As the evidence mounts that the London terrorist attacks were carried out by British-born citizens of Pakistani extraction, the focus in the war on terror has to shift from what Pres. George W. Bush has called “state-sponsored terrorism.”
The new focus, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made clear, must be to combat separatist Islamist ideology—that stream of thought that calls for uniting the world’s Muslims into a single Islamic state.
The Wall Street Journal foreign affairs correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov has drawn a distinction between mainstream Islamic sects and those Islamists whose creed may be encapsulated in an injunction in the Koran to “take no Jews and Christians as friends. They are only friends to each other, and who befriends them becomes one of them.”
Most Muslims reject these beliefs and base their faith on different passages from the Koran. Yet Trofimov, a Wall Street Journal reporter who speaks Arabic and who wrote an excellent overview of the Muslim world entitled “Faith At War,” believes that Western powers often have adopted strategies that seem to validate such false premises as the existence of a Jewish-Christian alliance. All too often, the U.S creates the appearance that such an unholy aliance against Muslims exists.
It is conjecture whether this is one reason that certain Muslim citizens of Western nations become Islamist radicals. But that appears to be the case in the four London bombings. Some of the young bombers had traveled to Asia briefly, but they had become terrorist sympathizers while living in England. Their terrorist acts stem from their beliefs. For this reason, Blair emphasized combating the “evil” ideology and encouraging more moderate Muslim preaching. Whether he will strengthen Muslim moderates by adopting new foreign policies in the Middle East remains to be seen.
From now on, Western nations will have to monitor certain groups of citizens who are willing to attack their native countries, which raises critical civil liberties concerns. Our democracy needs to have an authentic debate about those issues.
This shift in preventing terrorism only underscores how irrelevant the occupation of Iraq has become. By focusing on regime change and occupying foreign nations that the Bush administration claimed aided terrorism, the U.S. has necessarily made infiltration and deterrence of the small terrorist groups a secondary priority. At the same time, regime change has spurred the atom bomb programs of Iran and North Korea. The U.S. is overlooking the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan where Taliban warlords have returned to control entire regions in the south. These problems are aggravated by the obsession with Iraq.
The lesson of the London bombings is that using conventional military forces to combat terrorist threats is a misguided diversion of resources, when the threats come from small terrorist groups based in the homeland.
The United States needs a peace movement that will force the nation’s policy makers to question the bias in our national security plans to invade other countries to the detriment of homeland security. Democratic neo-liberals and Republican neo-conservatives need to hear that a military presence abroad does not curb a handful of citizens intent to carry out murderous acts. Armies in Iraq or Afghanistan will not deter a terrorist strike against London, Paris or Chicago. And in our foreign policy, we do not take account of the fact that worldwide the vast majority of Muslims have little regard for the fundamentalist radicals.
A combination of serious peace negotiations in Israel and economic aid for the Muslim world where nearly two-thirds of the population is under the age of 35 will do more to isolate the Islamist radicals than troops in Iraq.
These are the same reservations expressed by many experts in the winter of 2002 during the administration’s buildup to the Iraq war. It is time for a peace movement to broadcast these views. The American people have become skeptical of military intervention and they need to voice their reservations.
The true lesson of the London bombings is that the Pentagon alone can’t prevent acts of terror.