Terrorism is the new totalitarianism

The war against international terrorism appears to be entering a new phase. The USA, with the support of Britain, is racing to achieve the broadest possible consensus, this time against Iraq. In Europe, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been reiterating in all his campaign speeches that as long as he is at the helm, Germany will never agree to a war against Iraq. In an exclusive interview with Kathimerini and Skai radio, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, of the country’s Green Party, proposes an «Islamic way» in the struggle for a transition to a new world. He blames the Europeans, above all the Germans, for the Middle East problem and claims that a peace settlement in the region is an essential prerequisite to solving other problems. As for the lesson to be learned from September 11, 2001, Fischer replied laconically «the prevention of a revival of old conflicts.» What really happened on September 11, 2001? What happened was an attack by a terrorist organization against the government and people of the United States, an attack using very simple means, civilian aircraft used as directed weapons. It was an attack that did not consider the value of human life, nor the sex, age, religion or ethnic origins (of its victims). It was an attack on the head, the heart and the soul of the US, the strongest power of our age, one which plays a central role in maintaining peace and stability. It was a great shock for the people of the US; that is something I can understand very well. These terrorists had previously attacked American targets within the US. Yes, but not on such a catastrophic scale. This form of terrorism is a new kind of totalitarianism. Osama Bin Laden himself said that it is aimed at creating a theocratic state. He wants the dissolution of Israel and the emasculation of the US, but his primary goal is to destabilize the Arabian peninsula. The threat is not only against the US, our most important ally and one to which our country owes its unity and freedom, but against the openness of our very society itself. So we cannot avoid the issue here. In any case, one cannot negotiate with this form of terrorism, one simply has to defeat it. This is the bitter truth. Is «war» the right word? In practice, we are waging a war against international terrorism. The initial step was to set up a counterterrorism alliance. That is the only way to keep fighting this network. They have lost their territorial base, the Taliban dictatorship. The danger is still there. The old problems – international, local, those related to existing structures – have not disappeared. Yet there is now another threat to international peace which can lead to the kind of colossal destruction that once only states could achieve. To what extent has there been progress in the defense against this threat? Destroying the Taliban regime was the right thing to do, in order to help the Afghan people reconstruct their state, a major and also dangerous operation. The problem is not restricted to Afghanistan. We are dealing with a form of terrorism that is global and I absolutely understand why Americans are asking what would happen if this new totalitarian force possessed weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt they would use them. Neither we nor the US can accept such a terrible risk. So we are quite right in analyzing precisely whom we are dealing with and what we have to do. Whom does this «terrorist international» include? Can we make such distinctions? The network which sent its members to train in Afghanistan can be isolated, according to reports from secret services. It is beginning to fray at the edges; this is in the nature of every network. However, Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are at its center. The geographical region over which this crisis has developed stretches from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. We Europeans are immediate neighbors. It is a question of our own security. After the attack, some voices were raised claiming that whoever tried to seek the reasons for such an abhorrent act was basically trying to justify those who committed it. On the contrary, the threat must be analyzed exhaustively. September 11 showed how forgotten conflicts can create a danger for world peace. If we want to defeat those responsible for September 11, we have to understand its roots, including its spiritual roots. After an exhaustive study, I have found four aspects of this new threat which are particularly dangerous when taken together. We can see them in specific periods of European history – religious hatred, legitimized by cultivating an expectation that all evils will be wiped out – this we know from the religious wars of the 16th century; nationalism and conflicts arising from it, as we saw at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries; the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, the situation after World War II; and finally, the asymmetry of the threat of international terrorism – this is what historian Timothy Garton Ash calls the beginning of the 21st century. Where can one find all these dangerous factors coinciding? Most clearly in the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir. This is where we can study the potential nightmare; national hatred, accumulation of thermonuclear weapons and an asymmetrical conflict. What role do economic and social factors play in this accumulation of problems? We already know from many other forms of totalitarianism that they are always the result of a deep crisis of modernization. Material misery can also be a factor. The crisis that led to the totalitarian regimes in Europe after World War I was also a spiritual crisis, a result of the war and the complete break with the past due to the Industrial Revolution. In such cases, there is an accumulation of several factors. The Indian writer Arundhati Roy says that the leaders of the capitalist West bear a large part of the blame for the current situation. Here we should make a distinction. Naturally Europeans, and above all Germans, bear a great responsibility for the postwar problem. There is no doubt that on the Indian subcontinent, the colonial past is a terrible burden. But let us look at the current conflict over Kashmir. I cannot see where the problem is in the stance taken by the Americans and Europeans. Nor has the «West» always done the right thing regarding the difficulties experienced by the Arab world in adjusting to the modern age. Of course there are states who have distanced themselves from the West. … such as Libya, Iran. … and as to whether the alternative solution is preferable, I for one doubt it. Even American intellectuals, in the wake of the Twin Towers’ destruction, were asking «Why do they hate us so much?» And I ask in return: Why do the Hindus hate the Muslims so much? Well, the West is not responsible for that! The escalation of this particular crisis has to be seen within the defeat of the Taliban. Terrorism provided the trigger, one might say, with the attacks in the parliaments of Srinagar and Delhi. If it had not been possible to contain this crisis, we would have had a disaster; a conflict between two nuclear powers. So we need a strategy to prevent these four elements I mentioned earlier from coinciding. That can only be achieved by setting priorities. First of all we have to destroy terrorism, secondly to contain local conflicts so that they cannot form links with terrorism. That is the lesson to be gained from September 11; to prevent old conflicts from flaring up. Doesn’t the defeat of terrorism automatically involve military means? No, on the contrary. I do not know of any case similar to that of Afghanistan, which Al Qaeda used as its base. Now we are dealing with a network, which no longer exists in the form of a state, but operates underground. That makes the case basically one for the secret services. International cooperation is the crucial element here, for even the most powerful nation cannot see or hear everything. Individual actions will be military or police actions, according to the case at hand.