War on terror repeats mistakes of the past
I once heard the sharp noise and whistling of a car bomb explosion when I was walking in the streets of Madrid.
It happened one block from my apartment, on the television I was watching on a Monday night. I can understand the fears and the need for the security of the average citizen that have been expressed since Sept. 11, but the lack of historical analysis from the world’s political leaders and its group of aides is troubling.
What Casablanca and the latest attacks in Riyadh show is that political blindness is present in all eras. The U.S. government is smart enough to win complex electoral campaigns but unwilling or incapable of understanding the phenomena of what, in these modern times, we call terrorism.
Europeans like me have become somehow accustomed to a continuous stream of attacks that have plagued some of our countries for decades.
During the seventies, the Red Army Faction, known as Baader-Meinhoff gang in the former West Germany, the Brigate Rosse in Italy, the IRA in Northern Ireland and ETA in Spain performed loud concertos of bombings, killings and shootings, spiked with kidnappings.
Currently, the IRA and ETA are strong and ready to strike at any moment. The other two have almost completely disappeared.
Political violence, whether it is from the far left or far right, can survive for some period of time, but the general population quickly becomes tired of it. The governments eventually manage to eliminate it with some ease. Even possible comebacks, such as the Brigate Rosse’s recent revival – are short-lived. But terrorism, whether from nationalist, patriotic, religious, messianic and similarly described groups, is stubborn in the extreme; no matter how tirelessly police and military units work to eliminate it
The former groups may have some political support. However, they lack any long-term connection to elementary human identities, such as the apparently irrational need to belong to a particular group, nation, faith or even region.
In simple terms, terrorism appears after a mixture of nationalism, religious beliefs, fanaticism and economic disadvantages, whether real or imaginary, are put in a cocktail mixer, shaken and served to the locals by community leaders and generally act as the ideologues of the cause.
After it takes hold in a community, in the long run, there are only two solutions for the problem: complete extermination of the supporting population or politicians can acknowledge that there is a social or political problem behind those heinous acts.
Events in both Israel and Northern Ireland have shown that military solutions will not succeed in eradicating terrorism. The British Government, despite years of no-negotiations-with-terrorism rhetoric learned this lesson, and successfully negotiated a cease-fire with the IRA. It is a truth that Israel has yet to swallow.
A mix of economical, political, educational and even propagandist efforts with a terrorist group and its mass supporters can settle the issue, a process that takes years or, more realistically, decades.
So the “new” war on global terror, unleashed from Capitol Hill by President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is exactly as flawed as previous military efforts to end terrorism. Worse, this global war on terror comes with the expense of a large military and includes dangerous changes in old foreign policy doctrines and the redefinition of the roles of countries and international institutions.
Antonio Peramo is a Ph.D. graduate assistant in the department of physics firstname.lastname@example.org