The War on Terror (or the Terror of War)

" Conflict as a Transforming Agent for Systemic Change" - Lederach

The Fight against Terror - Conflict Transformation

"Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there.
It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." Bush 'W' Jr.

There is an international consensus that the world has changed drastically since 9/11. 9/11 has become a geo-political turning-point.
Some ten days later, Bush made his not less famous (or infamous) address to the nation, transmitted live on CNN, and declared to the whole wide world that the 'war on terror' had begun. This address was soon to be followed by the "Axis of Evil" speech and many other more or less illuminated declarations … some 9 years and so many more body bags later, the war is still ongoing, with no immediate cessation in sight.

If “war on terror" has become part of our daily vocabulary, at the same title as "9/11" has come to symbolize the starting day of that war, to say that the means to resolve this global conflict are lacking would be a grave understatement.
To date there has been no other consensus apart from the fact that … the world has changed. There is no consensus on the means to fight terror, no consensus on the means to resolve the problem, no consensus on what terrorism is, no consensus on the kind of threat it poses, no consensus on how to tackle it, not even a consensus on where the threat is coming from, or who the enemy is. Is this a South/West divide, an ideological war, a war of religions?

What has changed is the greater awareness that there is a problem that concerns us all, and that, lest we are engulfed by it, it needs our attention.

So far, different means of resolving the problem have been put to action: physical war, a whole array of preventive measures, i.e. preventive detention of suspects, closer monitoring of money transfers, and greater cooperation in intelligence. On top of that, entire forests have been destroyed to provide the papers to ratify the innumerable amounts of new treaties, agreements, laws, accords, and so forth. They have yet to prove their efficiency.

When the enemy is not a clear entity and the conflict cannot be placed on any particular spot on the map of the earth but rather is a collection of microscopic dots spread all over it, when the very nature of the conflict still remains to be defined, to talk about conflict resolution, or conflict management would be totally overrated.
Notwithstanding those facts, it has been a transforming agent and has made more changes in the political landscape than any before. But are those changes constructive in any way?

The world today could be very crudely resumed as follows: demographically, the majority of people living in the Arab peninsula are below age 25, in Europe the number could be inversed. Capitalism is crumbling and the era of the Dollar-King is slowly but surely crumbling. The advent of the World Wide Web has made the world a much smaller place, so much so, that inequalities are now open to all to see. And, no need to go look to far from home: racial wealth gap has quadrupled in the US since the 80's.

If one looks at it from the four elements necessary for peace building, as listed by Lederach, ironically, the first one has already been fulfilled. The awareness of the other, the awareness that each and every one of us is a part of the pattern. What is lacking though is connaissance, a lack of will to know the other better. Accompanied by an even greater lack of care for the other, itself another present inherited from Mr. Globalization/Modernization.

In order to stop the advance of radicalism and radicalization, one of the solutions put forward by counter-terrorism experts is ... education. Education of the West, in order for the West to know how to differentiate between Islam and Radical Fundamentalism. Education in the Muslim countries in order to diffuse and counterbalance the misleading and dangerous ideas spread about the West, and recruiting of good elements into fundamentalists' organisations for lack of knowing any better.
However, such a path will take at least a generation to make any change at all in the landscape. It is one that must be started now for it is so far the only lasting and long-term solution to the conflict.

Another problem is the lack of unity of the West, who is as spread in their ideas of dealing with the conflict as the terrorists and threats are spread. This lack of partners to bring to negotiations needs to be dealt with. The West will have to learn to show a more unified front on all levels, be they political, legal, intelligence-related, etc.
Until this happens, other steps towards peace should be taken. And when I write ‘other steps' I have in mind the different stories related by Lederach in his article "The Art and soul of building peace". (Ironically, I cannot shake off Sun Tzu's "Art of War" as opposed to the "Art of Peace".) Lederach relates stories about individuals, living in war torn areas, taking matters in their own hands and bettering their lives. Such endeavours by individuals should get more support and be more publicized. The web being an excellent platform to pass such messages and spread the word, that a different conflict-free life is possible. A life where the West is not depicted as the Big Satan’s trying to crush Islam. A life where Islam is not immediately associated with Terrorism and Suicide Bombers.

Another example of the West being completely overtaken by events and incapable or unwilling to "take a risk" is the Green Revolution in Iran. The only thing the whole world talks about is Iran going nuclear. Yet, there are barely any mentions of the revolution taking place everyday in the country. Most of the experts in terrorism, agents of governments, leaders, diplomats lack even the basic understanding about Iran and Iranians, their culture, their political system ( one mainly hears: "It is very complicated. They are not rational, which does remind one of Kennan's assessment of the Russians some 60 years ago, the ensuing telegram, .. And the beginning of the Cold War that was to last for 50 years). One of the reasons put forward for the lack of support and enthusiasm about the Green Revolution is the classical: "We don't know who will replace the current government should it fall. It might be worse, so let's do nothing and continue playing the only game we think we know to play: threaten to pass more and more sanctions" through the one international body that has yet to prove its efficacy, the UN. I have had the chance to talk to 3 experts on Iran in the last week, and they came to the same conclusion, they all saw a revolution brewing and expressed their astonishment at the apathy of the West.
Ironically, in the Iranian case, partners for a dialogue do exist, yet nothing is being done for lack of knowledge of the opposite side's culture and norms.

I would conclude by saying that yes, indeed, the present conflict is bringing a systemic change.
It is now our duty to make that change a constructive one, lest it destroys us.


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