Like the September 11, 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Center, the plot to detonate bombs onboard several trans-Atlantic flights originating from Britain has provoked stringent security measures all over the globe.
In the Philippines, additional security measures have been put in place in the country’s airports, and even in the capital’s Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit systems. Though thwarted, the UK plot has also become one more argument for the passage of the anti-terrorism bill now pending in Congress.
If passed into law, the bill would allow the monitoring of private communications, broaden the definition of terrorist acts to include legitimate protests and even media coverage of suspected terrorists, and allow the prolonged detention without charges of terrorism suspects.
Although terrorism–the use of indiscriminate violence for political ends–is real enough, the events of September 11, 2001 created the excuse to curtail civil liberties various regimes all over the world had been looking for. Those regimes took their cue from the United States government, which not only used September 11 to restrict civil liberties through the Patriot Act, but also as the excuse to attack Afghanistan and Iraq.
September 11 had a special use in the Philippines. It gave the Arroyo administration the opportunity to re-establish and enhance US-Philippine military relations. Taking advantage of the horror over the attacks– probably by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network– on the US, the Arroyo regime immediately pledged unconditional support for any US initiative against terrorism, and from 2002 onwards used anti-terrorism to justify the entry of US troops in Mindanao under the guise of US-Philippine joint military exercises.
Almost on cue, meanwhile, bombings in the Philippines-–some of them allegedly carried out by security forces themselves–reinforced those fears of terrorism which make the presence of US troops and even the extra-judicial killing of terrorist suspects acceptable. (The New York Times reported the operation of anti-Abu Sayyaf death squads in Basilan in 2003.)
Anti-terrorism has become a convenient excuse to achieve the strategic aims of the United States and the domestic ambitions of its client-states like the Philippines. But it is nevertheless true that terrorism has never before been as real and as frightening a threat as today. If it had succeeded, for example, the UK plot would have killed hundreds, perhaps even thousands of men, women and children–for reasons most people have been brainwashed into believing are based either on envy of the prosperous West, the inherent violence and intolerance of Islam, or plain evil.
But while condemnable, contemporary terrorism can be understood in the context of events that go back to the British occupation of Palestine and other Arab countries in the 1930s, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and subsequent events.
The identification of contemporary terrorism with Arabs and Muslims is the result of Arab efforts to achieve self-determination, and the frustration of those efforts by the creation of Israel–abetted by the British and the United States–in the Palestinian homelands.
The establishment of Israel, despite earlier efforts at a compromise between Palestinian and Jewish interests, forcibly displaced the Palestinians and created the world’s largest refugee population. The efforts of Arab countries from the late 1940s to the 1960s to recover part of Palestine through military means failed. Instead of being driven out, Israel expanded the territories under its control while the Palestinians continued to rot in refugee camps.
Such grievances as the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and the alleged corruption of Islam by US-supported regimes drive groups like Al Qaeda. But Israel and Palestine are the primary reasons for the rise of Arab and Islamic militant groups, which, given the military superiority of US-supported Israel, often resort to suicide bombings and other terrorist means.
Far from discouraging further resistance to its incursions in the Middle East (The Israelis had earlier occupied Lebanon) , the Israeli attack on Lebanon is thus likely to force hundreds of Arab and Muslim youth into the various groups fighting Israel and attacking US interests worldwide through a variety of means including terrorism.
The US attack on, and occupation of Iraq, is instructive. The excesses and brutality of US occupation troops in Iraq, like the Israeli killing of civilians including children in Lebanon, has fueled not only Arab but Islamic outrage. It is an outrage likely to reap a harvest of, among others, terrorist attacks on the territory, interests and nationals of the United States and Israel as well as on US client-states.
The immediate solution to terrorism as a weapon of the desperate would be to recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian demands, and to restrain Israel, which for decades has been impervious to world opinion and UN resolutions. In the long-term, the kind of Middle Eastern policies the Western powers have put in place deserve not only a review but a total overhaul as well. Mere military action and stringent security measures will not stop terrorism. Neither will using it as an excuse to attack civil liberties.