Is Islamic Extremism ‘the Problem’? Is Endless War ‘the Answer’? How Can We Stop Terrorism?

We can’t just turn the other cheek to angry Islamic extremists, and we can’t fight an endless, economy-breaking, un-winnable war against terrorists either. Talk show simpletons say “just nuke ‘em all,” but even President Bush admits that America must “change the conditions that moved nineteen kids to come on airplanes to murder our citizens.”


And we’d be upset too, if Islamic nations had done to our country what we’ve done to them. To the world’s Muslims, our attacks have not been isolated incidents, but part of a long chain of conspiracies in a war upon Islam itself.


Western powers have indeed killed and wounded millions of Muslims during the last century, blighting their livelihoods and dreams with little consideration for justice, political freedom, and tolerance. Most of us in the West aren’t even aware of this tragic history of Western interference in Islamic nations. Our mainstream press has tiptoed around topics unpopular with their corporate sponsors, and TV and radio send out a torrent of xenophobia from reckless demagogues portraying Islam as a destructive ideology that has brought all its problems upon itself.


Americans express outrage at attacks on American soldiers, but turn a deaf ear to the pleas of millions of Iraqi war refugees desperate for asylum from our wars. We express indignation when an Israeli dies, but can’t be bothered to count—much less mourn—the untold Muslim victims of our Middle East wars. This double standard would shock us if the oceans of propaganda we swim in daily did not prevent our awareness of it.


Terrorism, like war, is a continuation of politics “by other means.” Grieving and jobless Muslim youth “join up” with terrorist forces in hopes of prevailing against regional and international foes, just as American youths patriotically join the armed services to donate their young bodies in service to their government’s many goals, and end up killing innocent strangers, or dying, or being maimed, only for the mercenary protection and expansion of far-flung corporate/economic interests.


Our country has never been invaded by Muslims, nor, credibly, by anyone else. We spend an annual military budget larger than the next fourteen largest nations combined–in total, 45% of the entire military spending in the whole world–on attacks on and within the homelands of foreigners who have never come anywhere near our homes. We have over 600 military bases all over the world. All this pretense of “defense” of America…even though former Secretary of State Madeline Albright guilelessly admitted after 9/11 that “…’homeland security’ is something people hadn’t really thought of before.”


For years, we’ve been instructed that our wars against Islam were fought defensively in response to 1400 years of aggressions in adherence to obscure Islamic scriptures urging global conquest and the spread of Islam by the sword. Few Americans realize that the Crusades were an unimaginably cruel and bloody centuries-long Western invasion of Islamic lands, or that for more than three hundred years, English adventurers penetrating Middle Eastern society have drawn up elaborate plans for assuming control through colonization, plans later pursued by a newly imperialistic America.


Some think our attacks on Islam well-intentioned—i.e., we hope to save misguided Muslims from themselves—so blind are we to the failings of our own brash young culture, and to the glories and losses of ancient Islamic ones. Of course Muslims/Arabs long for many changes of various kinds—but only those changes which arise from their own efforts, not from external interference, and certainly not from foreign aggressors. Americans wouldn’t appreciate foreign occupiers telling us how to live either. Different cultures with long separate traditions and histories, with different assumptions about values, beliefs, practices and ideals, have no business forcing themselves on other cultures. Many Muslim women, for instance, await the day they can move about more freely without their coverings; nevertheless, without exception, there are no Muslim women who want strangers to come from far away to shoot their fathers, sons and brothers in order to secure their “rights” for them.


In today’s brave new world of the internet, freedom of information is no longer a luxury, but a requirement for economic growth—so change will come to every remote corner of the globe, faster than puny humanity can thoughtfully adapt to it. The important question is not “Will things change?” but “How will things change?” While some people will always be more resistant to change than others, change will come to everyone, everywhere, inevitably. No one can stop it. We will all ultimately influence one another, for the better or for the worse, as we choose.


As long as we strove to live up to our ideals, America was a beacon to the world, effectively marketing our highest values of freedom and human rights worldwide. However, since we’ve begun to rely primarily upon our military, and not our moral strength during the last century, since we have used our might primarily to support the greedy ambitions of unscrupulous corporate profiteers, we have temporarily lost our persuasive influence for positive international change.


We now have only a “shrewd” Secretary of State who refuses dialogue with opposing states, and who bribes and bullies our nervous “allies” into tolerating our unfair international practices. Where is our strong, cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace, promoting global peace and harmony? Where are our official national ambassadors of compassion and justice, sharing our expertise, riches and good will with all nations and all peoples? How do the puny efforts grounded in our highest patriotic and religious ideals and heritage stack up against our unlimited expenditures for endless war?


The literate class in the Muslim world certainly blames the U.S. for oppressing Muslim states. As cruelly and certainly as war kills both body and spirit, so do economic and political exploitations kill, maim and warp lives. Western nations have been meddling politically, financially and militarily throughout the twentieth century, repressing democratic movements and political freedoms throughout all Arab nations, propping up Western-friendly dictators, failing to promote good governance and economic advancement, and neglecting to address rapidly-changing social, demographic and economic developmental challenges. Islamic extremism will continue to thrive until Muslim youth everywhere are offered real hope of political and economic improvements.


During the twentieth century, U.S.-based international corporations backed by powerful military forces reliably insured a steady flow of oil westward at bargain basement prices, while suppressing the economic development and progress of the countries which owned that finite, precious resource. Increasingly, our goal has been military and economic hegemony in the Middle East, by way of incursions into Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel/Palestine, Somalia, Western Sudan, Kashmir, the Philippines, Bosnia, Chechnya, Assam, and East Timor. Besides fighting to insure “our” cheap, reliable oil “supply,” we’ve insisted on favorable trade advantages, prevented the spread of nuclear weapons (with the exception, of course, of our own thousands of weapons, and those of our allies) and supported and protected our friend Israel, in part because such support offers us a conveniently aggressive military wedge/base into the Middle East.


Angry Muslims believe that we want to weaken and divide the Arab world, shake the foundations of Islamic belief, and dismantle the structures of Muslim society—their culture, traditions, and their approaches to justice, government, rights, and freedom, however controversial. They believe we want to lead their young people astray, control and limit their use of and profit from their resources, and emasculate and neutralize all opposition to our agenda by spreading our competing western values and influence.


Many Muslims believe that we in the West very much want to keep their countries backward, afflicted, poor and miserable, so we can more easily exploit their riches—their oil, land and human resources. They attribute America’s historical political and economic success not to a morally, economically and politically superior system of government, but to a two-hundred year exploitation of the richest swath of virgin territory and resources that the world has ever known, on the backs of slaves and slaughtered Native Americans, using a form of government primarily supportive of the growth of wealth (the U.S. was originally settled by capitalist business ventures in Jamestown, Plymouth, etc.) and backed up by a growing military force which turned next to support for similar profitable exploitations in the third world.


The West’s war against Islam is considered criminally immoral by the millions of peaceful/innocent non-“enemy” Muslims who have been the “collateral damage” of western aggressions. Like Americans, Arabs have the right to keep and/or sell their resources whenever and at whatever price they prefer. They feel their only hope is to resist and endure Western onslaughts until their undeserved suffering redemptively earns them international sympathy and respect—and/or breaks the American economy—as their resistance broke the national economies of the late great Soviet and British empires.


Muslims pray that the U.S. will lose their political will for unending war, that media backlash from our allies will eventually convince us of endless war’s tragic and wasteful effects. A survey of 47 major nations by Pew Research recently demonstrated that “global public opinion (is) increasingly wary of the world’s dominant nations (and) disapproving of their leaders. Anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been for the past five years…. Global support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism is shrinking, and distrust of American leadership and foreign policy is growing. Not only is there worldwide support for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but there also is considerable opposition to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.”


The biggest problem with fighting an endless war on terrorism is that such a war does nothing at all to resolve the terrorist problem, while creating more terrorists. Wars on terrorism are wars no one wins and everyone loses.


Nevertheless, U.S. war profiteers continue to press for expanded wars throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, opportunistically portraying Islam not as a peaceful religion practiced variously by a billion people, not as a tolerant, moderate, ancient faith with a rich tradition of scholarship, compatible with political democracy and religious pluralism, but instead, as a fundamentalist terrorist cult different from all other religions in its aggressive global political agenda, solely responsible for atrocities, civil wars, attacks on Americans, the 9/11 tragedy, and for disgusting practices such as stonings and beheadings–an “evil religion” deserving of annihilation by “the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.”


Stereotypes of Islam as a monolithic religion predisposed to violence simplify the realities of a complex, multi-faceted religion. Some Islamists, like some fundamentalist Christians, pervert what is in essence a peaceful religion, through violent cults bent on universal conversion and conquest—but we can’t blame the whole of either Islam or of Christianity for such aberrations. As in Christianity, there is simply too much diversity within Islam, which has its own versions of Jesus Freaks and criminally violent cults, but also its spiritual mystics and its vast majority of family-centered, civic-minded, peaceful—if very human—communities. As with Christianity, the educated (or uneducated) conscience of each individual Muslim determines his interpretation about “what is Islam” and what is “true Muslim practice.” Like Christians, Muslims can find congregations and leaders who support just about any strain of peaceful or reactionary religious practice, in both secular and Islamic societies.


Millions of Christians currently live in Arab countries, sharing very much the same culture as their Muslim counterparts, just as Muslims in America share much of our American culture. Unarguably, some Muslim leaders are intransigent and fearful, and some fundamentalist Muslims are as crazy as loons—just like some of our own crazy leaders and fundamentalist Christians, who would nuke whole Arab nations right now. But just because each culture has its crazies doesn’t give anyone the right to attack all Christians or all Muslims in “self-defense.” No society can prevent all senseless, tragic injustices, but we do not have to add to their sum.


Some Muslims believe an Islamic state best-suited to achieving Islamic ideals, just as Americans are partial to their own familiar political systems–however imperfect all these political systems are. Some Muslims see Al-Qaeda jihadists as legitimate martyrs, just as we honor the sacrifices and good intentions of our own fallen soldiers even when their wars are discredited. Some Muslims believe stoning and beheading to be true Islamic practices, just as some of our own Christians sects still practice exorcism, voodoo and other bloody or satanic rituals. Most otherwise-peaceful Christians would react violently if America were invaded, just as, during wartime in Arab lands, otherwise-peaceful sects react with what appears to be religiously-inspired violence, making it difficult to consistently distinguish among essentially peaceful groups.


Religion can be misused in any land, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim—to win votes, to gain political power and control, to further various nationalist and ethnic motives. Just as political electioneering in America relies upon familiar, emotion-stirring patriotic and Judeo/Christian words and images, politics in Arab lands come clothed in the garb of Islam. Like our own neoconservative opportunists, radical Islamic opportunists urge their political ideologies and associated plans—whether for a utopian future embracing Sharia law and rejecting secularism and all things foreign, or for world domination and a global empire run by international corporations—all these unscrupulous politicians (whether clerical or secular) urge their dark visions using religion as a motivator for change, and not the other way around.


In their worst forms, both Islam and Christianity encourage violence and persecution. At best, both are cooperative, tolerant religions. Surprisingly, within contemporary American society, Muslims often seem to be almost more christian than Christians, since modern Christianity has stripped down (to the distress of some and the satisfaction of others) under the influences of modern media, academia and consumer economics to the two primary commandments of “love God and love your neighbor”—while encouraging widely varying interpretations about what these two commandments might mean.


Like most traditional Christian congregations, most American Muslim congregations resist the blandishments of Western media and money which are making so many inroads into modern Christian lifestyles. Most Muslim congregations in America remain deeply devoted to traditional moral principles and values, to avoidance of evaluating people on the basis of what they produce and consume, and—for better or worse—to clearly-defined gender expectations, including a firm rejection of sodomy, pornography, gay lifestyles, abortion and birth control. American Muslims also strongly commit to generous giving, to volunteerism, large families, and to other related traditions embraced by many Christians. Islam’s firm resistance to the biblically-forbidden practice of usury (lending at interest) has long remained a thorn in the side of American capitalists.


Some Christians are concerned that American Muslims will parlay their success in resisting modern/Western temptations in order to lure new converts from Christianity, and thus conquer the West via a sort of stealth attack through immigration without assimilation. Unfortunately, such paranoia is often stoked by demagogic Christian ministers fearful of losing their congregations (and their livelihoods), pastors who might better serve their flocks, their Saviour, and God by trusting in them and turning their examples and service toward higher, more inclusive, more loving goals.


If we stop “warring” on terrorism, we can still firmly resist the crime of terrorism wherever it occurs in the world, by partnering with criminal justice organizations in all governments, most especially those in need of our good example and support.


The very best way to reverse Islamic terrorism, though, is step-by-step, the same way it was created, by reversing the causes of anti-Americanism and extremist violence. Step-by-step, we can move away from a foreign policy of violence-based international competition toward one embracing non-violent global cooperation. Neither approach to ending terrorism is simple, obvious or guaranteed. But only one has any chance of succeeding.


Our first step can be to recognize Islam’s highest priority, after the practice of their faith: to repel aggressors whom they fear will corrupt their religion or Muslim way of life. Out of respect for this principle, Western powers can withdraw their unwelcome pressure and influence along with their troops, and attend instead to the business and pleasure of dwelling and working in Islamic lands, as polite, invited guests respectful of different cultures and traditions.


We can find ways to work against religious and ethnic xenophobia, educating ourselves about historic predations in Arab lands, and promoting understanding and acceptance of Islamic perspectives.


A change of heart toward Islam can support expenditures for reparations to Iraqis and other injured parties, which will go a long way toward rebuilding good will and positive relationships among nations.


We can expand our diplomatic missions to so-called “hostile” nations, spending the money freed from foreign wars on more diplomacy and open dialogue, which will increase mutual understanding and respect, and diminish the likelihood of future wars.


We can demonstrate our good will by welcoming Iraqi refugees into the U.S., helping them create peaceful Muslim communities, and integrate into American civic life.


We can reform our own political system so that the will and welfare of the people can be heard above the demands of big business, the wealthy, corporations, lobbyists, and the military-industrial complex.


We can offer our generous support across the world only for indigenous, peaceful, representative political movements and leaders, whether or not they follow our familiar western parliamentary and constitutional models. We can promote dialogue and better understanding with regional and national organizations which have turned to violence under the pressure of wars and occupations, and together find peaceful, just solutions to conflicts.


We can work together to reduce the spread of nuclear and conventional weapons, first reducing our own to provide a convincing example.


We can purchase land in exchange for peace in Israel/Palestine, and offer our financial assistance only to peaceful leaders on all sides who reject the politics of fear and violence, who respect all ancestries, beliefs, and traditions, and who embrace inclusivity and equitability.


We can work toward respectful, peaceful, just and equitable trade relations with all nations.


We can build good will by respecting local ownership of resources, and offer our principled support in resolving problems of development, production and distribution.


We can work to redirect and downsize our military forces to those necessary only for homeland defense, reduce the global spread of arms, and end the global influence of our own home-grown American military/industrial complex.


We can generously fund the establishment and stated goals of the proposed cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace


We can reform and rebuild the U.N. into a universally trusted and respected world body, effective in furthering its noble goals.


We can fully fund national peacekeeping armies to work with the U.N. to prevent the rise of national and regional military powers, wars of aggression, war crimes, and violent interferences with the sovereignty of nations.


We can create a U.S. military health system, a sort of national Doctors Without Borders, maintaining its readiness for national emergencies (such as acts of terrorism, pandemics, natural disasters, and military invasions) by sending it everywhere else on the globe where such emergencies may occur.


We can support the most-cherished projects of the peoples of all nations whom we have formerly distrusted, misunderstood, and feared.


We can work together to build a world culture of peace and non-violent conflict resolution, a culture that fits comfortably within all religious and secular systems, that is tolerant of all religions and ideologies, that can be gradually institutionalized into international law, universally taught, and culturally supported through exchanges.


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