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18 November 2001 | #48

Nature of the Challenge of Terrorism

911+ Quesions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 1)

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Part 1 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)

Challenges to civilization

Is the real challenge for civilization one of exacting punitive measures on the perpetrators of a crime or is it one of recognizing and correcting the patterns of our individual and collective behaviour that engendered that crime?

How can the horror of the millions of innocent people who die prematurely around the world (or who live horrendous daily lives of degrading impoverishment and injustice) be adequately recognized in the face of the legitimate media focus on the horror of the recent suicidal attacks causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people?

To what degree might the call upon the international community to commemorate the tragic death of thousands be considered by some as a regrettable insult to the far greater numbers whose tragic deaths in recent years have gone uncommemorated and unremembered? Where are the international memorials to the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica, and the disappearances in Latin America?

How can a civilized world reconcile the worldviews of the innocent people -- who inadvertently exacerbate the lifestyle impoverishment of others -- with those of people who cold-bloodedly attack the symbols of what they perceive to be instrumental in the suffering of millions of innocents?

Who sympathizes with the condition of those in distant countries and slums whose suffering goes unbroadcast by the media?

Does history suggest that any worldwide war -- even "against terrorism" -- can be targetted and contained? Will those who lost relatives and close friends really feel better if a Third World War becomes the price for vengeance?

Is the US-led coalition effectively starting a Third World War -- against the Third World? Could World War II be understood as implicating the Second World, whereas only World War I was effectively limited to the First World?

Challenge to collective intelligence

In a society requiring an increasing focus on knowledge and its management, when the intelligence services refer to any "exchange of intelligence" between allies, how is the "intelligence" to be distinguished from "information" as opposed to "knowledge"?

What kind of strategic thinking is called for in the new century in the light of the attacks? Is a strategic response using the old tools not simply an effort to postpone the need for such fundamentally new kinds of thinking?

How should the new thinking required be distinguished from that of the many recent calls for "new paradigm" approaches and "new thinking"? Has the attack added new dimensions to what is required? Have advocates of "new paradigm thinking" been relevant to elaboration of new strategy?

One specialist in networks (Scott Boorman) has explored the successes of go-inspired thinking in Chinese revolutionary strategy in response to the chess-inspired binary thinking that inspired western strategy -- notably at the time of the Vietnam war. Will the current crisis help the west learn to move beyond binary thinking?

Terrorist groups can be usefully considered as symptoms of an underlying civilizational malaise. Is endeavouring to eliminate symptoms a typical error associated with western allopathic medicine -- when the systemic challenge calls for a focus on causes as exemplified by homeopathic styles of therapy? Both may be necessary, but how is the balance to be struck between them?

How should a necessary balance be struck between unambiguous fix-it "binary" approaches and the complexities of responding to a societal malaise? Within what framework can such a balance be articulated and understood?

What new kinds of out-of-the-box thinking are required in preparation for the "unthinkable" threats of the future and the "unthinkable" responses that can usefully be envisaged? Does "unthinkable" necessarily have to involve violence or might it involve some more creative approaches to remedial strategies? Where might such strategies be sought?

What kind of strategy is demanded of the first war of the 21st century and do those trained for wars of the past have the mental flexibility and imagination for the new style of warfare?

Just as the attack, and the loose network nature of the organization of the attackers, force recognition of the need for a new kind of war, do the systemic ills of planetary civilization that engender such attacks also force recognition of new kinds of strategies in response to them? Which international body is capable of recognizing this and acting on it?

Are any questions being asked by the US-led coalition which lead to answers that avoid reinforcing existing dysfunctional patterns?

Is there any intergovernmental or other intelligence group whose advice is sought on strategic initiatives that are subtler than the "binary", "first order", "linear" responses currently articulated to the public?

Beyond "binary logic" and the "excluded middle", how is it that some non-western cultures move flexibly between "A", "Not-A", "A-and-Not-A", "Neither-A-nor-Not-A"? How does this lack of flexibility incapacitate western thinking?

Is it the so-called "irrationality" of "women" (and non-male thinking) that sustains the repressed non-binary skills in western society?

How would subtler and more complex responses be rendered credible to policy-makers and citizens systematically conditioned to focus on knee-jerk strategies? How would they be distinguished from pro-terrorist opposition to government policies?

After more than a week of bombing Afghanistan, generals conducting the campaign argued that they "need more intelligence" in order to decide how usefully to continue it (Guardian, 15 October 2001). What kind of "intelligence" might that be?

Pressed by public opinion to start bombing Afghanistan, the administration and its military advisers deluded themselves about the ease and speed with which air strikes would lead to the collapse of the Taliban regime (Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian, 30 October 2001). In what other ways might their strategists be deluding themselves?

Who is reflecting on the symbolic nature of any response to ensure that, whether "brought to justice" or not, the symbolic war is not in the end "won" by the attackers? How is "winning" to be understood in a symbolic war -- especially in the light of the best of eastern martial arts? How is such thinking to be contrasted with the mindsets conventionally brought to war propaganda and psy-ops?

As a result of the attack, the movie and TV industry in the USA has already shifted into crisis re-evaluation of the support that its products give to destructive imagination by suggestively pre-figuring aspects of attack scenarios. Is it possible that equivalent imaginative energy might also be devoted to rethinking American foreign policy to remove features that evoke destructive responses? Would this be a useful role for the media -- if other disciplines lack the necessary imagination? [Such a meeting was held for these reasons at the Institute for Creative Technologies in the University of Southern California in the first week of October 2001]

Are strategic advisers to the western coalition at all worried that its leaders may not understand the threat facing the western world as a result of their intervention and the response that it may engender? Is it appropriate to consider that it is a traditional conflict against a localized, well-identified enemy -- rather than against an invisible, dispersed, global network? (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 31 October 2001)

After dropping some 3,000 bombs on Afghanistan -- and recognizing that the strategy was faced with an "intelligence vacum" -- might it be said that there is an inverse correlation between the quantity of bombs dropped and the collective intelligence supporting that strategy?

Why is intelligence gathering by the intelligence services so closely associated with corruption, bribery, intimidation and torture? How is this reconciled with the values of "democracy" and "freedom" that these services claim to be acting to protect?

Can the world's richest nation discover no way of influencing the world's third poorest nation other than by making war on it? Is the main feature of the War against Terrorism a stunning lack of imagination? (Eleanor Rees, Independent, l November 2001)

In rejecting multi-lateralism, how can the most powerful be helped to recognize the challenge of "lateral thinking" in contrast to "uni-lateral thinking"? How can imaginative lateral thinking help to interweave the roles of uni-lateralism and multi-lateralism?

Dissent, democracy and civilization

How are the values of the US-led coalition to be distinguished from "universal values", from traditional "western values", and from "American values"? What of "non-western values"? How can space be created for dissidence in modern civilization?

To what degree can the US-led response "in defence of democracy" be considered to be sanctioned by democratic processes -- given the marginalization of the UN, the lack of democratic consultation by other governments, and the much-questioned procedures through which George Bush was himself elected? How should this be reconciled with criticism of nongovernmental organizations as lacking any democratic mandate?

The Mayor of New York, in addressing the UN General Assembly, argued (1 October 2001): "This was not just an attack on the city of New York, it was an attack on the very idea of a free, inclusive and civil society, a direct assault on the founding principles of the United Nations itself. This vicious attack places in jeopardy the whole purpose of the United Nations". Will the mayors of other cities around the world be invited in future to address that august body when they experience deaths of 6,000 people caused by vicious attacks against innocents? Was the Mayor of Srebrenica invited to address that body following the massacre of a greater number in the UN safe haven? Why not?

If the Mayor of New York has been awarded a knighthood by the British government, why should the mayors of other cities that have survived disasters not be so honoured? The mayors of Srbrenica and Bhopal perhaps?

In the USA alone, three newspaper columnists and one TV talkshow have been suspended because of comments considered insufficiently reverential towards the President's war aims. Is the atmosphere of tension being deliberately used within western countries to limit criticism of leaders? If careless talk costs lives, does careless censorship not cost democracy? (Mark Lawson, Guardian, 13 October 2001)

Who decided that no gruesome pictures of the World Trade Center site were to be published anywhere? Was it a kind of self-censorship by media executives who concluded these images would be too demoralizing for the country? (Susan Sontag, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

What lessons are to be learnt from the treatment of dissidence in communist societies and dictatorships?

Will forcing through more and stricter police and state powers, further constraining civil liberties and human rights provisions, serve to protect democratic freedoms?

People I speak to are alarmed at the prospect of Americans giving up their civil liberaties. It's one of the organizing principles of their society. How will their society hold together without it? (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

How is a new balance between openness and security to be developed and maintained?

Why do so many people who have been the beneficiaries of liberal freedoms -- and claim to stand for "democracy and freedom" -- have so little faith in them when they are put to the test?

Is there a fundamental danger to civilized discourse of its becoming dominated by processes reminiscent of the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era against "un-American activity" -- during which dissent of any kind could be readily reframed as subversive of western civilization?Will the new variant be framed as "un-civilized" activity? Will it invite the pattern of intimidation, censorship and ostracism of dissidents that characterized that period? Following that pattern, are some about to be labelled and treated as "terrorist fellow-travellers"?

"Anti-American means today what un-American meant in the 1950s. It is an instrument of dismissal, a means of excluding your critics from rational discourse. Under the new McCarthyism, this dismissal extends to anyone who seeks to promulgate a version of events other than that sanctioned by the US government...Democracy is sustained not by public trust but by public scepticism. Unless we are prepared to question, to expose, to challenge and to dissent, we conspire in the demise of the system for which our governments are supposed to be fighting." (George Monbiot, Guardian, 16 October 2001). Are the true defenders of America now those who are being told that they are anti-American?

To what degree will the future response of western civilization to those who disagree, in any form, with the views of its major leaders, deteriorate into suppression of alternative and dissident perspectives of any kind? What have been the consequences of recent historical examples of such repressive behaviour?

In envisaging the replacement of the Taliban government by one that is representative of all tribes and ethnic groups according to western democratic principles, how is it that the western coalition never makes any mention of involving women? What would be the effect of westerners seeking to ensure the participation of women in government in Islamic societies?

Is active disagreement and dissent of any kind to be tolerated within a world society dominated by "western civilization" and promulgation of the "American way of life" as an ideal?

Is Operation Enduring Freedom in fact a war against liberty, a war against Muslims who cling to the hope that, like their counterparts in the west, they too will be able to determine and direct their own fate? Is the US-led coalition attmpting to deal once and for all with those who refuse to yield to the American world order? (Faisal Bodi, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

The Afghans are being offered "enduring freedom" as a result of the US-coalition's intervention -- however, in the process, are they not experiencing "enduring terror"? (Jonathan Steele, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

Why is it that journalists critical of American policies are already being treated as "anti-Semitic"? Is "anti-Americanism" now to be equated with "anti-Semitism"?

Advocates of globalization now argue that for terrorism to thrive all that is required is the tacit approval of the general public -- and that this is being fostered, wittingly or unwittingly, by those active in anti-globalization demonstrations that currently plague the pro-globalization international meetings (Reginal Dale, IHT, 22-23 Sept 2001). This view was reinforced by Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy (27 Sept 2001), arguing that Islamic terrorism was trying to provoke violent reaction from the West, whilst anti-globalization protesters were trying to make the West feel guilty for its economic policies. Is the process now in motion to label any form of protest against government policy as "pro-terrorist"? Is this not the same pattern as that of the Cold War treatment of "peace protesters"?

Is security at international conferences now to be formulated as against "terrorists" and "anarchist demonstrators"? How will the demonstrators acceptable to the new society be distinguished from those that are unacceptable?

If the first move of the free world in response to terrorism is to crush dissenting voices in their own country, will the preliminary skirmish have been won by the terrorists?

There is considerable concern at the distance between the views of leaders of Arab countries and those of their citizens. Their questions include: "Our rulers, why are you silent?; Have you got orders from America?"

Why are so many in the pro-war camp completely unwilling to engage in rational argument? (Jonathan Steele, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

Will the politics of the future, within the coalition countries, consist primarily of manufacturing novel terrorists threats to reinforce support for those currently in power? How can those opposed to these policies articulate alternatives without being labelled disloyal and a threat to a democratic society?

To what extent should the "war against terrorism" be understood as a massive worldwide campaign to eradicate dissent -- by those who have zero tolerance of any who disagree with them?

How will permissible dissent be distinguished from inadmissible implicit support for what some may label as terrorist initiatives? Who will authorize "admissible" dissent from views upheld as intrinsic to the "American way of life"?

Surely the graver the crisis, the more there should be debate and discussion over legitimate but competing views -- especially when what are at stake are the very structures that underpin our free society?

Given the unproductive experience of internment introduced in 1971 in Northern Ireland -- and declared two decades later to be both "repugnant and redundant" and "a constant reminder of the greatest political error made by any government in the handling of the emergency" -- are civil rights automatically in conflict with national security? (Guardian, 12 November 2001)

Is the international "coalution against terrorism" destroying people's ability to think and speak? How is it that so many people who hold positions of power fall into a mode of self-censorship in response to the issues raised by the crisis? Why, when they know the bombing is wrong, does this even include those in government who represent consituencies with a variety of views, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (and for Human Rights), as well as aid agencies (dependent on government funding)? Why can they not speak openly? (Jonathan Steele, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

How is the inhibition of dissenting voices with regard to the "war against terrorism", especially in the USA, to be compared to the progressive inhibition of protest against fascist policies in Nazi Germany in the 1930s? What happens to civilization when, in fear of intimidation, good people feel it wise to say nothing -- even when they disagree? How different is such "intimidation" from "terrorism"?

Is it not absurd to assume that someone raising questions in a parliamentary speech -- or on a conference rostrum, or in a public broadcast -- is not equally concerned about the safety of citizens or troops in action? When it is a matter of life or death, or war and peace, why is dissent among politicians somehow perceived as treacherous to the national interest?

Who in the UK House of Commons is voicing the views of the 16 percent of the country who passionately oppose the war (according to an ICM poll), the 10 percent who are very doubtful, or the 37 percent who bvelieve that the US-colaition should have done more to find a diplomatic solution? (Sonali Fernando, Guardian, 18 October 2001). How is it that the UK has got to the stage of bombing innocent men and women without even a vote in parliament? (David Kelly, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

According to one long-term Washington Democrat: "Opposing the war is just not a political position". According to another: "It's not a social position". Have doubts about the war become unacceptable in polite company? (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 15 November 2001)

Why are editorials in the USA claiming that the war in Afghanistan has made virtually redundant many of the campaigns fought by anti-globalizers, nature conservationists, anti-GM campaigners -- namely all those who would argue for radical reform of gloval institutions and sustainable development? (John Vidal, "How war is being used to crush dissent", Guardian, 17 October 2001). Why has the Sierra Club withdrawn its criticism of the Bush administration? Why has it removed from its website the long catalogue of the president's environmental misdemeanours? Have those problems gone away or lost their urgency?

Why is debate equated with dissent? Why is dissent equated with lack of patriotism? (Susan Sontag, Guardian, 18 October 2001)

Is raising searching and sceptical questions about the pursuit of war, in the name of the citizens of a country, inconsistent with patriotism? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001) Should the nature of unthinking patriotism itself be challenged in any endeavour to defend civilization?

Is "due process" in modern democratic societies designed increasingly to inhibit, marginalize, discredit, and disempower dissent?

Are they trying to frighten us all so we each stay in our little hole and don't talk to each other? Should journalists collude with government? Or do the media have an agenda of their own? (Arab journalist)

Does "democratisation" mean a clampdown on all left-wing and alternative views of social organization? (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Is it not difficult to have any faith in the leadership of a government that relies on self-serving media to sustain a kind of frozen institutional paranoia which denies a voice to the slightest whiff of doubt? (Michael Chanan, Guardian, 17 November 2001)

In the absence of any democratically defined definition of "terrorism", through what "democratic" process was it possible for the USA and the UK to rush through "anti-terrorist legislation"?

By our silence are we acquiescing in the perpetration of crimes against humanity -- in that those who have already suffered so much are now suffering even more because their land is urgently needed for a pipeline to get Caspian oil to the US market? (Tony Benn, Guardian, 12 November 2001)

If civil rights are suspended, according to current provisions in the USA and UK, according to what values does the US-led coalition pursue its objectives and to what end? How is such suspension to be reconciled with the acclaimed core strengths of civil society, namely "democracy" and "freedom"?

The UK proposes to give law enforcement agencies access to the telephone and internet communication records of every user -- beyond the specific requirements of national security (Guardian, 7 November 2001). At what point does suspension of civil rights in "democratic", "freedom-loving" countries -- notably with respect to systematic surveillance of private communications -- create a society indistinguishable from totalitarian countries long stigmatized by the level of surveillance practised on their populations?

Of the 1,000 suspects secretly arrested in the USA in connection with the terrorist crisis, some have been severely beaten in custody (Robert Fisk, Independent, 11 November 2001). Media in the USA are openly discussing the use of torture during interrogation. The FBI are requesting authorization to use tougher methods of interrogation, inspired by the Israeli use of "other methods" in the treatment of Palestinian prisoners. How is western civilization to maintain its vigilance with regard to human rights under such pressures? (Anthony Sampson, Guardian, 9 November 2001)

How is it that of the 641 people that US Attorney General John Ashcroft admits to arresting in connection with the attack, not one has yet been charged with direct involvement or, indeed, involvement in any form of terrorism? (Editorial, Guardian, 1 December 2001)

Rather than signalling the need for expenditure of resources on a campaign of retribution to bring a few people to justice, should not these horrendous attacks primarily signal the need for expenditure on more fruitful approaches to disagreement between civilizations and value systems -- as implied by the theme of the current United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations?

"Opposition to the war is just not a political position", says one long-time Washington Democrat. "It's not a social position, " says another. Have doubts about the war become unacceptable in polite company? (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 14 November 2001)

Is there anytning left of democracy in the one-party line of the world's superpower? Or will it rise again from the ashes of Ground Zero mindset?

In West Virgina, a 15-year girl, Katie Sierra, has lost her fighting in the Supreme Court against her suspension by her school for attempting to organize a school anarchist club and for wearing a T-shirt with the message: "Against Bush. Against Bin Laden". In Latvia, a 16-year old girl, Alina Lebedeva, faces a 15-year sentence for striking Prince Charles on the face with a handful of carnations in protest against the UK role in the war against Afghanistan. Is it the courageous dissenting protest that represents the spirit of democracy -- or the institutional efforts to repress it in each case?

Does the nature of the response to the crisis in the USA constitute a rapid reversal of the civic response which might once have defended the rights and liberties of its citizens. Are we about about to be subject to a new form of political control, swoolen with success, and unchecked by dissent? (George Monbiot, Guardian, 18 December 2001)

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