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"Ten Ways to Look at What Happened"

September 18, 2001: This message was distributed by Papyrus News. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For info on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.

Here's a perspective below on what happened that is quite distant from that of Edward Said: a short commentary by Michael Radu of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. I just want to add a couple of brief comments.

Radu's use of the term "fundamentalist" is problematic. Most devout Muslims believe in the fundamentals of the Quran, but only a subset follow the radical Islamist political agenda. And indeed, this extremist political agenda is actually at odds with a fundamentalist reading of Islam; for example, there is nothing in the Quran mandating that women must keep their faces covered. The academic term for the political movement that Radu refers to is not "fundamentalism" but rather "Islamism" (Islamist) or "Islamicism" (Islamicist). Occasionally the term "radical Islam" is used a substitute. Islamist refers not to the religion of Islam but to a political movement that has tried to seize power in a number of countries, sometimes with success (e.g., Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan), and often resorting to extreme violent means (e.g., terrorist opposition movements in Algeria and Egypt). Ironically, in some ways Islamism has been on the defensive lately, for example in Iran, where more moderate forces are on the ascendancy, and in Egypt, where the Islamist opposition movement started to lose power after its turn to mass violence. In this sense, Bin Laden's strategy, which is often referred to as "mindless violence", is not mindless at all. The Bin Laden network seeks to win Muslim support by turning the main guns against the US. So, the Egyptian groups, such as Islamic Jihad, have been persuaded by Bin Laden to send people to training camps in Afghanistan and join the anti-US jihad, rather than continuing to isolate themselves through assaults on the Egyptian government. Presumably attacks on Arab governments will follow later, after these governments have been "exposed" for siding with the US against Bin Laden.

For a good brief introduction to Islamism, over-optimistically entitled Islamism: R.I.P., see

One other point that Radu makes is that "Russia's protectorates in Central Asia" are all Turkik speakers, hinting that this might encourage their political alliance with Turkey (and, indeed, Turkey has actively worked to promote its economic and political influence in Central Asia). However the linguistic map there is more complex than that. The majority of the people in four of the five Central Asian republics (Turkestan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Kirgistan) do speak Turkish dialects (though not Turkish itself), but, in one of these four countries, Uzbekistan, there is a sizeable minority of people who speak Persian dialects. In addition, the language of the fifth Central Asian country, Tajikistan, is a Persian language (Tajik). The Persian-speaking Tajikistan has just refused permission to the US to land its ground forces there. The Uzbek (turkik) - speaking Uzbekistan, with a minority of Persian speakers and also facing a small but militant internal Islamist movement, has extended a welcome to US forces. Whether in this case there is an overlap between the linguistic and the political, I do not know.


Note: I have reformatted the following piece's line length:
Archivist's note: I have formatted what follows for html - Vance


by Michael Radu

As the nation -- or nations, since some 40 countries lost citizens in the New York City attacks -- recovers from the immediate shock and outrage over the events of September 11, it is necessary to understand the phenomenon that led to the atrocities, lest our response be incomplete or misguided.

1. This is not a war between the West and Islam but between the West and a large segment of the Islamic world, the fundamentalist minority. For the fundamentalists, the problem is not U.S. policy toward Israel, the Gulf, or anywhere else, the problem is the United States itself -- not what we do, but who we are.

2. While Arab leaders and our own leaders are right to admonish us to avoid confusing Muslims with terrorists, the fact is there are no known cases of contemporary mass terrorism in the name of Judaism, Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. There thus appears to be something in Islam that allows the likes of the Taliban or bin Laden to thrive. Only the Muslims themselves can root it out. What America needs from the Islamic world far more than military or political support is for Muslims themselves -- from the smallest mosques in New York City, Peshawar, or Hamburg to the largest in Mecca -- to read the fundamentalists out of Islam. In the long run, the most effective counter-terrorist force - - potentially -- is Muslims who proclaim that terrorism is anti-Islamic.

3. It is said that Pakistani President Musharaf sees Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk," the builder of modern Turkey, as his model. Let us hope that is true, and that more Muslim leaders see Ataturk as a model. For Turkey alone in the Middle East has succeeded in demonstrating that Islam and Western political values are not incompatible. It is ironic, in this respect, that our European friends often think that Ankara's crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism is an infringement on human rights.

4. Speaking of our European friends, their expressions of solidarity cannot help but move us all. Let us hope, however, that we don't find ourselves debilitated by unrelenting objections over strategy and tactics, or, even worse, the attempt to solve the "root causes" of terrorism - the surest path to retreat. It was not a European, however, but a prominent American professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky, who interpreted the events of September 11 as "an atrocity answering American atrocities."

5. There are innumerable Islamic terrorist cells throughout Western Europe taking advantage, as they do in the United States, of democracy's openness. When we hear that some Islamic leaders in England or Germany still preach support for the perpetrators of the crimes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania -- and do so publicly -- one has to wonder. When dozens, or hundreds, of Islamic terrorists indicted or even sentenced for crimes in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and so on are still being given asylum in Western Europe, one has to question how serious our allies are. What we need to know from the Europeans is whether they are in this for the long haul and whether they are prepared to take stiff measures to stem the terrorist threat. Judging from the European press, not all the signs are encouraging, for the Atlantic may be wider than we thought.

6. President Bush has described the terrorist attack and its aftermath as "a different kind" of war. How "different" is it? To begin with, it is a protracted conflict in which the distinction between domestic and foreign, police and military, can no longer be made. It is a seamless conflict in which the link between the internal and international operations has a clear name -- intelligence. Indeed, in the long run, the most important and decisive role is going to be played not by the military but by institutions that Western democracies do not normally see as associated with war: police and intelligence. The U.S. and allied militaries obviously have an important role in the short term, but ultimately this is a war to be won or lost on the streets of New York, London, Hamburg and Paris, by innumerable policemen and plainclothes FBI and other security personnel, as well as by plainclothes men of the Jordanian, Egyptian, and Algerian secret services.

7. Legislation has to be dramatically changed in Washington as well as Ottawa, Brussels, Strasbourg, and all the EU member states. If this war is to be won, the European obsession with American death penalty legislation has to give way to higher priorities, such as extraditing or putting down terrorists for good. The politically correct campaign in Europe and the United States against "racial profiling" has to stop: after all, looking for tall, blond and blue-eyed persons in order to stop Middle Eastern terrorism makes no sense.

8. The terrorists of New York have many potential allies in the anti-globalization movement who share anti-capitalist, anti- democratic, and anti-Western ideas. It is not that the "anti-globalists" are terrorists, or even support them, but they will likely oppose the tough anti-terrorist measures that are required to meet the threat.

9. In the short run, the military questions most often mentioned are targeting, logistics, and numbers. The targets could be limited, at least initially, to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden leadership. One has to remember that many, probably most Afghans, are at least tired of, if not hostile to, the Taliban rule. The notion that myriads of Afghans, plus some refugees in camps in Iran or Pakistan, would join the "jihad" requested by the Taliban is probably nonsense; it may well be a call to war few would rally around. Logistically, Pakistan, Russia, and Russia's protectorates in Central Asia (all of whom are Turkic speakers) are the keys for a ground operation. That operation has to be short, sharp, and effective. At the same time, we must get out the word to the Afghan people that the Taliban rulers and their criminal guests are the enemy, not the Afghans themselves. Many Afghans would cooperate with the U.S. if that understanding is clear in their own minds, and if the idea of an American occupation of Afghanistan is dispelled beforehand.

10. Ultimately, this is a protracted conflict, to be won by Western police, intelligence, and military forces, with the vital support of Muslim intelligence resources. It is not, as I said earlier, a war between Islam and the West, though irrationality and fear could make it so. And, whether we like it or not, the map of the Islamic world is going to be different from what it is today -- politically and culturally.

This said, we should not forget that international terrorism is not limited to Islamist fanatics, even if they are the most numerous, best organized, and widespread. There are still the Basque Euskadi ta Askatsuna (ETA), the Irish Republican Army, and the Tamil Tigers lurking in the shadows, planning murder and mayhem in many countries, and receiving support from many more. They are part of the enemy in this war.

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Last updated: September 20, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0