We must be willing to deal with the real issues
Stabroek News
September 20, 2001

Dear Editor,

Following the attacks in the US, investigations revealed that a network of terrorists had planned them months ago. President Bush has identified Osama bin Laden who is based in Afghanistan as the `prime suspect.' Now investigators believe that his network spans over sixty countries.

I think that the important questions are why they did it and what the response should be.

In Afghanistan the ruling Taliban has forbidden women to go to school. And all women, including Hindu women, must cover their heads. Some claim that the Taliban want to institute a society of mediaeval Islam. They are also fighting Christians trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. In addition, many of the former Soviet republics like Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have majority Muslim populations, who have been under the control and influence of the Soviet Union. Their dignity, their right to practise their religion, their desire for self government, have all been routinely disregarded for centuries. And when we add the Palestinian question to this mix, one can clearly see why Muslims around the world would have reason to be resentful, to react, to defend to push back the `barbarians,' in the same way that the Chinese built the Great Wall to keep the 'barbarians' out.

This resentment is displayed in many ways. In the case of Israel, terrorists routinely blow up buses in crowded market places. Israel retaliates by bombing Palestinian youths armed with bricks. The intense hate on the West Bank has a lot to do with the perception that America unconditionally sides with Israel, even if Israel is shown to be exercising `excessive force.' At the recent UN meeting in South Africa, there was talk of labelling Israel a terrorist state. The United States and Israel walked out of the meeting and the UN stopped short of giving Israel such a label. We must admit that the Palestinians have lots of reasons to be resentful of the West. They are daily being killed, being run off their land. A recent television piece showed Palestinian refugees displaying their house keys to homes in Israel, now occupied by Israeli Jews. The Jews on the other hand are fighting for their lives like they did during the Hitler era.

But the most important question is what the appropriate response to this terrorist attack should be. George Bush has announced a "War against terrorism". The British, the Russians and others, have announced their support in combating terrorism. This is all well and good. But how? By bombing Afghanistan or Iran or Pakistan? Assuming this works, and I doubt that it will because the terrorist network is not affiliated with a specific state but is widespread, what would the lesson be? An eye for an eye? Would it deal with the resentment prevalent in the Muslim world? Would it deal with the Palestinian question? Or would it just be an all-out attack on militant Islam? And when it is all over, what would the response be from the Muslim world? And believe me, there will be a response. And would killing Osama bin Laden end this kind of terror?

It is very important that other options be investigated to deal with terrorism. Bombing Afghanistan, an act that will kill thousands of innocent people caught between a right-wing Taliban and a more moderate opposition, is not the way to solve the problem. It will only deal with the symptoms of the more serious issues beneath the surface. The knee-jerk reaction to seek revenge is prevalent. But we owe humanity, with all our advances in philosophy, morality, and religious freedom, to seek out alternative solutions. In addition, we need to think of what the world would look like after this so-called, `Third World War'. What would the new realities of the `Third World' be? What new geopolitical structure will emerge?

But more importantly, bombing suspected terrorist hideouts, would be teaching the rest of the world that this is the appropriate way of dealing with this problem. We must be willing to deal with the real issues. We must be willing to look at the role of all the parties involved and devise ways of solving this problem honestly. An alternative might be to use the intelligence services of nations around the world to capture these terrorists, to seize their assets, to put them out of business. And then deal with the real reasons for this intense hate for the West.

Yours faithfully,

Rohan Sooklall