Weapons of Civilisation
There's only one really effective weapon in the war against terrorism. And that's the principles of Enlightenment civilisation, says Sanal Edamaruku
Millions of tons of heavy armoury have been shifted from one side of the globe to another, millions of dollars are being burnt every day, millions of people have been driven into misery, starvation and death. It is time we asked some hard questions: as the Taliban in Afghanistan seems to be collapsing, what has the US-led alliance against worldwide terrorism accomplished .so far? If it was the aim to bring those responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th to justice, the efforts have not been successful. The 'prime suspect', who is still at large, has turned into a superhero, the ultimate incarnation of anti-American feelings. Millions of Muslims around the world worship him as the Prophet's champion, a confused Western Left as a new Che Guevara. He is becoming a legend and can be expected to inspire generations of future psychopaths to try for global glory in the field of terror. If it was the aim to demonstrate how groups or states sheltering terrorists are punished and isolated by the international community, those efforts have not been successful either. The outsider sect of the Taliban, who did not have many friends even among hardcore Muslims earlier, is hailed and celebrated in mosques the world over, since the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan. They now even enjoy the solidarity of 'progressive' intellectuals with short memories: the Taliban's past seems to be forgotten, buried deep down in the debris of Afghanistan.
The Taliban are terrorists in the truest and gravest sense of the word: they have destroyed many more innocent lives than the WTC bombers. The plan of the US-government, to identify the 'moderate elements' as an exercise in power-brokering for the rule of Afghanistan again is more than absurd it is a mockery of the Taliban's victims and mockery at the ongoing crusade against worldwide terrorism itself. The war has created a situation, in which terrorism and fundamentalism grow best. The bombing of Afghanistan has unleashed a storm of fury all over the Islamic world and become the common rallying point for which many had been waiting. The US bombings have been styled into an attack on Islam, opening the floodgates of religious hatred. The world is in danger of splitting into two camps. But there will not be, as intended, a deserted and desolated Taliban on one side and the US-led rest of the world on the other. Instead America and its friends will come to stand against worldwide incensed Islamic fanaticism (supported by some on the 'Left' whose liberality has left rationality behind). The terrorist attacks of September 11th did not bear any visible symbols of religion, but America's sabre rattling answer against its intention ignited a worldwide religious bush fire. To create this dangerous and highly explosive situation may have been the real objective behind the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Some journalists, given the opportunity to visit the Taliban occupied part of Afghanistan, which was otherwise strictly off limits for the international media since the beginning of the air strikes, witnessed a bomb attack from their hotel near Kabul. They could see Taliban soldiers welcoming the falling bombs with ecstatic dancing and laughter. They did not show any fear and were both mocking the attackers' power and their own fate, as some of them were hit and dropped down dead.
Pilots who crash head-on into the WTC; soldiers who perform a dance of death under bomb showers; refugees who choose to starve by burning the only available food, the heaps of sky dropped 'Satanic' biscuits they all seem to be out of our common reality. With fear of death and fear of pain unplugged, they are in a sense invulnerable and invincible. They may die, but there is no way to deter them by inflicting fear on them. Their capacity to reconsider their destructive and self-destructive goals is that of cruise missiles. To fight terrorism and fundamentalism, to weaken its base and to minimise its potential, we have only one effective weapon: civilisation. Bombs and missiles do not help to isolate fundamentalists, as the wide support for the Taliban shows. But strengthening and sharing of civilisation's values and achievements does. The values and achievements of civilisation are not accidental or contingent, a luxury in good times, but existential, indispensable, at the core of our life and cannot be separated from it. There is no point in saving our lives beyond civilisation, because there is no use in surviving without it, unless you are of the Taliban frame of mind.
Here lies the basic problem of trying to cure destruction and murder of innocent people with more of the same. Operating beyond civilisation, militarily or other wise, has its price and it should be considered with utmost care. Giving human rights a break in times of war, administering them in lower dose to the economy-class travellers of the world, switching ethical values on and off as it suits convenience these patterns of world politics seem to gain more and more respectability, even in the economy-class. Accepting them places us centuries back and far behind the Enlightenment, which propagated liberty, equality and fraternity. Rationalists have over the centuries and under different nomenclatures given lead to the struggle for civilisation. Throughout history, rationalists have taken the side of reason, progress, knowledge, freedom, beauty and compassion. As part of avant-garde of civilization, they have paved the way for a better world to come. For historical reasons the rationalist commitment to beauty and personal freedom as the capacity to enjoy life has at times not been as outspoken and determined as the commitment, for example, to science. Its special importance, however, can be seen in the mirror of the Taliban's ban and furious destruction of human (especially female) beauty, music, art and celebration.
I would like to end these reflections, calling upon everybody, who wishes to strengthen the rationalist voice in these times of aggression and confusion, to actually make up his or her mind to do so. The time for rationalist thought is now.