The Final Argument of Kings
As the world slid from the twentieth century into a new millennium, it left behind a century rent by war, strife, and mass murder on an unprecedented scale. The Western liberal tradition and free-market economy had outlived their many challengers, and come out on top, spurring the growth of the greatest military superpower and economic hegemon in the history of human civilization: the United States of America.
This was the prevailing view in the minds of a great many Americans until September 11, 2001, when through the concerted efforts of an international group of criminals the twin towers of the World Trade Center were reduced to rubble, and the previously unmarred structure of the Pentagon rocked in the worst terrorist attack on American soil. The aftermath of the disaster shed an unforgiving light on several key elements of the international system Americans are living in. The world, far from succumbing to the glory of liberal democracy and hanging its bruised arms up for monuments, is still a dangerous place, populated with enemies of the US that would have her destroyed. And as the torch of G. H. W. Bushs New World Order is passed on to his fortunate son, one thing has become painfully clear to Americans: there will be no isolationism in the twenty-first century.
The new war is one against terrorism, a shady enemy that has no borders and no capital; a hidden enemy that is exceedingly difficult not only to root out and exterminate, but also to explain. Though terror as an instrument of war has been used throughout the history of human conflict, there is a new aspect to the kind that we face today, different even from that which assailed governments as recently as fifteen years ago. This essay will examine and explain the new threat of terrorism that shapes governments and the policies they implement, affects millions of lives through its very existence, and warps the minds of millions more to its cause. Terrorisms underlying causes, its goals, and its reasoning are all vital to understanding this threat and formulating a lasting solution to deal with it. In addition, the prevailing theories of international relations, established after the massive paradigm shift that accompanied the collapse of Soviet communism and cautiously debated for less than ten years, now face a new test of their validity. Two of these theories, the End of History proposed by Francis Fukuyama and the Clash of Civilizations suggested by Samuel Huntington, have both faced a new round of questions as the Western world brought its wounded, critical eye to bear on the specter of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. These two theories both can help explain the current situation in the Middle East, but both suffer from the same shortcoming: they are generalizations, and in a world of billions of people and hundreds of cultures, generalizations are bound to be imperfect. With this in mind, the problem of terrorism can be explained and understoodbut perhaps not so readily solved. In any case, almost as important as finding a way to stop future terrorist attacks, is learning where fuel for the flames of Islamic hatred comes from, and why the fire burns so furiously.
TERRORISM IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
A working definition of terrorism is useful, and despite the relativity of the term (one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter, so the saying goes), scholars and government officials alike agree that a terrorist act is one that is politically motivated, involves tactics designed to cause fear and disruption, and is aimed at civilians as opposed to combat and combat-support personnel. Further definitions of terrorism vary with the source.
According to Louise Richardson, Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, terrorism is a symbolic act of politically motivated and illegally perpetrated violence where the victim is not the same as the intended audience. She proposes a means-based definition, where the ultimate goals of the actors are irrelevant: if they use means that fit this description, they are terrorists, regardless of their justification. This definition removes the relativism from terrorist actsif a bomb explodes in a marketplace and kills civilians, it doesnt matter whether the victims were living in a democratic or totalitarian state. By this mean-based definition, there are no freedom fighters that deliberately kill innocents to exact change from a government. Richardsons former colleague at Harvard University Jessica Stern has pointed out that motivations, if they are sometimes hard to determine, become irrelevant when a means-based approach is used: no matter what the rhetoric, messianic, political, or otherwise, the result is the samethe intentional murder of non-combatants.
Although nonmilitants have been targeted by governments in wartime, including by the United States, the Geneva Convention and the nations it represents acknowledge that in the modern waging of total war, with populations mobilized in industrial and support sectors, civilian casualties are inevitable. The distinction is in the fact that the terrorism faced today is not the same as one state waging declared war on another. The new war is one against a stateless enemy that pervades every corner of the home front, and strikes without warning and often in a way that makes the perpetrators of the crime beyond capture and punishment. This, coupled with the presence of superdestructive weapons in the hands of non-state actors and unstable demagogues, provides a frighteningly shadowy threat.
The concept of catastrophic terrorism makes for a difficult problem facing Western governments. The US, in the past, has treated terrorists as criminals, to be apprehended and prosecuted for their crimes after the fact. This policy is unacceptable in a world of collapsing skyscrapers, smallpox-spewing cropdusters and radiological dispersal devices, simply because the human costs associated with this sort of terrorism are impermissible. When weapons of mass destruction are placed in the hands of terrorists with the mindset of Islamic fundamentalists, the consequences can be unbearably dear.
The sentiments of Islamic fundamentalists make them
extremely dangerous and separate them from the breed of terrorist that Western governments have faced so far. Sixty states are predominantly Moslem, their inhabitants numbering around 1.3 billion. Following the Quran and the Hadith, the writings and oral law of the Prophet Muhammad, Moslems all over the world obey the five pillars of Islam. In addition to the requirements of prayer, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving, pilgrimage to the holy city of Meccah, and the confession of faith, devout Moslems commit themselves to jihad. Often incorrectly translated into English as holy war, jihad in fact means striving, and is used to describe several ways the Moslem is expected to protect his religion. He is expected to obey the Sharia, Islamic law; to strive to accomplish good deeds, and to protect the Islamic community. This protection of Islam, both from internal and external corruption, is often what is used by fundamentalists to promote terrorism. Islams basic tenets promote conflict with other religions, and even if Islam is not a proselytizing religion per se, it imposes on its adherents a hate-breeding and hostile mentality which fundamentalists easily warp to fit their anti-modern philosophy.
The causes of Islamic terrorism are as manifold as the causes of Islamic fundamentalism. The conditions of life in the Middle East and other developing Moslem states is such that poverty and instability are permanent fixtures. There are multiple reasons for the growth of anti-US sentiment. Harvard professor of Science and International Affairs Ashton Carter suggested that the standard of living, although a result of decades of poor economic and political management by the regimes in power in Middle Eastern states, has been portrayed as the effect of Western interference and imperialism. He described manufactured history that is taught in madrasahs and other questionable schools to young men in Islamic countries, a history laden with half-truths about Israel, US, Europe, the West, and any other scapegoat the fundamentalists decide to blame for the Arab worlds embarrassment. This miseducation leaves the people without a real cause for their pains, while the glimmer of American jets overhead and the weekly US flag-burnings give them an easy target upon which to vent their frustrations.
These groups of poor and unemployed young people, as well as their elder counterparts, lacking a liberal intellectual tradition and the educational system to propagate it anyway, turn instead to the mullahs for answers. There is really no solid objective to the fundamentalists plans; the goals of the movement change from one month to the next, from the removal of US troops from Saudi soil, to the liberation of Kashmir, to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Because the cause is not a real political objective, only the acting out of frustration, resentment, anger and humiliation towards those deemed (incorrectly) responsible for Islams embarrassment, the latching on to an abstract enemy in the US is the simplest and most reliable way to go. By pointing out perceived exploitation of the Moslem world by the US, its apparent double standard of enforcing UN resolutions, and the invasiveness of American culture and technology through the phenomenon of globalization, fundamentalist leaders channel the powerlessness of their people into a focused rage toward the perceived threat to Islam, against which it is every faithful Moslems duty to struggle. The US, and by extension the West, is the embodiment of this threatand American foreign policy in the Middle East, coupled with Islamic states willingness to deflect criticism of themselves onto the West, makes America a prime target for fundamentalist terrorism.
THE UNITED STATES AS A TARGET
Along with national security and economic prosperity, another side effect of maintaining the worlds most powerful military and most influential government and culture is the accumulation of enemies and attempted counterbalances. The US, through its preponderance of power and its willingness to use it globally, stands out from among all others as the state to worry about.
Henry Kissinger described the expansion of technological and economic power unevenly throughout the world as a result of globalization. Ease of communication and transaction has made the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the world that much more obvious, and the fundamentalist nature of the terrorist enemy makes it infinitely more difficult to reason with him: Compromise is elusive when the issue is not a specific grievance but the legitimacyindeed, the existenceof the other side. US foreign policy is formulated by domestic policy. Money is distributed by lawmakers who are held accountable by their constituencies, and therefore sanctions and rewards are often handed out in what seems to be, to an outside observer, an inconsistent manner. Generational differences between policymakers in the US, divided by Kissinger into the hardline Cold Warriors, the Vietnam-era cautious-types, and the post-Cold War young guns, make it difficult to create a coherent strategy of foreign policy. All of this contributes to an appearance of bullying and unilateral action on the part of the US.
The imbalance in the system caused by American hegemony will inevitably cause a counter-balance, and this is not entirely unhealthy. He describes the sort of balancing that occurs as psycho-cultural (the most actively pursued), politico-diplomatic (moderately pursued), and military-strategic (the least actively pursued). The backlash against American culture, perceived as morally, socially, and culturally retrograde, is the strongest in those countries which have no other recourse, being unable or unwilling to counter in the other areas.
The tendency of the US to act unilaterally, a result of its preponderance of power and the illusion of invulnerability that comes with it, blinds Americans to the fact that its actions are not always representative of every nations best interests, and in fact only acts to promote its own. Despite the fact that US hegemony has a positive impact on the state of the world economy, the majority of foreign powers, whether developed or not, tend to favor a more multipolar distribution of power in the international system.
In conclusion, one can see that the overwhelming economic and military power of the United States, its willingness to use this preponderance overseas, and its association with Western imperialist powers with long histories of occupation in the Middle East (not to mention US ties to Israel) all make the US an obvious target for the blame of Islamic fundamentalists unwilling and unable to reform their own policies or examine their own shortcomings. Whether this unwillingness is a result of the stubborn nature of Islam vis-à-vis other religions or the frantic scramble for power by the leaders of corrupt regimes in the Moslem world is inconsequential (in fact it is most likely both).
GLOBAL TRENDS: GLOBALIZATION AND MIDDLE EASTERN INSTABILITY
The report given by various non-governmental sources on the future of international relations shares a major element with all other analyses of the impact of world trends on Islamic fundamentalism: the importance of globalization and its cousin Westernization. The report asserts that although states will still retain their position as the major actors in the international arena, they will have increasingly less control over the flow of information, technology, diseases, arms, and migrants across their borders. As their influence declines, multinationals and non-governmental organizations will assume a more active role in global affairs.
In addition to this decline in state autonomy, the report states that those nations without effective and competent government will fail to benefit from the positives associated with globalization such as trade, medicine, and communication. Instead, globalization will cause conflict both within these states borders and across them, with other states. The US, being a dominant military force, will face enemies that understand their relative weakness and will attempt to circumvent US strengths while exploiting US weaknesses. Change-resistant Middle Eastern states, their leaders insulated from the effects of avoiding modernization by the buoy of oil revenues, will see their people resorting to terrorism at the exhortation of a few organizers. This movement, combined with the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states and the proliferation of WMD among non-state actors, will result in a highly dangerous and volatile situation for the US. Resentment of Western intrusion in the history and affairs of the Middle East will be manifest in the increasing populations of Middle Eastern states. These citizens will become poorer, more urban, and more disillusioned, and large youth cohorts will take those problems left unsolved by stagnant governments, unwilling to reform due to fear of undermining their rule, into their own discontented and active hands.
As a theory of international relations, Francis Fukuyamas End of History is an optimistic one. His former teacher Samuel Huntington was quick to discredit the theory, but both mens ideas have been reexamined in light of the events of September 11. Although the terrorist attacks were an apparent example of the failings of Fukuyamas theory, they actually did little to undermine it. Nonetheless, despite its uplifting attitude and positive implications, the concept of human civilization having reached its pinnacle through democracy and free-market capitalism is not only unrealistic, but also strongly resembles the convictions of those ancient empires that saw themselves as the shining light at the end of the tunnel of historyjust before they were extinguished.
Fukuyama posits a model of progression that begins with economic prosperity, leads to liberalism, and finally ends with democracy. He associates the process with the adoption of the Western ideal, claiming it as the obvious champion of centuries of development and warfare, since it has defeated all other forms of government, and people who live in liberal democracies would rather live nowhere else. The process of Westernization, he says, is tied to the concept of modernity. Although cultural affinity for Western ideals can help accelerate the transition, it is not necessary. The move towards modernity can be accomplished without it, as long as the first step of improving the economic situation is taken.
This, according to Fukuyama, can be accomplished by promoting the development of science and technology. In order for this to occur, there must be liberal institutions in place such as free markets and rule of law to encourage competition and efficiency, which are the seeds of innovation. No society can resist technological progress without experiencing severe growing pains, which will inevitably result in a forced acceptance of modernity. After ameliorating the economic position of its people, a state will reform its politics. Economic development encourages the growth of a middle class, which will demand rights to property, establish a civil society, and begin to educate itself in order to remain competitive. A civil middle class, possessing rights and desiring other privileges, is a fertile ground for the growth of democracy.
The problems come, says Fukuyama, when foreign states attempt to reap the benefits of technological and economic progress while at the same time refusing to accept Western liberal philosophy. Moslems, he states, are the only group of people that reject modernity flat outclinging to the abstract goals of the purity of Islamic governance without admitting its failures. He points out that few Arabs or Iranians who have left the borders of an Islamic regime for the embrace of a liberal Western country want to go back.
He acknowledges that conflict is an essential aspect of world relations, and the resistance of Moslem states to the trends of modernity will inevitably cause tensions. He even concedes that a sizable clash is possible if Islamic fundamentalism can acquire superdestructive weapons, or can mobilize the entire populace of the Moslem world behind the relatively small number of agitators that clamor for all-out war against the West. However, Fukuyama sees this conflict not as a fundamental struggle along civilizational lines, but as a rearguard actionbacklash from those who feel threatened by the pressures of modernity, or see it as an intrusive element of a corrupt foreign evil.
Fukuyamas paradigm of transition, from economic prosperity to liberalism to democracy, is not incorrect in that it describes perfectly the evolution of Western civilization. Where its fundamental fault comes is when he attempts to ascribe to other cultures the same values, regardless of their complex histories and philosophical traditions. By saying that all societies will conform to one type of ideology, he ignores the fact that many other societies have evolved systems of democracy without a liberal tradition; one such example is the system of direct democracy in ancient Athens. Interestingly, as Huntington points out in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order: history ends at least once and occasionally more often in the history of every civilization. As they move from a conflict state to a universal state, civilizations become convinced of their own immortality and the perfection of their form of society over all othersuntil their collapse proves them wrong. The Romans, the Mughals, the Ottomans
and now the West?
Samuel Huntington has no illusions about the glory of Western civilization: Societies that assume their history has ended
are usually societies whose history is about to decline. He advocates that we must stay on our toes, as the world is no less dangerous than it was thirty, fifty, or a hundred years agoits merely dangerous for a different reason. Whereas Fukuyama sees the conflicts of the twentieth century as progress toward a world system of liberal democracy, Huntington sees them as the infighting of a developing civilization, which has now reached the condition of a universal state, meaning a state of unity where intracivilizational wars are unheard of. Instead, the threat is from outside civilizations, fundamentally at odds with the West, and moving towards an inevitable clash with the West and the Rest.
The world as Huntington sees it is divided into several groups, separated not along ideological lines but along cultural ones. Fukuyama admits that cultural difference is the most difficult obstacle to overcome in terms of the mechanism of convergence of all peoples on liberal democracy, and the one that is least firmly conquered. Huntington goes further, stating that the cultural difference is insurmountable by its nature, and that any attempts to force alien cultures to assimilate the Western model are futile. Robert Kaplan compresses Huntingtons thesis succinctly, into five points. First, that modernization is not dependent on Westernization, and foreign cultures can and will accept technology without swallowing Western liberal ideology. Second, that Islam is demographically explosive, and the West is in (a not irreversible) decline. Third, that despite the power of globalization, people are not amalgamating into some kind of world culture, and that we are instead alloying along cultural similarities rather than embracing our differences. Fourth, that not all civilizations feel that the Western model of parliamentary democracy is the ideal, and our conviction that it is so will cause discord between us and them. Finally, that instead of resting on our Fukuyaman laurels at the peak of civilization, we should realize that the West is not safe from threat and reaffirm our Western identity accordingly.
In terms of the problem of terrorism, Huntington relates in his article The Age of Muslim Wars the fact that the Moslem civilization is one in a conflict state, just as the West was until very recently. His reasons for the Moslem wars echo those discussed earlier in this paper: backlash against the intrusion of a depraved Western culture and a corresponding resurgence in Islamic consciousness, US support of corrupt and ineffective regimes in the Middle East and the subsequent vilification of America by Islamic fundamentalists, and the presence of a large number of unemployed, educated, and ideologically convicted young men. He adds the lack of a Moslem core state or states in the Islamic civilization, which could act to pacify or lead by example, to the reasons for Moslem instability.
The reason he gives for the apparent inability of Moslem states to cooperate with the West to an even modest degree, which distinguishes them from other civilizations such as the Sinic and Hindu civilizations, is the Moslem culture of group violence. He proposes several causal arguments: the violent nature of Moslem expansion, called the religion of the sword; the fact that Islamic expansion left it in close contact with hostile groups; the absolutist and therefore immutable tradition of Islam, having no secular intellectual tradition; and the consistent tradition of self-victimization that plagues Moslems, always eager to point the finger of blame for their own ineffectuality at anyone but themselves.
Huntington proposes that with a change in US policy away from supporting kleptocratic and oppressive regimes could help bring about an end to the age of Moslem wars, but in no way does he make the claim that conflict between civilizations will end with the shift. Violence is the model by which all states in the world operate, and will always operate.
Although some accuse both Fukuyama and Huntington of oversimplification and generalization, the fact is that when creating a theory to explain world action there is no other solution but generalization. Huntington bats away Fukuyamas idyllic butterflies of optimistic fantasy and grounds his theory in the reality of the world. Cultures are different and irreconcilable. We are all competing for the same space and resources. Violence is perennial. Clashes are inevitable. The key to his analysis, and the essential flaw in Fukuyamas, is that Huntington realizes that modernization and Westernization are not necessarily the same, and can and do occur without overlapping.
The Islamic world is rife with problems that run so deep as to appear unalterable. The resistance it has built up toward the US and the West over decades of perceived injustices makes it exceedingly difficult for the US or the West to help change things in the Middle East without being met with anything but suspicion, or even all-out insurgency. To paraphrase a Saudi royal advisor, quoted in Christoper Dickeys Newsweek article A Muslim Cry for Democracy, we do not want democracy in the Arab world, for to give every mind there a voice would be to incite a cacophonic scream of frustration and hostility directed toward the West. Despite the wonders of mass communication achieved in the past twenty years, Arabs do not see the fulfilling tradition of liberal democracy or the prosperity of free-market economics; instead, they see an image distorted by the lens of fundamentalism: an image of corrupt morality and rampant consumerism. It is no wonder their resistance is resolute, if perhaps excessive.
Although one would like to predict a reconciliation of these differences and a resulting harmony of global proportions, a different, more somber image seems more realistic. The Islamic world is modernizing, painfully, and is in the state of conflict that the West went through over hundreds of years, until very recently. This period saw war and mass murder on an unprecedented scale as the West matured and worked out its wrinkles. Now, though the state of conflict is similar, there are fundamental differences. The world was lucky that as the West modernized, it did so on a clean slate, so to speak. Lucky that the killing and incineration of human beings could be carried out only at the laborious pace of thousands per day. Lucky that only hundreds of millions of people lost their lives, instead of billions. Lucky that there was no big brother civilization eager to shove in one direction or another, or both. Lucky that no one, having harnessed the secret of the atom, had carelessly left its awesome power up for grabs to those who felt they had nothing to lose. Now, instead of relying on luck as we once could, we must rely on preparedness, vigilance, and forcethe old argument of the cannonto preemptively protect us: ultimo ratio regum, the final argument of kings.