There's renewed interest in the United States' so-called “war on terror” lately, what with one Nigerian's failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up his skivvies aboard an airplane in flight and heightened concern that Yemen is a potential terrorist incubator. We're hearing lots of talk about intelligence-communication failures and airport security and increasing monetary counterterrorism aid to Yemen's embattled government.
And, of course, when things get tense, the kooks come out to play. We're even hearing Dick Cheney and Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the clowniest clowns in all of Clownington, say the problem is that the president isn't uttering the word “terror” enough, as if all we need to do is let terrorism know that we know it's lurking and it'll creep back into its cave. Dufuses.
It's all well and good to talk about thwarting terrorist acts, but what we're not hearing much about is stopping terrorism. Until we stop young Muslim men from making the decision to hide explosives in their undies, all we're doing is playing a high-stakes and increasingly challenging game of Whac-a-Mole™. And like the nutty Nigerian almost did, some of those crafty moles are bound to evade our mallets and really do some damage.
Modern Islamic terrorism is now roughly 25 years old, having been birthed by multiple parents—ideological strife in Egypt, Israeli domination of Palestinians, Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviets' ill-fated meddling in Afghanistan. Its architects were, to put it mildly, disenchanted with the way life was unfolding in Muslim countries; they saw what they considered increasing decadence among everyday Muslims, corruption in their governments and a general degradation of how Islam was being interpreted.
Islamic fundamentalism wasn't necessarily violent in the early 1980s. But persuasive militants managed to legitimize the idea that it's OK for devout Muslims to kill other Muslims, as well as innocent non-Muslims, especially if the end result was theocratic rule across an Islamic region. And once it was decided that the United States—the installer of military bases, the exploiter of oil, the backer of West-friendly secular governments, the damnedest den of debauchery—was a target, well, you know the rest.
There are an estimated 10 million jihadists worldwide these days. That's a teeny-tiny portion of the Earth's Muslims, but, still—10 million people who might come to the conclusion that blowing up their drawers on an airplane is the rational solution to today's geopolitical problems.
It's unlikely that we can rewire their minds and empty their hearts of wayward faith. But what are we doing about the next generation? How are we handling, for example, the disaffected minority Muslim populations across Western Europe and in Muslim-majority African nations such as Sudan and Somalia, let alone the spawn of extremists in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where there's so much discontent with the West-friendly monarchy?
Or maybe this is a better question: Should we do anything about them? One school of thought is that Islamist anger is stoked by suppression of rising Islamism. True democracy would allow the people to decide what sort of government they want, and Western powers and current Arab rulers are terrified that Islamism would be the popular choice, as seemed to be the case in Algeria in the early 1990s, when the military canceled elections, leading to civil war.
Perhaps the United States should get out of the way and let the battle of ideas unfold overseas. Is it naïve to think that popular Islamist victories wouldn't necessarily mean war against the United States and might even be short-lived if anger toward the meddling West were to subside and pluralism and intolerance of violent fanaticism were to win the day?
Without a doubt, expression of such sentiments here at home would be ridiculed as appeasement and would probably hasten a return to Cheney-style fearful, hawkish, hard-line governance. And that's too bad, because that would, without a doubt, keep us in a perpetual, provocative, expensive, dangerous war.
We understand that Barack Obama has to appease the right wing at home by continuing to talk tough—while also truly maintaining vigilance in homeland security and foreign intelligence—but every “war” needs an exit strategy, and this one won't end until young men stop wanting to blow us to pieces.
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