The myths of fighting terrorism

Melvyn Magree

President George W. Bush used “War on Terrorism” over and over again, and, like many before and after him, thought that military might from air or ground could stop the terrorism.  But these actions only foment more terrorism.  In fact, these actions in and of themselves are terrorism.

Just what is terrorism?  Governments generally define it as lethal attacks on civilians or governments, often perpetrated by a small number of people.  Terrorism really is any act by any group, government or not, meant to reinforce an agenda.  Torture by any government is terrorism.  Invasion of one country by another that leads to the deaths or injuries to the unarmed civilians is terrorism. Pilots deliberately crashing airplanes is terrorism.  Gunmen shooting people on buses or in theaters is terrorism.  People blowing up mosques, churches, or temples are terrorists.  Governments dropping bombs on civilian populations is terrorism.

Terror has been a part of our country from the beginning.  During the Revolution, mobs of “Tories” or “Patriots” would tar and feather and ride out on a rail those they suspected of supporting the other group.  The tar was very hot and the rails were triangular; the victims were probably made to sit with the triangle facing up.

Slaves knew the terror of being whipped by a ruthless owner or overseer for the slightest infraction.  If that weren’t enough, many owners justified the whippings with verses from the Bible.

The end of slavery didn’t end the terror for former slaves or their descendants.  The Ku Klux Klan hung those they disagreed without any benefit of trial.  Others were “lucky” to “only” have crosses burned in front of their houses.  The Klan made “Christianity” just another example of a violent religion.

The Klan and its ilk have not been eradicated, but their influence has been greatly diminished by  a more just civil society.

Unfortunately, civil society has been under attack since the writing of the Constitution.  Slavery was permitted in the Constitution with the onerous counting of slaves as three-fifths of persons.  Slavery was further strengthened by the Second Amendment, “the right of the People to keep and bear Arms”.  For many, the purpose of this was to protect slave owners if the Federal government threatened to take away their slaves.  Civil society is also under attack by those who want to consider corporations as “persons”.

Terror by “civil society” continued after the abolition of slavery with the forced relocation or slaughter of aboriginal peoples.  The U.S. Army wiped out several villages including women and children.  The Cherokee and others, successful farmers who dressed the same as their neighbors, were forced off their land and told to move to Oklahoma.  Many did not survive the trip.

I could go on with several other instances of the U.S. being involved in violence against the populations of other countries, but I don’t have space to examine the pros and cons of these interventions.  But, there are many people who remember these interventions and still hold grudges about them.

Let’s examine one chain of events that got us to the messes of today.

The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan to protect the Communist-led government.  Afghanistan, being the tribal country it is, had many who attacked the Soviet occupiers.  The United States, being engaged with its own battle with “godless Communism”, aided and abetted the resistance.  One of the most deadly weapons the U.S. arsenal was Stinger missile.  The U.S. supplied Stingers to the mujahedeen fighting Soviet helicopters, the deadly Hinds.  The new weapons turned the battle around and the Soviet Union eventually left.  But many of the Stingers did not return to the United States.

Then the United States decided to take on Saddam Hussein when the latter invaded Kuwait.  As part of the military arrangements, Saudi Arabia allowed the U.S. to base troops in their country.  A big mistake to make.  Many Muslims consider Saudi Arabia a holy place that should not be “overrun” by an infidel army.  One of these objectors was an Arab who had been very active in helping the mujahedeen repel the Soviet invaders: Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden decided to make a big theatrical demonstration of his displeasure, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York after some practices in the Gulf of Aden and other places.  George W. Bush fell into bin Laden’s trap and escalated the conflict, invading both Afghanistan and Iraq, bringing “freedom and democracy” to both countries.  Both countries may have “elected” officials, but the fighting still goes on and has brought in a third party: the Islamic State in Syria.  ISIS or ISIL or IS has thousands of Muslims, traditional or new converts rushing to join their cause.

The United States, under a President who wanted to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is sending jets to attack ISIS in Iraq.  Do you not think there are a few Muslims who are thinking of ways to attack the U.S. for its “attack on Islam”?  On top of this, thousands of those fighting to expel ISIS from Tikrit have withdrawn because of the U.S. attacks.  Can the jets occupy Tikrit?  I think it is Sunnis who have withdrawn; Tikrit is a predominantly Sunni city.

What frosts me is that the U.S. gives billions of aid each year to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but neither has put much effort in expelling ISIS from Iraq.  Saudi Arabia has probably put more effort into Yemen than it has into Iraq.

And now we have a Congress that wants to spend even more money on the “defense” of its world view while protecting the “rights” of our home-grown terrorists.

Pete Seeger’s lament is still relevant: “When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?”