Speaker by Various Artists

Freedom and terror

by David Williams

Much soul searching has been done since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. Why do these terrorists hate us? people ask. During a powerful address to congress and the American people just days after September 11 three years ago, US President George W Bush asked that very question. His answer?

"They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other ... These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way."

Three years later, giving his regular radio address while surrounded by families of September 11 victims, he stated the attacks were a turning point. "We saw the goals of a determined enemy: to expand the scale of their murder, and force America to retreat from the world."

President Bush appears to think he has done a good job. The United States is safer than it was three years ago, he says (quoting the September the 11th Commission). More than three-quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed, he tells us. The United States is bringing democracy to the broader Middle East, "because freedom will bring the peace and security we all want".

Excuse me if I humbly disagree with the president's view of success.

America has had success in tracking down terrorist cells within the US, but that hardly means America is safer than it was in 2001. The world view is not only that John Kerry is the preferred president but that America's standing in the eyes of many countries, not only in the Middle East but also in usually friendly Europe, has been dealt a blow. (Surely a worsening reputation overseas could mean a boon for terrorists, aiding their membership drive, which, consequently, could result in security problems for the United States?)

When dealing with the president's claim about al Qaeda's depleted numbers, we must remember a month after the September 11 attacks President Bush unveiled a list of the 22 most wanted terrorists in the world. So if three-quarters of al Qaeda's key members and associates have been detained or killed, that would mean 15 or so of those names could be crossed off that list, right? Wrong. Try three.

As for democracy coming to the broader Middle East, I think we will just wait this one out.

You may remember how successful the Soviet Union was at taming Afghanistan in the ten years following the 1979 invasion. Despite pouring in 140,000 men, the communist invaders beat a hasty retreat from the mujahideen (including a US-funded Osama bin Laden) in a war that helped bring down the Iron Curtain. The US has about 18,000 troops in Afghanistan, who are more worried about searching for Osama bin Laden than protecting the rights of ordinary Afghans who want to vote in the upcoming elections.

In Iraq it is easier to see how we can be deceived by Mr Bush. He declared major combat operations over in Iraq when 138 US soldiers had been killed. This week that number passed 1000 - after major combat operations were meant to have finished.

Bush can't complain that he couldn't have seen this happening. A quick web search turned up this Christian Science Monitor story from September 27, 2001, which adequately answered his question "Why do they hate us" (in fact, that's the headline).

Jamal al-Adimi, a US-educated Yemeni lawyer, speaks for many when he warns that "if violence escalates, you bring seeds and water for terrorism. You kill someone's brother or mother, and you will just get more crazy people."

Trying to root out terrorism without re-ploughing the soil in which it grows - which means rethinking the policies that breed anti-American sentiment - is unlikely to succeed, say ordinary Middle Easterners and some of their leaders.

On the practical level, Hariri points out, "launching a war is in the hands of the Americans, but winning it needs everybody. And that means everybody should see that he has an interest in joining the coalition" that Washington is building.

I also found this article by Tom Maertens, a former senior counter-terrorism official at the State Department, who puts the record straight about the reasons behind hatred of the US.

"One of the axioms of military strategy," Maertens writes, "is know your enemy. Bush has claimed that terrorists attacked us because they "hate freedom". What they really hate is US policies: our unquestioning support for Israel and its settlements in the Palestinian areas; the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan; our support for repressive Arab governments, and our invasion of Iraq."

He adds, "The current administration has exacerbated Arab hostility. It has abandoned our traditional evenhanded role as the honest broker in the Middle East peace process and - for the first time in US history - endorsed Jewish settlements on the West Bank."

If I was to meet President Bush I would suggest he read (or re-read) those articles and then delve into a book penned by a senior US intelligence official under the mantle Anonymous, called: "Imperial Hubris: Why The West Is Losing The War On Terror".

After a brief history lesson, the intelligence man turned author boldly predicts the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq are doomed to failure and reinforces that it is government policies which make America unsafe and which, ironically, makes the US about the best ally Osama bin Laden ever had.

In no way does this other way of looking at terrorism mean these people are soft. In fact, Anonymous subscribes to the same way of waging war as a US Navy admiral who famously said during World War 2 the best way to win was to "kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs". Understanding does not mean sympathy, but, perhaps, a better way of seeing how US policies are perceived around the world.

Until President Bush starts listening to and understanding these other points of view, then the coffins draped in American flags may keep being flown back in greater numbers and the more likely it is that Afghanistan and Iraq will turn into not one Vietnam, but two.