Aim at the Terrorists' Aims

IHT September 25

OXFORD, England: Terror is winning. No effort is being spared to plan to strike back against terrorists but recognizing and countering the primary objective of terrorism is being given scant attention.

The bin Ladens of the world are not primarily driven by blood lust. Spectacular massacres are just a means to an end. That end, like that of 19th century anarchists, is confusion, the disruption of the status quo, the undermining of societies and economic relationships. How have they been faring since the Sept. 11 devastation? In no particular order we find:

The U.S. economy is in sharp retreat, with production falling due to fear of flying, traffic disruption, collapse of consumer sentiment in the face of talk of a long war and "clash of civilizations." Already economic losses are many times greater than the physical losses inflicted by the attack.

Fears are becoming globally contagious, the economic downturns self-fulfilling. The cascade effect is beginning to undermine the assumptions of globalization. The contribution to world prosperity provided by the post-Cold War, U.S.-led push toward global economic integration is at risk. Free flow of capital is under scrutiny, and opposition to free trade escalates as recession spreads. That is just the erosion of a U.S.-$ led world order that Osama bin Laden wants.

For all the efforts of political leaders to avoid casting Muslims generally as scapegoats, a nasty rift may be emerging between the majority and the 7 million strong minority in America's midst. That could spread to Europe. Sept. 11 is already bringing about calls for much tighter restrictions on immigration. As in 1941, liberal traditions may be the losers from popular anger. Another win for Mr. bin Laden.

After the initial sharing of horror, strains are emerging between the United States and its allies in Europe, Latin America and Asia over the correct response, and over the broader aims of the "war on terrorism." Again, Mr. bin Laden must be pleased.

Key governments in the Muslim world are running scared of local reactions to the U.S. reaction, whatever that may be. High on the list is Saudi Arabia. If Mr. bin Laden has one objective other than creation of chaos, it is the destruction of the Western-oriented but feudal regimes of the Arab world. Everywhere in the region, including key countries like Egypt and Turkey, the opposition uses Islam as a banner. Overreaction to his "threat" could produce the revolutionary atmosphere Mr. bin Laden wants.

The shock waves go further east to populous Islamic countries hitherto remote from Middle Eastern passions. The danger within Pakistan is obvious. Less so is the potential of a prolonged struggle to destabilize Indian domestic politics, encouraging the anti-Islam fanatics in the Hindu movement and turning India's 100 million Muslims toward extremism. The possibility of overt conflict over Kashmir has increased. Indonesia's commitment to a secular system, religious balance and an open economy survived the Asian economic crisis and transition from Suharto to democracy. But with the world's largest Muslim community, the last thing its new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, needs is a cause around which radical Islam might rally.

I viewed the attack from Chicago, felt the aftermath in New York and here have heard global experts at the annual gathering of Oxford Analytica. It is clear that collateral damage is being noted but seldom seen as the core of the terrorists' aims. We are told that the world has changed, which generates fears out of all proportion to dangers. (It is many times safer to travel by air than by car.) Apart from intelligence systems and airline security, what needs radical change?

It may be painful to accept, but killing Americans was just a means to a bigger end. Events since Sept. 11 - global reactions - have served Mr. bin Laden's purpose. Fear, war hysteria, consumer retreat, international suspicions and communal tensions are the trap.

Desire for revenge is natural. Punishment of the guilty is desirable. But the self-interest of the living - preservation of our systems, avoidance of fear, addressing of the resentments that are the sea in which terrorists swim - must come first. Reactions must be judged by their consequences for confounding the aims of terror. Otherwise, even if the battle to punish is won, the "war" against those aims will be lost.


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