Veiled threats

  • 2001-10-04
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
This week U.S. President George Bush announced new security measures on all flights, including the introduction of technology to control hijacked aircraft remotely.

The measures come during a week in which the world – and the American people – are anticipating war, not new regulations on baggage check-ins at U.S. airports.

Traditionally, the United States has responded swiftly to terrorist attacks, striking within days, even if the culprit wasn't really known. When U.S. citizens become targets of terror, Americans shift into war mode and want revenge, even if it is misplaced, and, in the long run, ineffective.

Bush seems to be pursuing a different policy this time. While slowly moving forces into place and building an alliance, Bush is also hitting enemies of the U.S. financially by blocking their ability to transfer funds electronically.

The problem with all this is the U.S. doesn't really know who the terrorists behind the razing of the World Trade Center really are. If they did have clear indication in the early days, there's no doubt they would have hit them hard and fast.

While all roads clearly do point toward Osama bin Laden and associated Wahabite Islamic fundamentalist groups, there is no firm proof.

Almost as the buildings were exploding, media pundits began talking about the "sophistication" of the operation. Media commentators and U.S. politicians said early on only an operation with state support, i.e. not stateless groups fighting for a homeland, could pull off such an act. The list of suspect states appeared almost out of thin air: Iraq, Iran, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Libya. These countries have a track record of supporting anti-United States groups. They probably don't have the level of sophisticated intelligence services needed to plan and coordinate the Sept. 11 bombings.

Instead, as we learned in the days following, small groups of students spent years learning the finer points of high-rise construction and commercial piloting in order to do what they did.

Did they need state backing to enroll in public courses? They certainly needed financing, but that doesn't imply state backing.

Despite George Bush's new security measures, the United States and the rest of the world remain open targets for attack. By introducing remote control overrides on commercial flights, Bush is actually making the skies less safe, since that makes planes vulnerable to groups able to hack into such systems.

The United States and the rest of the world need to approach the fight against terrorism from a new perspective. Instead of introducing draconian laws and curbing human rights, the West can achieve more and better security by addressing the Islamic world directly, as equals. If genocide was intolerable in the 1930s Germany, in Kosovo and Bosnia of the 1980s, why is it allowable in Israel-Palestine for nearly 50 years now? The Islamic world sees the United States' double standards and hypocrisy in this regard – the Palestinians experience it daily. Democracy is a good thing, according to the West, so long as the right people get elected.

In Europe today there are smaller or larger groups of Muslims in every country. Some are traditional communities, such as the Tartars in Lithuania, but most are more recent arrivals. These newer immigrants bring with them their own cultures, often exotic and inscrutable to the communities they adopt. Just as happened with the Jews of Europe for the centuries they had a presence here, the Muslims have religious tenets that don't allow them to completely blend in with local communities.

Underneath the West's talk of tolerance, human rights and democracy there is the veiled threat that we will force the world to conform to our supposedly higher way of life. The world where America is the new Rome and all the darker-skinned people subject peoples is a poorer one in my opinion.