamic financiers find other ways to make money that by charging interest, for example, by investing in stocks which go up in capital value. But the danger is always there that interest might be charged or that another Imam will come by who reinterprests appreciation of capital as a kind of usury.

These are places of deep confrontation and the United States is at the forefront of that confrontation. But the stakes are too high for the desert dwellers to prevail. For example, China is progressing precisely because it embraced a Christian heresy which transformed it into a strong player in the global civilization. There is no going back for China. Its old ways are past and largely, if not completely, forgotten. The Christian heretics who have it under control have moved through socialism to capitalism without blinking an eye. They have not embraced the forms of democracy which prevail in Western Europe and the United States. But that, too, may come. When I was in China with a large UNESCO gathering in 1989 just after Tienanmen Square our host in the Great Hall of the People was Li Peng, then Prime Minister, considered largely responsible for the killing of the children in the square. When we asked him about prospects for democracy he said that he thought American or European style democracy would be about 50 years coming to China, after she was richer. But he did not say it would not come. After all, the rhetoric of democracy has been everywhere in China since 1949.

Thus China will be part of the global coalition against the terrorism of the desert. So will India. And, on pain of loss of its own regime, so will Pakistan. Whom does that leave outside? Nearly no one who does not dwell in the desert, and whose oil we do not really need.

And what must be our actions if our civiliation is to to prevail? It cannot be to bomb the Afghanis and their other mountain and desert friends into the stone age, because they are already mainly there. It can only be to help them out of the stone age by making them more prosperous, more educated, more healthy. And that is a slow task requiring good-will on our part. It may require the complete military conquest of the desert dwellers. But it cannot be a military conquest without generous subsequent developments, without making the desert bloom. It will require slow persuasion towards other values than those of the fundamentalist Imans who would prefer to remain in Mecca 1400 years ago.

But in the meanwhile perhaps we should all be issued low-calibre (low enough that we do not have catastrophic decompression) weapons on airliners by the stewardesses which they collect at the end of every hijacking free-flight. And every group of passengers should be instructed, not in how to fasten their seatbelts, but in how to resist a potential hijacking even at the cost of their own lives for the sake of our civilization.

18. September 2001


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