A Better Way to Fight Terrorism

The U.S. government is telling us that we have entered a new war, one that may last for years, even decades. If that is so, we are beginning with the wrong strategy.

Let’s be clear: There is never any justification for the kind of terrorism we witnessed this summer at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The world is full of grievances, real and imagined. But the taking of innocent life in response to those grievances is never morally acceptable. Never.

Terrorists, by definition, seek extreme solutions. And Islamic extremists who have perpetrated terrorist violence appeal to deeply held Arab resentments and grievances. They view the American military presence in Saudi Arabia as a religious offense to the sacred sites of Islam. They regard the United States as the primary backer of Israel that refuses to demand that the Israeli government accommodate Palestinian rights and comply with the peace process. They regard the United States as an ally of unpopular Arab regimes. Finally, terrorist networks represented by people like Osama bin Laden envision a Muslim theocracy forcibly uniting the Islamic world, imposing its strict religious regime on the entire region, and consolidating Middle East oil reserves.

That’s a frightening vision for the people of the Middle East as well as the rest of us, and is at odds with the true principles of Islam. The question is, What is the most appropriate and effective response? The United States has decided upon a unilateral military strategy to counter such terrorism and, indeed, go on the offensive. That is a moral and political mistake.

Military responses generally have not been effective in combating terrorism. The full force of the Soviet army was unable to defeat the guerrillas bunkered down in the mountains of Afghanistan. Why do we think the United States can be successful in defeating the same people now become anti-American terrorists? Where has a purely military strategy worked?

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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