by Kevin Raybould
The War on Terrorism (or America's New War, or American
Fighting Back, or whatever media label catches your fancy)
is going well, we are assured. Looking at the situation in
Afghanistan, it is easy to agree. The Taliban have been removed
from power, denying al-Queda at least one safe haven. The
Northern Alliance have generally behaved themselves, and the
interim agreement on a transitional government includes all
the correct language of inclusion, tolerance and good will.
If the reality on the ground approaches the idealism of the
agreement, Afghanistan is poised for a much happier chapter
in it's often bloody history. So far, despite the tendency
of George W Bush to speak in B movie clichés offensive to
the Muslim world, a cataclysmic war of cultures has not materialized.
The Bush administration has even taken some tentative steps
toward really neutralizing terrorist funding, and the secrecy
laws that protect tax cheats as well as terrorists.
There are problems, of course. The Palestinian-Israel conflict
is threatening to spiral completely out of control. The Bush
administration is still unwilling to take on the Gulf States
- most notably Saudi Arabia - that fan fundamentalist rage
against the West to divert attention from their own repression
and corruption. Top members of al-Queda and the Taliban remain
on the loose. Vocal members of the Bush administration are
agitating for a war with Iraq to "finish the job" - despite
obvious displeasure with the idea in the Middle East and Europe.
Then there is the issue of the American front.
The Bush Administration pushed through a law dismantling
several important levels of judicial oversight of the Justice
Department. Not satisfied, the Administration then went on
to arbitrarily, and without Congressional or Judicial approval,
destroy the concept of attorney client privilege, destroy
the concept of a fair trial for foreigners, and to attempt
to limit domestic dissent through the use the FBI.
Commentators on both the Left and the Right have been quick
to condemn these abuses of the Constitution. The discussions,
however, have tended to concentrate on the affect these decisions
will have on Americans, or on the willingness of Europeans
to cooperate in certain aspects of this conflict. A greater
danger may lie in the reaction of the non Western world to
the Bush Administration's disregard for the Constitution.
Terrorists feed off the desperation and hopelessness of the
world's dissatisfied - whether they be the poorest of the
poor, whose only contact with the West is the government troops
sent to protect some multinational's interests, or the well
to do and privileged who recoil at the worse aspects of Western
commercial society overwhelming their traditional beliefs.
The only sure way to eliminate terrorism is to eliminate
hopelessness and desperation wherever it is found. This is
not a war of armies and spies (although both will be needed
at times). It is a war of ideas. The terrorist says to the
world: "If you do as we say, if you turn your life over to
us, then we will tell you what God wants you to do. We will
study his writings, and, because we are devout and close to
His heart, we will know what he wishes from you. If you do
these things, your life will be full, and your children will
live secure and safe in the arms of God's chosen people."
It is a tempting an powerful idea, one not easily refuted.
Fortunately, we have an idea of our own, one even more powerful,
one that has been chosen by people all over the world, wherever
the choice was possible: "All men are created equal. We will
not tell you how to live, we will not force you and yours
to bend to what we tell you God wants you to do. We will set
you free to find your happiness how and where you will. We
will allow your voice to be heard, and we will count your
opinion. And we will not place the whims of the government
over the rights that allow you and yours to pursue your happiness."
That idea is our greatest asset, but for it to be effective,
we must try to live by it precepts. George W. Bush and John
Ashcroft do not appear to understand this reality. Each of
the actions to combat terrorism in America are in direct conflict
with American ideals. The ability of the state to listen in
on every conversation between a lawyer and her clients, the
ability to tap a person's communications based upon "suspicion,"
not proof, and the ability of the state to hold people indefinitely,
without guarantee of communication with the outside world
are the tools of despots and police states. Military tribunals
held in secret without appeal or due process are not the hallmark
of a society based on law and the rights of the individual.
Worse, the tribunals apply only to foreigners, not to Americans.
The Bush Administration is shouting to the world that our
idea is a lie, that it applies only to the children of privilege
and power. In this time of crisis, they have abandoned the
principles that are elevate us above the terrorists. It is
now munch easier to portray our idea as a sham, window dressing
for a commercial juggernaut that will destroy a cherished
way of life and replace it with nothing but McDonalds, MTV
Instead of offering a dream of transformation and renewal,
the Bush Administration has made it possible for the terrorists
to deride our alternative as a nightmare of greed, homogenization,
This is a war of ideas. Every action taken here at home resonates
abroad. The Bush Administration disdain for the Constitution
is not just an erosion of American civil liberties - it is
a disturbing weakening of the very idea that is our best -
our only - weapon against terrorism.