This morning at approximately 9AM local time, four bombs exploded near the center of London -- three in the subway, and another one on a double-decker bus. As of 10AM or so Los Angeles time, nearly 50 dead bodies had been removed from the blast sites, and nearly 1000 people were being treated for injuries, some very serious. While British officials say they don't know for sure who is responsible, a previously unknown group calling itself "The Secret Organization Group of Al-Qa'idah of Jihad Organization in Europe" has claimed responsibility on a website known to be trafficked by terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. A translation from the folks at Wikipedia:
My heart goes out to the people of London, and all of Great Britain, especially those personally affected by the loss of a loved-one or friend. I hope with all my might that the death toll stays relatively low, and that all those injured enjoy a speedy recovery.
That said, let me announce what we are all thinking at this moment: we are not winning the war on terror.
In 2004, terror attacks rose from around 200 (as reported for 2003) to either 651 or 3,192 (according to U.S. government reports), depending upon what you call a "terror attack" (the former number includes only "significant" attacks, and does not include "domestic" attacks, such as those by Chechen rebels against Russian passenger airliners, or Abu Sayyaf rebels against a Philippine ferry). That's either a huge (3+ times) or a gigantic (15+ times) increase in terror attacks year-over-year, despite the nearly $300 billion boondoggle in Iraq which Bush, Cheney and their ilk insist is the main front in their "war on terror." (For those with short memories, the Bush administration initially tried to squash those reports back in April of this year, claiming they were "irrelevant.") Based upon these numbers alone, we are not only not winning the war on terror, we are losing it. Badly.
So, why are we not winning the war on terror? We've got 130,000 troops in Iraq, thousands in Afghanistan, a new Department of Homeland Security, increased powers for the FBI and CIA, and multiple prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere teeming with "terrorists" and "unlawful combatants." We've killed (again, depending upon the source) anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans (many of whom were actually shooting at us). How could we not be winning?
The answer is easy: it's because there is no war on terror. How can there be? Terror is an idea, an emotion, not a country or a cohesive group of individuals. We are losing the war on terror for the same reason we in the U.S. are losing the war on drugs, or the war on poverty: you can't kill drugs, or poverty, or terror. And war is about killing, or at least capturing. No matter how many drug dealers you kill or jail, there will always be more, because demand, and prices, are high and we do little or nothing to help people who are addicted. No matter how many people you kick off the welfare rolls, poverty remains, because we refuse to enact real social reform which demands job opportunities with living wages for everyone, and an equal share for all of the social pie. And no matter how many terrorists we kill or jail, there will always be more lining up behind them, because we cannot admit that our wrong-headed foreign policies are part of what create terrorists in the first place.
Look, I'm not saying that, by pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we will stop terrorism. That's just foolishness -- the wars in and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are just two complaints of the specific terror groups who are currently targeting the west. But these terrorist groups are attacking us not because, as George Bush simplistically states, "they have evil in their hearts" and they hate our "values," but in specific response to a whole host of U.S. and western foreign policies: the oppression of Palestinians, the U.S. support of dictatorial military regimes in places like Pakistan, the stationing of foreign troops on what is considered holy land in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the recent and ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on and on. All of these add up to what groups like Al Qaeda believe is a western attempt at destroying and/or colonizing Muslims and their homelands. In short, groups like Al Qaeda do their best to destroy us because they believe we are out to destroy Islam. And, rather than make attempts to show that our actions are not meant to destroy Islam, that we do not have an agenda of destruction and occupation, we instead play right into their hands by adopting the "war" metaphor, by bombing their villages, by killing them (and their innocent brethren), by jailing and torturing them, by calling them "evil," and declaring that we will not stop until they are eradicated. And by "them," I mean not the actual people who perpetrated the acts of terror, but rather military combatants, non-military combatants and civillians, along with the occaisional terror suspect. And these people are not a powerful nation like the U.S. or Great Britain -- the only way they can conceive of to fight back is through isolated incidents of terror, aimed at creating fear and driving a political message.
It's easy to see why we resort to the "war" metaphor. War is something we understand. War is something (supposedly) we are good at (though, in the last half a century, we've lost as many as we've won). And it is okay to use metaphor to explain complicated issues. But this is more than a metaphor, and it is long past time that someone realizes we cannot stop terrorism through military means -- we cannot win a military war on terror. Only through diplomacy, though political change (not forcible regime change through military action), through thorough re-evaluation of our foreign policy and a renewed large-scale effort to give help to those in need rather than squandering our resources raining fire on those we fear, will we ever be able to put even a dent in terrorism. But we will never eradicate it completely, so we must also concentrate on security, far more seriously than we have in the past.
Last, let me say I am not siding with terrorists. Killing, of innocent civilians especially, is never justified, not in the Koran, not in the Bible, not by any generally accepted religious or secular ethical ideal. Those who commit these crimes, those who plan them, those who support the criminals, should be hunted down, rounded-up, given fair trial, and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But at the same time, we have to look at how these criminals come to be who they are, what drives a whole group of people to such desperation that bombing of commuter trains seems a reasonable response to a perceived injustice and, even as we prosecute the perpetrators, we must address the true causes of terrorism: inequality, oppression, poverty, desperation. We must head terrorism off at the pass, not by forcibly westernizing those nations we fear might one day be capable of supporting it, but by addressing the issues which cause the desperation and fear from which terrorism grows. If we can manage to turn our war on terror into a worldwide quest for human dignity, we can maybe, just maybe, begin to turn the tide. But in following our current course, we have little or no chance of winning anything save ongoing misery for ourselves and all the people of the world.
Let us learn from the September 11, 2001, from March 11, 2004, from July 7, 2005, and let's try a different approach because, clearly, our current one is not working.