Religious extremism remains the world’s top enemy

Pacifying the Middle East will be a long and painful process but there is no alternative other than wasting another 16 years or more fighting shadows.

2017/09/10 Issue: 122 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
Claude Salhani

September 11 will be the 16th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon just outside Washington. Those attacks led to the beginning of the so-called war on terror as then US President George W. Bush called it.

As a handful of Middle East analysts asked at the time, how do you launch a war on terror? You can wage war on terrorism, yes; or on terrorists, yes; but terror is an emotion. Declaring war on terror is akin to waging war on fear.

As expected, these terror attacks against the United States brought about swift military ripostes, which came in the form of the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Just as Pearl Harbour had direct or indirect implications on the lives of millions of Americans, so, too, did the 9/11 attacks affect the lives of many people around the globe.

There were political and military chain reactions to various aspects of people’s daily lives, many of which continue to be felt. As a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, for example, Big Brother is every­where, watching through a vast and extended network of CCTV cam­eras. There are added security measures imposed on all travellers at airports.

Analysts have often noted similarities between the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on Decem­ber 7, 1941. There are correlations, yes, but also differences.

Official statistics state that 2,403 people — mostly US military — died in the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbour, the headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. The fatali­ties of the 9/11 attacks amounted to 2,996.

The attack on Pearl Harbour was described by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a day that will live in infamy” and drew the United States into the second world war, a conflict in which some 58 countries fought and which resulted in the death of at least 50 million people and caused millions more to become refugees.

From the outset of the war until the capitulation of Nazi Germany and Japan, six long years passed — four for the United States, which officially entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Thankfully, the fallout from September 11 is far from the casualty figures of the second world war, even if the war in Afghanistan has lasted four times longer. Unlike the raid on Pearl Harbour, which necessitated the participation of thousands of Japanese military personnel — from planners to pilots to thousands of sailors aboard the Japanese fleet in the Pacific Ocean — and the mobilisation of military hardware at the cost of billions of dollars, the 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks were armed only with box cutters and religious fervour.

Herein lies the key to resolving the Middle East conflicts: Address religious fervour. Its advocates remain very much in the battle.

Sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States remains involved militarily in one manner or another in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Americans can expect to remain so until the religious fervour is addressed. For that to happen, the countries concerned need to adjust school curricula and remove parts calling for the elimination of non-believers, including members of the Shia community.

Pacifying the Middle East will be a long and painful process but there is no alternative other than wasting another 16 years or more fighting shadows.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

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