This war is a bit different. It is a war where we must seek to influence the opinion of the entire Islamic world to turn away from radicalism and to show that, in many respects, our Western values are, by and large, natural offshoots of their own values. We need to fight for establishing a common ground between our beliefs. We must redefine both our belief structure and theirs to frown on extremism and pre-determinism. This isn't just a battle between church and state, or capitalism and totalitarianism... In many ways, this will be a battle between the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad versus the dogma spouted by religious zealots who would twist their words for their own ends. When we bomb Afghanistan, we are essentially proving the fundamentalist Islamic radicals right. As a result, no amount of bombing can possibly win this war. In fact, bombing is counterproductive. This isn't to say that we can't get do something about Bin Laden or even the Taliban, but there are better ways of dealing with them that are far less likely to radicalize the entire Islamic world.
We have bombed Afghanistan for about a week now, killing around 300 people, but have failed to either topple the Taliban or have any noticeable effect on the supporters of Bin Laden. What has the effect been elsewhere in the world? In Liberia, there have been over 500 people killed in an escalating conflict between Muslims and Christians. (There are reports of Christians being surrounded and macheted to death.) A nationwide strike was called in Pakistan and around 12,000 protesters shouted "America must die" in unison. In Bangladesh, several thousand protesters chanted "Osama is our hero" and caused plans for a major international political conference to be canceled. In India, there have been very large protests against the U.S., including protests in the Kashmir region, a location of previous armed conflict between two nuclear powers. In Saudi Arabia, previously one of the U.S.' biggest allies in the Middle East, there are reports of rapidly spreading anti-Americanism and public statements by their leaders indicating that they oppose the U.S. actions in Afghanistan. In Indonesia, protests against the U.S. have developed into violent confrontation. There have been attacks on U.S. owned companies, and the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings, urging citizens to defer travel to one of the world's biggest countries.
In other words, the most important effect of the war isn't in Afghanistan - It is everywhere else. We risk making the entire Islamic world unsafe for westerners and for multinational corporations, over a conflict in a strategically unimportant country. Admittedly, our actions may not turn these countries into rabidly fundamentalist states, but that isn't necessary in order to make these regions of the world unsuitable for travel or for western businesses. All you need is a fundamentalist minority that is willing to commit acts of violence in the name of Allah. These fundamentalists can't be rounded up or bombed out of existence because they are literally a representation of anti-U.S. anger -- Efforts to bomb them or round them up will actually turn more people against the U.S.
The real trick to overcoming Islamic fundamentalism is changing the way people overseas think, changing the way they live, changing the way they view the fundamentalists, and, above all, changing the way they view Americans. In that light, while we might win many battles, this just might be the hardest war to win that the U.S. have ever fought.
thoughts on the Afghanistan situation by Douglas Rushkoff
(originally posted to www.edge.org)
In his speech to Congress, Bush - perhaps unintentionally - presented the choice before us: we will either bring justice to the nations of our enemies, or bring our enemies to justice.
Although he probably didn't mean it this way, his two alternatives represent two completely different tacks. The former suggests extending the ideals of the Enlightenment on which this nation was founded into regions where human rights are not honored. The latter implies nothing less than accepting the fundamentalists' invitation to holy war.
Were we to bring justice to those who currently suffer under despotic regimes, it would certainly mark a shift in our foreign policy, which has until now been based more on short-term strategic goals than extending democracy's reach. It would be a welcome change, and one less likely to create the kinds of fundamentalist Frankenstein monsters we sponsored in the past.
Engaging in a traditional holy war would be entirely less fruitful, and tragically hypocritical. Currently, we are witnessing what happens when the narratives human beings have been using to understand their reality no longer work. Fundamentalism is the belief that the real world conforms to the stories we were told about it; that reality has an author, God. We do not participate, we merely adhere to the story (or risk damnation) and are willing to die for the story because the ending has already been ordained. When the map no longer fits the territory, it is the territory that must be changed. Life itself is fixed. Dead.
In the West, thanks to our relative openness, wealth and the scientific advancement it allows, we have been empowered to abandon our narratives, and to understand reality as emergent, rather than ordained. Our brand of idealism - our emphasis on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - encourages us to participate the writing of the narratives we live by. As a result, our overarching narrative is a consensus, and more fluid. Unlike the fundamentalists' ordained apocalypse, it offers us a way out: evolution.
The attack on the US marks a shocking discontinuity for most Americans. It could lead us back into narrative - as far back as the Holy Crusade against the Moslems - in order to find a mythology that conforms to these events. Or, we can look to the underlying causes and even our own complicity in the emergence of these phenomena, and accept responsibility for writing a new narrative altogether.