Militarism is a Greater Threat Than Terrorism

By Farhang Jahanpour

Published about 10 years ago on July 3, 2003

If Usama bin Laden is still alive – and the indications are that he is – he must be feeling very pleased with himself, because his terrible terrorist activities are beginning to bear fruit, and his main aim of polarising the world and creating a clash of civilisations is on the point of fruition. His call to the Muslims of the world, “you are either with the faithful believers or with the infidels”, seems to have been echoed by President Bush’s insistence that “you are either with us or with the terrorists.”

Last summer I visited the United States after many years. I was very pleased to find that the Americans have regained their composure after the dreadful events of 11th September and that they are the same positive, optimistic, friendly and hospitable people that they have always been. At the same time, I found some signs of hardening of attitude among some politicians and opinion formers that I found rather disturbing. I will refer to some of the unfortunate developments that have taken place during the past couple of years that go against American values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and that everyone is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington many Americans who had nurtured a feeling of indifference towards Islam became very interested to learn about Islam and the Middle East. Books on Islam sold like hot cakes, and even the Koran became a best seller. This was a positive sign of strength and inquisitiveness and showed that Americans wanted to learn about the cause of what had happened. However, after a few months, there was a perceptible change of emphasis. At first, many students and others began asking: “Why do they hate us so much?” There was a substantive and healthy discussion about what it is about the nature of the American presence in the world that creates a situation in which movements like al-Qaeda can thrive and prosper. That was a very promising sign.

But shortly afterwards that discussion got short-circuited. A few months after 9/11 the tone of that discussion switched, and it became: “What’s wrong with the Islamic world that it failed to produce democracy, science, education, its own enlightenment, and created societies that breed terror?” Although this is a valid question to ask, it should not completely overshadow the earlier question.

In fact, a situation arose when if anybody tried to find the reasons for those barbaric events he or she was accused of trying to justify them. There was at times a concerted attack on those who thought it could be useful to bring at least a minimal degree of historical reference to bear on the event.

There was Donald Kagan at Yale, dismissing his colleague Professor Paul Kennedy as “a classic case of blaming the victim,” because the latter had asked his students to try to imagine what resentments they might harbour if America were small and the world dominated by a unified Arab-Muslim state. There was Andrew Sullivan, warning on his Web site that while the American heartland was ready for war, the “decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts” could well mount “what amounts to a fifth column.” On a single page of a single issue of The Weekly Standard that October Susan Sontag was accused of “unusual stupidity,” of “moral vacuity,” and of “sheer tastelessness”; all for suggesting that “a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen.” All she was pointing out was that events have histories, political life has consequences, and the people who led America politically and intellectually had been guilty of trying to infantilise its citizens if they continued to pretend otherwise. Inquiry into the nature of the enemy that people in the United States and elsewhere faced was to be interpreted as sympathy for that enemy.

It was partly due to the rage created in America as the result of the events of 9/11 that won the support of the Americans for their government’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The nation seemed to need revenge. It wanted to see American forces fight street by street and house by house in Kabul and Baghdad to reassure them that America was still a super-power capable of inflicting terrible revenge on America’s enemies. The false association of Saddam Husayn with the al-Qaeda, cleverly manipulated by President Bush and other American leaders, persuaded many Americans to extend “the war against terrorism to Iraq”. Within days after the September 11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz began calling for unilateral military action against Iraq, claiming that Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network could not have pulled off the assaults without Saddam Hussein’s assistance.

That propaganda proved very effective and made a majority of Americans link Saddam Hussein’s regime with Al Qaeda. In an October 2002 poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, “66 percent believed [Saddam] was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.”

The allegation that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could pose an imminent danger to the world and that Saddam Husayn’s regime had been connected with al Qaeda provided the main argument for going to war. In an excellent article in New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof shows the falsity of both claims. He quotes a person from the Defence Intelligence Agency who was privy to all the intelligence there bluntly declaring: “The American people were manipulated”. The same article also quotes Greg Thielmann, who retired in September after 25 years in the State Department, the last four in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, saying “… the administration was grossly distorting the intelligence on both things.” Yet although no weapons of mass destruction have been found despite intensive search and although Saddam Hussein’s connection to Al Qaeda has been disproved, there is no apology by the leaders who dragged us into a calamitous war on false premises.

War is the greatest scourge of our time and the greatest violation of human rights. In many ways, the twentieth century was the worst century in human history in terms of people who were killed as the result of local, regional and international wars, most of them fought in the name of good causes, such as freedom, democracy, socialism, etc. It was the age of mass killing on an unprecedented scale. It was the century of technological barbarism and mechanised butchery. It is estimated that more than 170 million people were slaughtered in various wars during that century. While many people were hoping that the end of the Cold War would produce peace dividends and would usher in a period of calm and security, the world seems to be faced with a series of unending wars.

A great American peace activist and Catholic priest, Phil Berrigan, who died on 6th December 2002, spent 11 of his 79 years in prison for his protests against war. In reviewing Sr. Rosalie Bertell’s book, Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War, Berrigan ended with these words:

“The military as an instrument of mass killing is a waste institution – humans, energy, oil, metals, scientific and technical skills, money – it consumes all and restores nothing to the resources of the planet. Any faithful or sane scrutiny would conclude that it must be dismantled. It kills, threatens and wastes – it is the BIG LIE institutionalised. Its veneer and untouchability gives new meaning to the demonic. Is anybody out there listening?”

Nearly all scholarly works on the First Gulf War agree that as many as 200,000 Iraqi conscripts were killed in Kuwait as the result of the blanket bombing and mass burial with bulldozers, even when some of the soldiers were still alive. According to UN figures, a further 1.5 million Iraqis -mainly children – also died as the result of the US/UN sanctions. Yet as though all that suffering was not enough, the Iraqis were subjected to another brutal assault, killing some 5,000 innocent Iraqi civilians and thousands of soldiers and doing enormous damage to the country’s infrastructure that will take a long time to repair. An entire nation has been savaged and humiliated, and more than two months after the end of the war there is still very little security, widespread chaos, scarce water and electricity, and the whole fabric of the society has been irreparably damaged. The war was launched without UN mandate and indeed in contravention of earlier Security Council resolutions.

Paragraph 14 of Resolution 687 that called for the disarmament of Iraq, also calls for the eventual establishment in the Middle East of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction. The non-implementation of that provision, particularly in the case of Israel, reflects international double standards. While UN inspectors spent eight years inspecting various sites in Iraq and, according to their own report, destroying at least 95 percent of those weapons nothing has been done to implement the main provision of that resolution about turning the Middle East into a zone free from weapons of mass destruction.

Shortly before the First Gulf War, the American Secretary of State James Baker assured all the Arab countries that took part in the coalition against Iraq that as soon as Saddam Husayn was forced out of Kuwait, America would find an equitable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the war President Bush senior reiterated that promise. Twelve years later, the Palestinians are in an even worse situation than they have ever been. Yet, on the eve of another attack on Iraq, once again the Arabs were promised a “road map” for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although the road map was accepted immediately and unconditionally by the Palestinians, the Israelis reluctantly accepted it by calling for 14 changes in the contents of the road map, thus making a mockery of the whole enterprise. Indeed the day when Ariel Sharon returned from his summit meeting in Jordan with President Bush and the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas Israeli forces were sent to Gaza where two Palestinians were killed. This shows a complete disregard of international community’s desire for peace in the Middle East. The attacks and counter-attacks have continued ever since, yet instead of putting pressure on Israel to implement the provisions of the road map, American officials have started making threats against Iran and Syria.

The reason why America manages to get away with all this is due to the fact that America is a super-power and believes that she has no need to observe international regulations and abide by UN resolutions. Although many Americans are loath to have their country referred to as an empire, the fact is that the US constitutes an empire in all but name. Today, we have the age of American imperium. In the history of our planet, never before has there been a power so apparently massive as the United States is at the moment. Her stock market is worth more than the rest of the world’s bourses put together. Her spending on military force is greater than the combined weight of the next nine largest powers. Her military exports exceed the total military export of the next biggest five arms exporters put together. Her GDP accounts for about 20 percent of the global GDP (as opposed to the British GDP accounting for about 8 percent of the world GDP at the height of the British Empire). Her language is the nearest thing to a global tongue, and the dollar is the nearest thing to a global currency.

Out of some 191 countries in the UN, American forces are stationed in 130 of them. America is having a massive presence in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Thailand in the Far East; right up to Afghanistan and Pakistan in South West Asia; to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia; to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus; to Oman, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and now Iraq in the Persian Gulf; to Turkey, Eastern Europe, Germany, and Britain in Europe; right up to Latin America. American fleets are encircling the world and there is a major fleet in every ocean of the world. No previous imperium, from the Ancient Greeks and Persians to the present time, has been so dominant. After the fall of the Ottoman and European Empires, and in our own time the fall of the Soviet Empire, America is the sole remaining empire or the only Super-Power or Hyper-Power in the world.

Great powers have great responsibilities. Even despite its enormous power and reach, the United States cannot remain a super-power without the help and co-operation of allies. Yet the United States has adopted a unilateralist policy in the world. The United States is multilateral when it suits it, unilateral when it wants to be. It enforces a new division of labour in which America does the fighting, the French, British and Germans do the police patrols in the border zones, the Dutch, Swiss and Scandinavians provide the humanitarian aid, and the Arabs and the Japanese provide the funds. President George W Bush has either withdrawn from or expressed his opposition to implementing a number of key global arms control, economic and environmental agreements.
These include:

– The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
– The Biological Weapons Convention. In November 2001, John Bolton, the U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, announced that the United States considered the Biological Weapons Convention to be dead. Then, in May 2002, he condemned the current Chemical Weapons Convention as inefficient.
– The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
– The international criminal court
– The land mine treaty
– The Kyoto Protocol on environmental control
– Anti racism conference in Durban. America was the only country that walked out of the conference because of the criticism of Israeli policies by some other countries.
– US calls for free trade, but it pays heavy subsidies to its farmers and imposes heavy duties on foreign imports, including steel. It also unilaterally imposes sanctions on countries that it disagrees with, and often on those that call for the recognition of the rights of the Palestinians. In the Middle East alone, US has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, and Sudan.
– Some 700 prisoners are languishing in cells in Guantanamo Bay. They are classified neither as ordinary criminals to go through the usual judicial process, or as prisoners of war to be dealt with according to Geneva Conventions and released after the end of hostilities. A new category of crime, “illegal combatants”, has been created for them. Many of them have been tortured in order to extract confessions. It has not been fashionable for some time to assign oracular qualities to Orwell’s novel, 1984. Yet the book has much to say to our fractured, post-9/11 era on the centenary of the birth of its author. In Orwell’s dystopia, “practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years — imprisonment without trial … public executions, torture to extract confessions … not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.” These social changes, Orwell wrote, began with a “general hardening of outlook.”
– After 9/11 a large number of people from the Middle East and other Islamic countries were arrested and have been detained ever since, without any charges levelled against them, without having access to lawyers and even without their families being informed about where and why they are being detained. Since the detention of Americans of Japanese descent after Pearl Harbour attacks, this is the first time that the United States has resorted to such mass detention of American citizens belonging to foreign ethnic backgrounds.
– Last year the US passed a law requiring the nationals from more than 20 Islamic countries to register with the police. When a number of American residents from Iran, Pakistan and some Arab countries went to INS offices to register, they were arrested for minor immigration offences and some have even been expelled. Some 2,000 US residents were taken to detention centres despite the fact that they had voluntarily gone to INS offices to register. About 1,200 of them are still being detained according to government sources.
– Many former nationals of Middle East and other Islamic countries who possess Canadian or European passports have had to undergo the humiliating process of being fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated at US airports. All these are being done in a country of immigrants that prided itself in its open-door policy and lack of discrimination.
– US calls for non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but it ignores the universally acknowledged Israeli possession of a few hundred nuclear weapons, and even chemical and biological weapons. The United States opposed Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs, but changed its mind about those countries after 9/11. It lifted sanctions on Pakistan and even lavished a great deal of material assistance on that country. It adopted different approaches to North Korea and Iraq and now Iran. North Korea has openly admitted that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but US calls for the resolution of that problem through peaceful means and by negotiation. Yet although Iran has signed the IAEA protocol and has declared that it would pursue a transparent policy in its nuclear programme, the United States is pursuing a warlike policy against it as she did against Iraq.
– US insists that UN resolutions must be observed, but she ignores – indeed supports and sponsors – the biggest violator of UN resolutions, namely Israel. Since 1967 there have been dozens of UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, to stop colonising and building settlements in the occupied territories, to respect the lives of the refugees and the people under its occupation, yet Israel has turned a deaf ear to every single of those resolutions, often with American backing and frequent use of American veto in support of Israel.
– US officials stress the inadmissibility of the occupation of other countries, but Israel has occupied Palestinian and Syrian lands since 1967. When Iraq occupied Kuwait and the Iraqi government tried to negotiate a withdrawal, saying that it would withdraw from Kuwait if Israel also undertook to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, President Bush senior said that UN resolutions had to be implemented fully and no negotiations could be permitted. Yet in the case of Israel, not only the US does not force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, it even does not call on Israel to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians.

These are a few examples of what can be called “the arrogance of power.” The dual nemeses of empires in the 20th century were nationalism, the desire of peoples to rule themselves free of alien domination; and narcissism, the incurable delusion of imperial rulers that the ”lesser breeds” aspired only to be versions of themselves. Both nationalism and narcissism have threatened the American reassertion of global power since Sept. 11. The growing anti-American feeling is not due to the existence of freedom or democracy in the United States. It is due to the American domination of most of the Middle East, often with the help of corrupt and dictatorial rulers that the US has helped keep in power. There is also a growing universal resentment of the American assumption that their version of democracy and human rights and their way of life are the only acceptable standards that had to be blindly followed by everybody else.

In his massive work, The Study of History, discussing the rise and fall of many great empires in the past, Arnold Toynbee enumerates five factors that led to the undoing of former empires and that might pose a threat to the continued domination of the Western civilisations. These were:

1. Wars and militarism. Most empires have been weakened as the result of their policy of militarism and engaging in continuous wars. American military capabilities are enormous but they are not limitless. During the First Gulf War, most of the cost of the war estimated at over 60 billion dollars was borne by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Japan and Germany. However, this time it is unlikely that many countries would volunteer to bear the cost of the American war on Iraq or of the post-war reconstruction. The anticipated solution has been to use Iraq’s oil resources to pay for the occupation, but such a policy is bound to give rise to intense anger among the Iraqis and other Arab nations. American officials repeatedly asserted prior to the war that Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people and that they would have full control over it. Yet, already one hears reports about the need to privatise the Iraqi oil and sell it to Western oil companies in order to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq. Of course, Western and particularly American companies will have the lion share of the contracts.

2. Excessive pride and misconceived nationalism. Most former empires became too proud as the result of their power and tried to impose their will upon others. Their pride eventually resulted in their fall. At the height of the Roman, Islamic and British empires many proud rulers believed that their empire was eternal, and that the sun would not set on their dominions. There are many signs of excessive nationalism among certain sections of US leaders, especially among the rightwing conservative elements who believe that America has a God-given right to impose its will on other countries.

3. Social and economic differences. One of the causes of the downfall of former empires was a growing gap between the rich and the poor. At the moment, the gap between the rich and the poor seems to be growing. On the one hand, there is a small minority of people who live in excessive luxury, while a quarter of human race can barely survive. According to the World Bank, over 1.2 billion people today live on less than one dollar a day, and nearly half of the entire world population earns less than 2 dollars a day. Bernard Wasow of the Century Foundation has calculated that between 1965 and 1997, the poorest 10 percent of the world’s population increased its share of world income from 0.3 percent to 0.5 percent, while the richest 10 percent meanwhile expanded its share from 50.6 percent to 59.6 percent.

Even in the United States itself, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. On the one hand, there are some multi-billionaires whose wealth exceeds the wealth of some nations, and on the other hand, more than 40 million Americans live beneath the poverty line and do not even have medical insurance.
During recent times the gap between rich and poor countries has grown alarmingly. In 1800, the difference in incomes between the richest and poorest countries was about 3 to 1; in 1900 it was about 10 to 1. Today, the United States and other rich countries enjoy incomes about 100 times greater than the people in the poorest countries do. This scale of inequality is not only unjust to the poorer countries, it is even dangerous for the richer countries.

4. Environmental problems. In their headlong rush towards greater and greater consumption and development most empires over-used and over-spent their natural resources, and that eventually contributed to their impoverishment and their fall. The present level of consumption in the United States cannot be sustained, and it definitely cannot be copied elsewhere. About four percent of human race is consuming a quarter of world’s energy resources and is producing more than a quarter of world pollution. The exhaustion of the greater part of US domestic oil resources is one of the reasons for American desire to occupy and control Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil resources. However, even those resources are finite and sooner or later they will run out.

5. The clash between mind and heart, between intellect and intuition. One reason for the downfall of most former empires has been excessive attachment either to materialism or to religious fanaticism. Unless we can restore a balance between our rationality and our spirituality the world is doomed. The present world is suffering from excessive materialism on the one hand, and excessive religious dogmatism and fundamentalism on the other. In fact, although these two seem to constitute opposite polls, in reality, they are the two sides of the same coin. The main problem of the contemporary world is fundamentalism – religious, secular, political and social fundamentalism. The battle today is not between various religions and ideologies, but between fundamentalist and moderate people, and between radicals and liberals in all cultures.

At the beginning of the first volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1776, Edward Gibbon remarked that empires endure only so long as their rulers take care not to overextend their borders. But the ”vanity or ignorance” of the Romans, Gibbon went on, led them to ”despise and sometimes to forget the outlying countries that had been left in the enjoyment of a barbarous independence.” As a result, the proud Romans were lulled into making the fatal mistake of ”confounding the Roman monarchy with the globe of the earth.” Let us make sure that we do not make the same mistake and do not overstep our mark.

Although terrorism poses a real threat to the world today and has to be fought and contained, the greater threat is militarism and the desire for world domination. The battle against terrorism requires not only military means but also a campaign to win hearts and minds. We are faced not only with a battle with bullets and missiles, but we are also engaged in a battle of ideas. Unless we can win the battle of ideas, no amount of military superiority can protect us from those who feel desperate enough to kill themselves in order to do some damage to us. Indeed, any military campaign that is regarded as cruel and unjust will only produce a breeding ground for more terrorists.

Dr. Martin Luther King said that the options for humanity were “non-violence, or non-existence.” He went on to say: “The chain of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the abyss of annihilation.”

Some 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu expressed the dangers of wishing to dominate the world most eloquently. The words read as fresh today (as translated by Witter Bynner):

“Those who would take over the earth

And shape it to their will

Never, I notice, succeed.

The earth is like a vessel so sacred

That at the mere approach of the profane

It is marred

And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.

For a time in the world some force themselves ahead

And some are left behind,

For a time in the world some make a great noise

And some are held silent,

For a time in the world some are puffed fat

And some are kept hungry,

For a time in the world some push aboard

And some are tipped out:

At no time in the world will a man who is sane

Over-reach himself,

Over-spend himself,

Over-rate himself.”

Farhang Jahanpour received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in Oriental Studies. He was formerly professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, Iran and has also taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Reading and Oxford after which Dr Jahanpour worked for 18 years as the Editor for Middle East and North Africa for the BBC. He has edited and written an introduction to Nuzhat Nama-ye ‘Ala’i, an eleventh century encyclopaedia of natural sciences, history and literature and has translated Arnold Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial, in addition to publishing the Directory of Iranian Officials. His articles have appeared in numerous academic journals. At present, Dr Jahanpour is writing a book about the modernist movement in Iran.

© TFF and the author

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