The real war on terror


Newspapers, politicians, people in the street – everyone seems to take the “war on terror” seriously. As for me, I just don’t buy it. The realistic chance that terrorism will directly affect me or any other westerner does not seem to me to be greatly more than it was a decade ago, unless I were to travel to Iraq or a couple of other places where the US has bought into a whole lot of trouble. Does anyone remember Bader Meinhof and the Red Brigades? How about the IRA and the troubles? I think the emperor has no clothes. I think the neocons and their camp followers have taken advantage the tragedy of the twin towers to push their reactionary agenda.

But for some reason I seem to be on my own here. Alright, I give in, have it your way. But if I’m going to sign up for this crazy war on an abstract noun, then at least lets do it right. None of this long war that all those pansy-arse girly men like Rumsfeld and Cheney [1] are talking about. Bugger that – we’re going to win!

First, let’s sort out the battle lines. Terrorists have had us on the back foot ever since September 11, and nowdays there’s fear everywhere. Old ladies are afraid to go down to the shops because of those guys in the hoodies on the corner. If you catch a plane and the person next to you talks in Arabic on his cellphone you immediately start thinking there could be a plot. Police get in the sniffer dogs and the bomb robots if someone forgets their bag at the station. Is any of this justified? Many more people die from firearms. The war in the Congo has killed millions.

That’s the trouble with unreasoning terror, it’s not about what makes sense, it’s about visceral low in the brainstem stuff like the fear of the other, of those not in our tribe. It’ll require more than sacrificing our children and theirs to keep control of the oil wells in a far off land. More than giving up our freedom, our privacy, and our pretence of moral superiority – we’re going to have to go the hard yards. And it’s not enough to take on just the terrorists – we’re not going to get anywhere until we take on fear itself. That’s what I call a war on terror, and it’s time these girly men stopped their macho posturing with armies and secret police and signed up for the real deal.

For a start no one’s going to feel safe as long as large parts of the world are desperately poor. We need to do something serious about the inequality between the rich and the poor nations, or there will always be disaffected desert dwellers with a persecution complex and a grudge. Foreign development aid worldwide totalled $79 billion in 2004, compared with a military spending of $1400 billion that year, so it’s not as if the solution is not obvious. The hard part is being sufficiently determined to stand up to the militarists around the world.

But breaking the connection between the militarists and government has another benefit in our war on terror. We’ll have the political clout to finally disarm all those nukes. And if we put a whole lot more effort into clean power sources we could probably pull back the greenhouse effect, stop mining uranium, and we’d no longer have to fear the rogue state developing nuclear weapon scenario – they wouldn’t be able to get the materials to construct one.

By this stage we’re really getting somewhere. We’re probably feeling so good about things we can ban gun ownership and put some more money into education and social programs. Granny will be able to walk down to the corner without worrying about getting mugged.

George Bush asked a very good question after September 11: “Why do they hate us?” But he gave the wrong answer. They don’t hate us because we have freedom and democracy, they hate us because we back despots like Saddam Hussein. They hate us because we’re rich enough to help them but instead we make sure our multinationals can continue to strip out their resources for little return.

We need to turn this around, and it won’t happen without a certain amount of pain, or without a certain amount of resistance from those multinationals.

So do we have the guts to take on the real battle with terror, the one we can really win? Or are we going to continue to fight the paper tigers put up by the neocons? Strangely enough the true war on the abstract noun is a war we can actually win, if we have the courage to fight it, but the war on the administration’s phantoms is a war which perpetuates itself: each victory contains it’s own defeat. Each terrorist we kill is the martyr who inspires another to join the enemy, but each fear we face up to and take on is a step towards humanity, towards a world without division, inequality, and the existence of terrorism.

[1] I’m not saying this to slander effeminate men. As we all know Rumsfeld and Cheney are not so much men as evil transdimensional lizards. ↩

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