Osama bin Laden is dead; but terrorism isn’t. Many leaders and commentators – in the West and on the ground in Afghanistan – are quick to remind us of the fact.
Those who jubilantly shout his death as a victory need to remember that there are at least as many in the world who are angered by his execution. Yes, the evil unleashed by prophets of hatred who justify the killing of thousands of innocents must be confronted. But also cured.
Soon after the 9/11 tragedy, Tim Costello, the President of World Vision Australia, spoke at an IofC conference in Sydney urging that we see the ‘war on terror’ as something like the ‘war on malaria’. Ultimately the ‘pools of injustice’ which are the breeding grounds of terrorism have to be drained of their toxic load. World Vision, along with many others, does its part to drain those pools.
Brave American soldiers, highly trained and backed with years of sophisticated intelligence-gathering, carried out the operation to finish off bin Laden. Another brave American, Greg Mortensen, backed by networks of generous Americans, has spent years operating virtually alone with local Afghans and Pakistanis, building schools for 60,000 children – both boys and girls – in remote poverty-stricken parts of those countries. Few of his critics in the US media, who question some of his claims, have ventured into any of the hostile areas Mortensen has worked in. Another American ‘soldier’ (as he calls himself), Professor Judea Pearl, responded to the gruesome execution by terrorists in Pakistan of his son, journalist Daniel Pearl, by launching a series of robust dialogues with Muslims across America. ‘I am fighting the hatred that took Danny’s life,’ says Pearl, ‘and dialogue is my weapon.’
When as much intelligence, resources and effort is put into the approaches of these Americans as is currently being put into the military ‘war on terrorism’, progress will be made.
But curing terrorism goes even deeper. ‘This is an ideological war,’ said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Interviewed on Al Jazeera, he said bin Laden’s death would not ‘bring stability to the region. It was not just Osama bin Laden fighting.’
In labeling and confronting 'evil empires', let us remember that in the perspective of many histories, told and retold across generations, few nations are totally clear of blame. Two and a half million have died in 30 years of war between the south and north of Sudan. But as many Sudanese will tell you today, it was colonial Britain who divided the country in 1922, forbidding Arabs to travel further south than the 10th parallel to spread their Muslim faith, while African southerners being Christianized could not cross the 8th parallel northwards. And now we bemoan that Christian/ Muslim conflict. Yet the ‘war on terrorism’ is too often fought with the same mindset.
In Kenya recently, I was told by a Congolese teacher ‘to update your awareness of African realities’. Admitting I was new to Africa, I asked him to educate me on why four million have died in the DRC in the last 10 years. A three hour history lesson ensued, detailing decades of Western domination and interference, driven largely by competing interests in DRC’s rich mineral resources. It was, perhaps, a biased view of history from an exiled former student leader. But such narratives breed radicalism in many places. Let us not forget that the 9/11 attacks targeted the World Trade Centre with intentional viciousness.
So rather than triumphalism over Osama’s death, this is a time to double the dialogue with ‘the other’ – whoever regards us with hostility and blame.
Rather than assembling a gallery of tyrants and terrorists to assure ourselves who is ‘the enemy’, now is the time for those who speak in the name of freedom and democracy to really practise it, and to repair their own record of it.
And rather than buttressing security for ‘just us’, now is the time to build an inclusive justice and security for all. So it is appropriate that the 4th Caux Forum for Human Security, organized by Initiatives of Change in Switzerland this July, shifts the focus from military to human security, fixing on vital components such as healing wounded memories, just governance, living sustainably, inclusive economics and intercultural dialogue.
But it doesn’t need to limited to a meeting in Switzerland.
Mike Brown has been active in the Australian reconciliation movement between Aboriginal people and the wider population. In 2000 he received the 'Non-Indigenous Person of the Year' award in his State. Since 2001 he has been one of the coordinators of Action for Life, an inter-generational community of 40 people from 21 countries moving through Asia.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.