Skip to comments.Why the new terrorism threatens all of humanity
Posted on 10/24/2001 5:37:57 PM PDT by Pokey78
ARE there no limits to terrorism? The Prime Minister, discussing with representatives of The Daily Telegraph yesterday the events of September 11 and their implications, raised the prospect not only of more terrorist outrages, but also of worse. He emphasised the effort that is being devoted to identifying the source of biological attacks on the public. He warned, however, that the al-Qa'eda organisation is certainly anxious to acquire nuclear material and will have no hesitation in causing nuclear explosions for terrorist purposes when it learns how.
The suggestion left hanging was that al-Qa'eda is completely unreasonable, concerned only to commit outrages on the largest scale possible and quite uninterested in negotiation. Tony Blair regards the Taliban as so intimately linked with al-Qa'eda that the point where the training of a Taliban warrior ends and that of a terrorist begins defies easy identification. The Taliban, he believes, is in a "symbiotic" relationship with al-Qa'eda and so, by implication, liable to mimic its behaviour, including its refusal to treat rationally with Western governments.
As long, therefore, as the Taliban continues to protect al-Qa'eda and remains undefeated by Western attack, the West must hold itself prepared for more terrorist attempts. Mr Blair emphasised how horrible those could be. He spoke of "certain knowledge that if they [the September 11 terrorists] could have killed 60,000 or 600,000, that is what they would have done".
The motivation of such terrorists is beyond comprehension. Most terrorists have some aim, which they believe will be advanced by violence. Their belief may be wrong and their methods self-defeating, but they at least belong within the same intellectual system as the rest of the world. Some balance on the furthest edge. The rich, spoilt ideologues of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, for example, seem to have hoped that the "capitalist system" could be brought down by random assassination and explosion. They were susceptible enough to capitalism's attractions, however, to spend most of the proceeds of their bank robberies in expensive shops, a failing that eventually betrayed them to the police.
Al-Qa'eda, by contrast, has completely unrealisable aims and is unsusceptible to material inducement. Osama bin Laden, in so far as he outlines a policy, speaks of "killing all Americans" and "destroying the United States". Both aims are quite outside his capabilities and, indeed, those of any power on earth. Not even at the height of superpower confrontation could the old Soviet Union have exterminated America's population and the survivors would have carried on the federal government. Nevertheless, Mr Blair recognises that al-Qa'eda will try. "The next step for fundamentalist groups", he forecast, "will be trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction."
These were chilling words, though undoubtedly accurate. As the fundamentalists have a value system quite at variance with that of those they have decided are their enemies, what response can the West make? Material inducement is clearly ruled out; so is negotiation. In so far as al-Qa'eda has an identifiable aim, it is the elimination of Israel, to put it no worse, and the return of its territory to Palestinian Arabs, however defined. Though less unrealistic than "destroying America" and "killing all Americans", such aims will never be conceded by Israel or Israel's protectors.
The only recourse, therefore, is that indicated by the Prime Minister: to strike directly at the head of al-Qa'eda, Osama bin Laden. "We are entitled to take action against him," Mr Blair said. "The Security Council resolution has authorised that...He is well protected and well armed and I have always thought it somewhat unlikely that he will be turning up in court one day."
Mr Blair thus seemed to dispose of the idea, increasingly popular among the higher judiciary, academic lawyers and opponents of military action alike, that the pursuit of terrorist criminals should be put into the hands of an international court system. To any practical person, the proposal is wholly untenable. Even within a single jurisdiction, the prevarication and procrastination of the law are notorious. To transfer the opportunities for those delays and disagreements to a multinational body would be to ensure that no wrongdoer was ever convicted or, if convicted, ever punished. The prospect, seen against the need to preserve the basic necessities of everyday security and freedom from fear, is deeply alarming. Mr Blair disposed of it summarily. "[The International Criminal Court] has its place and function but in the end it is important that democratically elected leaders are able to take the steps that are necessary."
The Prime Minister has had a testing and exhausting month but also, it would strike an outside observer, a strengthening one. The ghastly events of September 11 have clarified his mind. He was already an experienced war leader, having learnt a great deal about the use of military force during the crisis in Kosovo. Kosovo, however, was in large measure a conventional operation, with organised states on both sides, and Slobodan Milosevic, though extreme in his behaviour, a recognisable type of nationalist demagogue. The past few weeks have introduced the world to an entirely novel threat: the nihilism of a rich and insatiable fundamentalist movement.
The experience has been bewildering and often terrifying, particularly depressing to professional students of war who, even when confronted by conflict at its most violent, have been able to preserve the thought that something rational lay at the heart of the matter. That belief has been shattered by the suicidal cruelties of the attack on the twin towers. Mr Blair, nevertheless, seems to have been able to integrate the shock into his perception of the world and to think constructively about how to minimise the likelihood of a repetition.
When people figure out exactly what the fundamentalists want the world to look like, the fundies are going to be in a world of hurt.