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FSO(R) Terry Arnold on "The Dangers Of Terrorism Monomania"

*The Dangers Of
Terrorism Monomania
*By Terrell E. Arnold

   On August 10, British police announced that they had arrested 21
   people said to be involved in a terrorism plot.  The scheme, police
   spokesmen revealed, was to take component chemicals on board
   transatlantic flights, create binary explosives on board, detonate
   and destroy the aircraft. More slowly, it was also revealed that the
   21, alleged "home-grown" plotters, were all from Britain's large
   Muslim communities.

   Media immediately picked up on the implicit theme of Islamic
   terrorism, and the battle lines, already tightly drawn by US
   leadership, quickly closed ranks around what President George Bush
   called "Islamo fascism".  Conditions for unlimited future focus on
   the War on Terrorism had thus been refurbished.  But what was wrong
   with this picture?

   For some observers, the timing of this announcement was more
   interesting than the substance.

   The report was released on a day when Israel's IDF forces were
   struggling in Lebanon to decimate Hezbollah, and while IDF planes,
   unopposed, were systematically destroying targets of choice all over
   Lebanon.  Since there was no imminent US-British aviation threat in
   the announcement, it could easily be concluded that the British bomb
   plot discovery was meant to take attention off Lebanon long enough
   for the IDF to demolish Hezbollah. The distraction succeeded, but
   the IDF did not.

   This reported plot may not represent either a real or an imminent
   threat to Britain or the United States, or the countless people of
   all nationalities who fly out of Heathrow for the United States. It
   does highlight, however, a disturbing and dangerous fixation that US
   and British leadership have on potential Muslim sources of
   terrorism.  The global terrorism universe is and always has been
   much more complex.  Both the focus and the fact of the War on
   Terrorism are sadly misplaced.

   Just who is a terrorist anyway?  The definition was hardly reliable
   before 9/11, and it has become less reliable since. Today the single
   focus is on potential acts by so-called Islamic extremists, and
   reports about terrorism, particularly in US media, are, with rare
   exception, confined to incidents that seem to be of Muslim origin.
   In that framework, the only attacks or threats that appear to matter
   are those directed against the United States and its allies or
   Coalition members. This tends to focus attention almost exclusively
   on incidents or groups in the Middle East or of Middle East origin.

   These definitions of terrorism or terrorist are dangerously close to
   an ego trip, and they underplay or deliberately ignore what is
   happening in the rest of the world.  Here are the data.  To start
   with, all 26 people on the FBI most wanted terrorist list have
   Muslim names, with, of course, Osama bin Laden at the top. The list
   thus looks highly political. Last year, 2005, by the new and all
   inclusive rules adopted by the Bush administration, there were
   11,100 terrorist incidents worldwide.  Casualties were 14,500
   non-combatants killed, 56 Americans killed, 25,000 people wounded,
   and 35,000 kidnapped.  These raw data suggest a world that is a
   terrorism mess, with 235 or so casualties being recorded every day.

   As the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) itself indicates,
   the data for 2005 indeed are raw.  Attacks in the Near East (mainly
   Iraq and Palestine) and South Asia (mainly Afghanistan, Pakistan and
   India) accounted for three-quarters of all attacks and 80% of the
   casualties.  As the NCTC indicates, more than 50% of all terrorism
   (now called noncombatant) fatalities occurred in Iraq.  Suicide
   attacks, again mainly in the context of the Iraq war, caused 20% of
   the deaths.  As might be expected with the above data, the majority
   of civilian casualties were Muslims killed in Iraq.

   Outside of the mayhem that centered on Iraq, Afghanistan and
   Palestine, where and what were the main terrorism troubles?  The
   NCTC data show 35,000 kidnappings, a whopping number in any year.
   However, the NCTC notes that almost 95% of the victims were in Nepal
   where a major hassle--in which whole schools or villages are taken
   hostage--has been in progress between political dissidents and the
   monarchy. Fighting was renewed in Sri Lanka as the Tamils continued
   the generations-long struggle with the Sinhala government in
   Colombo. Numerous attacks occurred in Colombia as the main rebel
   groups continued their at least weekly bombing of an American oil
   pipeline--in part spite for American support of the government in
   Bogota. A few incidents occurred in the Philippines and Indonesia as
   dissident groups--alleged al Qaida affiliates--continued their
   struggles of many decades with governments in Manila and Jakarta.

   The net result of these data is that the reader is deluged with
   information that has little bearing on the actual implementation of
   any policy respecting terrorism.  However, these numbers, touted in
   gross by officials, have great political utility in justifying the
   War on Terrorism.

   Closer to reality, the State Department still keeps tabs on at least
   61 terrorist groups, only about half of which are "designated
   foreign terrorist organizations."  Less than a third of the 61
   groups are associated with Muslim countries and virtually half of
   the so-called Islamic terrorist groups are products of the
   Palestinian struggle with Israel. One terrorist group, al Qaida, is
   known to devote itself principally to international incidents, but
   it thrives on the grievances most terrorist groups have against
   their own national governments or the elites affiliated with or
   supporting those governments.

   Most groups on the State Department list are in (1) states that are
   failed or failing, (2) states that have virtually immovable
   autocratic leadership, (3) states that have never really finished
   forming, e.g., in Sub-Sahara Africa, (4) states such as the
   Philippines that have yet to listen to or accommodate their out
   groups, or (5) states such as Indonesia whose present borders
   enclose fairly large and conflicting ethnic interests. Such problems
   exist in a number of states in high intensity conflict zones,
   including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The problems in
   every one of these states long antedate the War on Terrorism and are
   likely to persist after the War's demise.

   Little if any progress has been made by governments in those
   countries to deal with the grievances of their dissident (better,
   insurgent) groups.  Rather, where governments buy into the
   US-sponsored War on Terrorism their aim is usually to suppress their
   dissidents.  Thus, the roster of grievances against at least sixty
   governments in the world community at best remains static.  The
   roots of terrorism world-wide are basically socio-political
   constants.  Military or paramilitary attacks have been shown to be
   more provocative than productive. In essence, the War on Terrorism
   is a waste of time and resources, because it distracts leadership in
   those countries from necessary actions to mediate internal
   differences that would accommodate their own people.

   The global face of this situation has become equally depressing. The
   remarkable tragedy of the global situation is that wars in Iraq and
   Afghanistan, as well as continued American insensitivity to the
   Israeli repression of the Palestinian people, have worked to
   radicalize many people, not all of them Muslims.  The individuals
   and groups radicalized are often, if not always, associated with
   dissidents who have existed for many years in the countries on the
   State Department list.  As often noted by experts, US support for
   those governments has directed some of the dissident energy against
   the United States. But the newest version of this long-standing
   problem is refusal of the United States to do business with a
   freely-elected government it does not like, as in the case of the
   Hamas political landslide in Palestine.  That kind of a US, indeed
   European reaction is a signal of no hope for dissidents in numerous
   countries, even when they work within the system.

   It is a misnomer as well as an elitist policy error of the present
   US leadership, along with American and other Western media, to
   bloc-label all Muslims who oppose their own governments or the
   government of the United States as Islamic radicals. American
   foreign policies at this time are egregiously self-serving, whether
   the subject is war or resource acquisition, or trade policy, or
   finance.  The one-sided alliance with Israel, as demonstrated in
   actual physical support for the destruction of Lebanon, has further
   attenuated the extremity of reactions to US policies and to Americans.

   Labels such as "Islamo fascism" and a narrow focus on so-called
   Islamic extremists represent a gross American misreading of what is
   happening in the Muslim world.  The use of the word, "Islamic", is
   now classed by many Muslims with the epithet, "nigger", in American
   history. By using such terms, the President of the United States
   simply talks down to all peoples of the Muslim world.

   The virtual total failure of the War on Terrorism comes down to two
   vital weaknesses.  One is that the very structure of the campaign as
   a "War" simply by-passes any focus on the real causes of and
   solutions to terrorism and insurgency. The notion that all
   disagreements with others can be resolved by force--the central
   model of Israeli policy now borrowed by the US--simply ignores the
   core realities of the human condition. Poverty, hunger, social and
   political exclusion of many groups, actual repression and denial of
   political participation will not go away because you kill some of
   the people who complain or fight back.  Resistance simply will grow.

   The second and likely most costly weakness of the War on Terrorism
   is the US focus, as exemplified by Presidential speeches, on
   so-called Islamic radicalism or the cant phrase "Islamo fascism."
   The wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan are--along with US-facilitated
   and supported Israeli destruction of Lebanon and Palestine--driving
   the people of the Muslim world progressively away from the United

   The monomaniac shoe fits tightly on the American foot:  US military
   radicalism and a growing drift toward fascism in American decision
   making and foreign policy are driving the rest of the world away
   from us.  The principal immediate victims of those American choices
   are in the Muslim world.  The solutions lie with getting out of Iraq
   and Afghanistan, and with turning the War on Terrorism into a
   development assistance program with specific focus on help to the
   many excluded minorities. Terrorism and insurgency will not end
   without this kind of treatment.


   The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World
   Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on  He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
   Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as
   Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and
   Emergency Planning, and as Chairman of the Department of
   International Studies of the National War College.  He will welcome
   comment at

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