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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2001 / 14 Tishrei, 5762

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni
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Problems with the new antiterrorist agenda is not that it is too grand, but that it is not grand enough -- INTERNATIONAL terrorism will not be greatly diminished until we help open the societies that sponsor terrorists and that terrorize their own people. If we only take out the bin Ladens and their associates, thousands will replace them. And next time they might employ weapons of mass destruction. Our longer-term goal should be to foster the conditions under which Taliban-like governments can be replaced by more moderate ones. If they open their societies to the free flow of ideas, people, and commerce gradually, fairly democratic governments will evolve. Open societies do not harbor many international terrorists; authoritarian and tyrannical theocracies do.

It might be a clever tactic to state that we have no quarrels with Islam, that it is a peaceful religion, as both President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair have repeatedly put it. After all we are seeking the collaboration of other Muslim countries. The ugly truth, though, is that Islam - like other religions -- comes in two major versions. One is temperate, contemplative, and peace-loving.

But there is a virulent version that has many similar features to communism: It oppresses its own people and seeks to impose its will on others. It works to topple governments that do not heed its call (Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, among others); to expand into neighboring countries (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Lebanon); and to bring Islam to the world in order to save it from secular Westernism.

Moreover, it does not rely on the strength of its beliefs but on brute force. Indeed, militant Islam is involved in most of the 24 local wars that are plaguing the world. It is a worldwide, albeit, not a centrally controlled, movement. Thus, there are numerous parallels to communism, including drawing on underground networks.

All this tells us that the problems with the new antiterrorist agenda is not that it is too grand, but that it is not grand enough. Hardening our targets will do some but not much good. As the Israeli experience shows, even very intensive security measures do not stop suicide bombers. And a future attack with weapons of mass-destruction would make Sept. 11 seem a tiny event.

We must turn to preventive measures: Help make the societies that breed fanaticism into more moderate ones. The secret is not economic development (although a Marshall Plan for those that are moderate is a worthy idea). Militant Islam is found in dirt-poor Sudan and relatively well-off Iran; in subsistence-level Afghanistan and in much better-off Indonesia. A free flow of ideas and people is what makes the difference and is what we should be campaigning for.

One may argue that the people in militant Islamic countries are true believers, and hence even if we unseat their tyrannical governments (or better help insiders to replace them), the people will insist on similar militant governments. However, the extreme oppressive measures these governments employ, more encompassing than the Stalinist USSR, show that they do not express the will of their people. Young women in Afghanistan do not risk their lives to attend school because they embrace the dictates of militant Islam. The majority in Iran has voted for a less militant Islam but is held back by the mullahs. Major ethnic groups in many countries, the Sunni in Iran for example, are dying for a more moderate regime.

The West is again called upon to protect liberty and human rights, this time from a worldwide force. The cliche that we cannot take on 1.2 billion people should not stop us. The communists greatly outnumbered us, and they were endlessly better equipped. And there are moderate Islamic governments that are anxious to stop the spread of militancy and major groups within the oppressed nations that seek reform. Best we should engage again in a largely cold war: not bomb civilians, but actively unseat the military governments repeatedly until moderate ones arise and open their societies.

Best yet: This time around, our self-interest coincides with the hopes and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the people in the countries with whose governments we must contend. This time we will not find ourselves allied with small, right-wing elites, as we believed we had to do to fight communism. This time we can choose to work with relatively moderate Islamic groups (like the Sunni) and nations (Egypt and Jordan) and the numerous governments threatened by militants to fight terrorism and not rest until the militant governments are removed and their countries opened up.

JWR contributor Amitai Etzioni, of George Washington University, is the author of, among others, The Limits of Privacy. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Amitai Etzioni