Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.
Mankind has engaged in violent extremism since Biblical times. Cain became the world’s first terrorist by slaying his brother Abel. Voltaire pessimistically characterized human history as nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.
In a sense, America lost its innocence on 9/11. The international community sympathized with Washington but it also said, “Welcome to the real world!”
The Bush administration with its Manichean world view exploited a fearful populace to execute its agenda of “full spectrum dominance” and preemptive war. It invaded two countries — Afghanistan and Iraq — and openly threatened military action against a third: Iran. In the desire to exact retribution, the motivations driving such terrorist attacks were largely ignored. The lives lost and financial resources squandered have been enormous.
More than 8 years have elapsed since the 9/11 atrocity, but it is a moot point if the U.S. is any safer today. That no further attacks on the U,.S. mainland have taken place, suggests that the revamped security structure despite its flaws, is keeping American citizens safe.
What should be clearly understood is that there is no foolproof security system that can prevent committed terrorists from carrying out violent acts against the citizens of another country.
For years, Armenian terrorists were killing Turkish citizens as revenge for the alleged genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks on its Armenian subjects during World War I. Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other since the founding of Israel in 1948. Kashmiris and Indians are doing the same in Indian-administered Kashmir. The list goes on.
The Nigerian underwear bomber’s recent failed attempt to blow up an American airliner, which the media played up, has once again brought a wave of fear to our shores. I wish some senior official of the Obama administration had calmed the public by recalling Roosevelt’s sage advice to his countrymen: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Terrorism is propaganda by deed, since terrorism is theater. Al-Qaeda succeeds every time it plants fear and uncertainty in our hearts and minds. We should get over being overly obsessed about our security. Our despondency comes close to pusillanimity, which runs against the America tradition of courage and fortitude.
Capturing or killing bin Laden and his deputy al-Zawahiri should remain a U.S. objective, but without the media hype. Because by doing this, we are in a sense helping to resurrect them for their dwindling band of followers. The less heed we pay them publicly, the more quickly they will fade away into obscurity.
In concentrating on bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, we may be focusing on the symptoms rather than the disease. Let us be clear: if one or both of them are eliminated tomorrow, al-Qaeda, which has become a transnational enterprise, will not fold. It is not even known how much influence these two fugitives continue to exercise on al-Qaeda’s global reach.
Violent extremism is like a chronic disease. It cannot be eradicated but its effects can be considerably mitigated by a combination of soft power and hard power, with soft power being the predominant element in the mix. The U.S. and the West should focus on winning hearts and minds of the people in whose midst violent extremists operate.
Once we empower these people by making them stakeholders in peaceful economic development, violent extremists will be marginalized. Right now the U.S. seems to be relying much more on hard power in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such an approach — far from being crowned with success — is likely to put the U.S. on the slippery path to ultimate failure.
– S. Azmat Hassan