A convenient target
Let us assume that thousands of missiles fall on Afghanistan on Tuesday morning. Waves upon waves of attack planes will bombard this poor country, whose citizens want only to grow their hashish and opium in peace and live their lives according to the rules set for them by God's direct delegates.
Let us assume that thousands of missiles fall on Afghanistan on Tuesday morning. Waves upon waves of attack planes will bombard this poor country, whose citizens want only to grow their hashish and opium in peace and live their lives according to the rules set for them by God's direct delegates. Let us assume that hundreds of clay houses and tents inhabited by the Afghan peasants will be ground to dust and their beasts of burden will be dispersed across the mighty Hindu Rush mountains.
How will this attack, which will definitely provide an impressive performance for the television networks, wipe out the "nests" of terrorism which can currently be found in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Egypt's southern cities, on Saudi Arabi's streets of resistence, in the red-bricked houses of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, where those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole are hiding out, and perhaps even in a couple of prestigious neighborhoods in Miami?
The world's willingness to go to war against Afghanistan in the name of America's demand that Osama bin Laden be extradited, is based on the trust that the world's leaders are willing to place in the American intelligence services. But these are the very same agencies that failed to prevent these attacks and did not know that a network of dozens, if not hundreds, of terrorists was at work under their very noses.
Attacking Afghanistan will be like painting a target around a convenient, pre-defined bull's eye. If the attack succeeds in assassinating bin Laden or at the very least, convincing Afghanistan to hand him over, this will be a big success for a military operation, but not for a war against terrorism. It may, for a time, be true that they managed to "cut off the snake's head" as the cliche goes, but what happens afterward? Moreover, what if this great attack does not destroy that target known as bin Laden.
The matter of targetted assassinations, as Israel, too, has learned, does not even provide the satisfaction of revenge. Regarding terrorism as a war against one man or one group against the entire world, or against an occupying force, is a mistake. Terrorism is a means, not an ideology, and in any case one cannot fight ideology by killing its flag bearers. They immediately become a martyr, or shahid or tortured saint, depending on their religion, and immediately, someone will name streets, squares or houses of prayer in their honor.
Mass destruction of the sort Afghanistan is about to experience if it does not hand over bin Laden "dead or alive," is even worse. Not just because of what will happen to Afghanistan, which is horrendous in itself, but because the United States and the West will lose the moral grounds for its call to battle terrorism. There will after all be those who will comment, "What more does America want? They destroyed its Twin Towers and it in return destroyed a Muslim state." A nice profit and loss ratio for most. The road from here to the Muslim world identifying with Afghanistan will be a short one.
Indeed, this is the fundamental dilemma of those battling terrorism: How does one respond to an act of terrorism without being considered as fighting against an entire culture, from which one wild cell with a twisted ideology has come? How does one separate between a movement with principles, and its murderous interpreters? How much are the ideologies actually responsible for, and where does the line of interpreters begin and which of them must carry the blame?
Since we are already dealing with the question of the morals of war, it is worth mentioning that the Afghans, or at least their leaders born out of the Taleban movement, are not great Muslim sages. Far from it. Most Islamic arbiters have come out against their practices.
Moreover, most of the Western oil companies actually believed that they are the best bet for the state's security, for its peace and stability, and most importantly, for the safety of the gas and oil pipe that runs from Turkmenistan to Pakistan. The U.S. administration did not have a problem with the Afghan ruler Mullah Omar's policies toward women or antique religious artifacts. Now all the administration wants is the head of that murdering guest, and then the Afghans can go back to beheading citizens as they wish. The terrorist state does not hold that much interest, but it will be destroyed if it does not hand over the terrorist that so interests the States.