Jewish World Review May 20, 2004 / 29 Iyar, 5764

John C. Bersia

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Societies, markets will survive, thrive


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Investors worldwide, already jittery over the trouble-plagued conflict in Iraq, high oil prices and the specter of rising interest rates in the United States, probably would prefer not to hear about the greatest near-term problem: more terrorist attacks, including catastrophic ones.

When those attacks come, they will stun targeted peoples, disrupt ordinary life and generate temporary doomsday fears - as happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Once the smoke clears, however, those targeted will shake off their stupors, return to their routines and shelve their nightmares.

As much as Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cohorts are loath to admit it, civilization possesses a surprisingly resilient quality. Terrorists historically have not managed to break it, nor will their counterparts today. In the end, nations, societies and, yes, markets will survive and thrive.

Some people - especially those who forecast the end of globalization or fret over "losing" the war against terrorism - may view that position as hopelessly optimistic, especially in light of the imminent threat of more attacks noted above. Indeed, they may point to a flurry of recent terrorist schemes in various countries, some successful and some not, as the vanguard of an intensifying challenge.

There is not much point in revisiting the debate over the much-ballyhooed, premature and incorrect declaration of globalization's demise after 9-11. It would require far more than a handful of miscreants to stop a phenomenon that has been developing for thousands of years and accelerating in recent decades. Globalization merely missed a beat in 2001.

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As to whether the United States and its allies are winning or losing the war against terrorism, I would hesitate to render a judgment at this early date. The war is taking place in a rapidly changing environment that is fraught with uncertainty.

Although the modern age of terrorism began in the late 1970s, the actual war against it was launched less than three years ago. Wins and losses have accrued on both sides. Most important, there is no end in sight.

To be sure, al-Qaeda can claim to have rebounded after its devastating setback in Afghanistan, recast its plans, dispatched operatives to more countries than ever and launched a string of successful attacks. In addition, it can assert that the transnational, revolutionary, ideological fervor propelling its supporters has not diminished. In fact, as Jason Burke, author of ``Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror,'' argues in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, bin Laden's "worldview is receiving immeasurably more support around the globe than it was two years ago, let alone 15 years ago when he began serious campaigning."

But does that translate into a winning position? I think not.

As much as bin Laden may have propagandized, radicalized and mobilized, his supporters represent a microscopic minority - of Muslims, which al-Qaeda strains unpersuasively to represent, and of the global population. Even if bin Laden's support should grow further because of issues that create or magnify disagreement with the United States, such as the intervention in Iraq, his appeal has limits.

Most people do not - and realistically will never - share bin Laden's sketchy vision for the future: a humbled West, in which versions of the crumbled World Trade Center litter the landscape, and the establishment of a new order. Whether one believes, as Burke does, that such an empire "would encompass the Middle East, the Maghreb (North Africa bordering on the Mediterranean), Andalusia in southern Spain, Central Asia, parts of the Balkans and possibly some Islamic territories in the Far East," or something more expansive, it is inconsistent with the current order.

Moreover, the United States and its allies have hardly resigned themselves to observing how much death and damage the terrorists can unleash. Rather, they are aggressively on the offensive, pursuing the reconstituted al-Qaeda at all levels. They have thwarted most of the attacks that the al-Qaeda network has attempted to carry out since Sept. 11. Even those that have succeeded, such as the Madrid bombings in March, served to strengthen allied resolve and cooperation in intelligence.

Finally, with the right effort and a long-term perspective, the United States and its allies will get their hands around complex matters, including Iraq, that lure the disgruntled toward extremism.

But none of those efforts will happen easily, painlessly or cheaply. Al-Qaeda's operatives are ruthless, shrewd and undeterred by setbacks.

The United States and its allies cannot falter in matching and exceeding al-Qaeda's zeal. That effort requires viewing every major issue - from defense to the global economy - through the terrorism prism, not to exaggerate but to acknowledge the omnipresence of the threat.

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John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is also the special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida. Comment by clicking here.

Up

05/04/04: With terror on the rise worldwide, America can't afford to be isolationists
11/18/03: U.S. now has right view on China
10/14/03: Reinstitute mandatory smallpox vaccinations as biodefense precaution?
08/05/03: It's time to be realistic on new age of terrorism


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