To: Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman of the U.S. House International Relations Committee
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon were an eye opener. Firstly because of the extent of damage they caused, secondly because of the vulnerability of the best informed and equipped country in the world, and finally because of the extent of determination and savagery of the criminals responsible.
A lot has been debated by a proliferating number of “experts”. The official reaction ranged from “revenge” and “crusade” to “war against terrorism” and “criminal acts”. Other than what and how it happened little has been said about why it happened. A correct diagnosis of this unjustified resentment of the US and an accurate definition of terrorism, for a long-term solution of the problem, are still missing.
To begin with, terrorism must be defined in a generally acceptable manner so as not to cause any consternation and frustration among people. Terrorism is perceived differently by different groups and in different circumstances. When Armenians waged terror against Turks from 1880s to 1980s they were viewed as legitimate revenge and were cheered by Europeans who had ulterior motives. When Palestinians and Hamas terrorized us all they were in fact called terrorists and were rightly condemned. When Northern Ireland resorted to terror against Britain they were considered separatist nationals and were called to negotiate. When PKK killed indiscriminately in Turkey, again the European liberals called for democracy and human rights without mercy to the victims and without regard to the consequences on the regional stability. When Chechens fight for their liberation from the Russian yoke it is called terrorism but the world kept quiet for fear of the Russian wrath. When Bosnians and Kosovars fought for their independence from disintegrating Yugoslavia, just as Croats and Slovenians did, they were branded as Muslim insurgents. The different perception of these and many other terrorist acts in Spain, France, Italy, Indonesia, South America for political convenience brought us to today’s disaster. Many countries in fact even gave refuge to, trained, financed, or encouraged specific terrorist groups as part of their foreign policy. Current loose and irresponsible identification of terrorism with Islam is also wrong. It may even lead to more terror and to “a clash of cultures”. True, the current terrorists are Muslim, and they are inspired by their religion, but they are basically of Arab or Persian origin. They are using the religion as a weapon in the absence of any other power they posses. Religion is the cheapest effective arms. Our politicians and media have to stop emphasizing that the Chechen, Kosovar, or Iraqi and Afghani terrorists are Muslims. If by reference to Muslims we mean fundamentalists, we should not forget that we have fundamentalists in our midst as well. Several suicidal fanatics were killed in Guyana, San Francisco, and Waco in not too distant past. We have to fight against all fundamentalisms just as vigorously. Terrorist is terrorist, no matter what religious, national or political affiliation. As we are sensitive to secularism in our domestic affairs, we should be equally secular in our international affairs. We need, therefore, to define terrorism internationally, and be honest and consistent in its interpretation. Only then will we be credible in our war against terrorism.
As to the cause of systematic attacks on the US in particular and to the US resentment in general, the apparent reason is claimed to be the presence of Israel on so-called Arab soil. The real reason, however, lies in the frustration of the Arab and Persian world ruled by a theocratic system. These masses are ruled by the Koran instead of civil codes. This non-secular system does not allow education, science, modernization and thus progress. In short, they still live with the medieval scripture and with anachronistic norms. Continued economic despair in the midst of a steadily prospering world makes these masses angry, intolerant and violent towards the rest of the world. Instead of getting to work to better themselves so that they can compete with the advanced nations they do what they know best and easy: destroy the challenger. The advanced world is of course represented by the US. Bin Laden’s reference to 80 years of humiliation in his recent video appearance was found by many commentators as puzzling. The reference is most probably to Atatürk’s abolition of the Caliphate and the Shari’a. This unique and courageous act by Ataturk lifted the Ottoman influence and control over the vastly inexperienced and unprepared people, and exposed them to the British influence and control. That is why the original hatred is in fact against Ataturk and the British. Israel is an excuse, Islam is the weapon, and the high profile target is the US.
The US is unfairly identified with the historical wrongdoings of the old world. Especially when the US is so closely associated with Britain. We have to admit that on occasions we unquestioningly followed the UK policies without taking into account that Europe’s imperialistic, colonial, nationalist, socialist, quarrelsome, selfish past still has an effect on the developing world, as well as on Europe’s policies. Our association with the problems of the old world has already cost us two world wars and several foreign policy failures. Whereas until after WWII, the US was regarded as the young, idealist, just, and benevolent leader of the new nations, a savior for the poorer nations. Having associated itself too closely with the defunct imperialists of Europe in the Cold War period the US came to be perceived as European ideology’s representative and protector.
Therefore there are two distinct aspects to this problem: the non-secular regimes, and the image of the US as the protector of the old colonial countries. We should pursue the following course:
1-A campaign of secular democracy must be undertaken in the non-secular Arab and Persian nations. Although such reforms would best succeed if launched by a courageous national leader the possibility of a repeat of the genius of Ataturk is very remote. Therefore, the US could follow the same democracy campaign that it did to win the Cold War. However, in the Cold War the adversaries were non-democratic but secular countries. In the New War secular regime and secular education must be the basic component of the campaign for democracy. Ataturk’s reforms implemented in founding the Turkish Republic could serve us as model.
2-The US should play the role of a fair and independent advisor and helper of the world left behind our own fast pace. We should act as Americans, not as West in association with Europe in general and with Britain in particular. We should reassume our old image and role of neutral and helpful Americans. In doing so we have to be careful not to appear as imposing our own culture (McDonalds, Disney, Hollywood, etc.) on the Muslims. Furthermore, to be credible and to gain their trust we have to be consistent in our policy of secularism. The use of double standards for political convenience or for short-term economic interests will defeat our efforts. We must stop supporting the autocrats of the Shari’a regimes, as we did not support communist dictators. This will mean sacrifice on our part of oil products. But no war can be won without sacrifices. There are other oil countries in fact with which we did not diligently pursue a closer relation after the demise of the Soviet hegemony. Closer ties with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan may also help us to win them away from the Russian influence, which Russia is already beginning to reassert. A case in point is Georgia where Russia was to close its military bases by last July. It did not. Instead, while taking advantage of War on Terrorism, it is preparing to invade Georgia on the pretext of Abkhaz and Chechen “terrorism”. We also have to be very cautious about not having an ulterior motive of establishing a political influence or of exploiting the local resources (just as the colonials did). We also have to stay clear from appearing to help one local political faction or another. Recent history shows that involvement in support for independence or nation building catches us between two fires. Let us not have any illusion about it, by mopping up the Taliban we will be presenting Afghanistan to Russia in a silver tray. We are in fact fighting the war that they could not win, just as we did in Viet-Nam the one that French could not win. Therefore, we should not get in the quagmire of nation building in Afghanistan after we complete our operation. Our economic and financial aid policies must be contingent upon solely secular democracy and secular education.
The Executive Board of The Ataturk Society of America