3.09.2005

Looking at the wrong things

Al-Muhajaba links to Juan Cole's argument that occupation, not dictatorship, is the cause of terrorism.

He cites quite a few instances in which oppressed peoples used terrorism to throw off foreign occupying armies. Fair enough, as far as it goes. But what he doesn't note is that these armies were themselves dictatorships. He tries to set up Anwar Sadat as the democrat who brought back a terrorist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood, which later formed "groups like Ayman al-Zawahiri's al-Gihad al-Islami and Sheikh Omar's al-Gamaah al-Islamiyah". But Sadat was a democrat in the the same way Mubarak now is a democrat - meaning, not precisely. Cole also points to the British earlier in Egypt, to the French in Algeria, the CIA in Iran, the Israelis in Palestine, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Russians in Chechnya, and (presumably) the Indians in Kashmir (though he only mentions Kashmir without saying which side is occupying it, so maybe he's talking about Pakistan?).

The thing is, he misses the point totally. Western occupation isn't the problem - the problem is that each of these occupations was itself tyrannical. What if the Brits, French, or the CIA had created democracies by engaging the local populations? This counterfactual has at least one historical reference - say, the British in India. The situation in India is the way it is today because of British colonialism, like it or not. And now, the US is doing the same - creating democracies by engaging the Afghanis and the Iraqis, respectively.

There are a few more interesting problems with Cole's analasys. First, he doesn't mention that Pakistan was largely responsible for the funding of the Taliban, even beyond the American money they channeled. If that wasn't a large-scale terrorist group, I don't know what would be. Nor does he talk about Saudi Arabia - clearly not a democracy, clearly a state sponsor of large-scale terror. Nor yet Libya. OK. I think the deeper issue is this - all of the governments that grew up out of terrorist-induced colonial overthrows came to see terrorism as a useful method of accomplishing their goals. So many stifled attempts at reform, so many dictators (first foreign, then home-grown), created a radically disenfranchised population. The fact that some of the dictators were European is largely immaterial - they were still dictators.

This leaves the Israel-Palestine situation. Cole pins blame on the Jews - of course the Muslims couldn't help but turn terrorist after the evil Zionists moved in. They don't know any better. I don't buy it. It's an excuse, and a rather racist one at that.

So is democracy a cure-all? No. Will it be immediately effective in every situation? No. But Bush never said it would be. What he has said, is that it will begin to change the political culture in the Middle East. We're already seeing the signs of that. Democracy and peace are two very long, difficult processes. They don't happen overnight. They may take years. But you can't begin to fight terrorism effectively until the people see they can make a difference peacefully.