Philippe Nassif

The recent terrorist attacks in London and Egypt were a chilling reminder that extremism continues to plague our society unabated, adding London to a growing list of western cities that have come under attack in recent years. Amidst the charred wreckage of London’s transportation system arise many questions as to how to prevent and deal with terrorism in Europe and around the world. President Bush has called for further expansion and support of the U.S government’s war on terror, backed by Russia’s Putin and several other world leaders, showing a more polarized world of us vs. them in the wake of the current global terrorist campaign. Extremist Islamic elements have praised the attacks and called for further action against the “infidel” or everyone except themselves. More sensible politicians have called on the elimination of the causes of terrorism such as extreme poverty and disillusionment, lack of education, ignorance, humiliation, and oppression, as terrorists are often referred to as invisible enemies.

The climate of fear in countries affected by terrorism has fed a growing extremist movement that clamors for vengeful action and oppression in the name of self defense. This is best seen in the United States, where half of the population has leaned towards religious and political extremists of their own kind for support, and comfort. The current war in Iraq was launched by such extremists who have combined fundamentalist religion and big business greed into a political agenda that is supposed to help protect the populace, but has instead backfired and as predicted by liberals, made the world more unsafe and Islamic terrorists more powerful. It is obvious that secularism is under siege around the world as religious extremists have infiltrated the political establishment, and true religion has been bastardized to such an extent it is many times hardly recognizable. I agree that we do need to address the causes of terrorism in order to combat it, but I also believe that secular democratic nations need to rise up and defend themselves as necessary, but in the name of absolute secularism, so as to avoid the conflict becoming religious. The picture could not be clearer in that the terrorists are hell-bent on destroying the free thinking, liberal, and tolerant society that much of Europe, Canada, Australia, and most of the United States have built in the wake of the world wars. The picture could also not be clearer in that the terrorists are taking advantage of this system in order to destroy it, and globalization certainly is not helping the situation. Having said that, how are secular nations supposed to combat terrorism without destroying their societies? Well the Anglo approach is antiquated and therefore terribly flawed for several reasons, one being that there is serious identity confusion in the west, tainted by Islam, causing divisions to run deep and rifts to form, such as the one between the U.S and Europe.

The United States has, I believe, the worst approach. They have refused to review their foreign policy, and have instead sacrificed many civil liberties in the wake of September 11, whilst allowing jingoism to rise to the surface and slowly divide society there. Jingoism goes hand in hand with religious fundamentalism, and Bush has used the same tactics as Khatami in Iran has done; build a power structure based on fear. He also uses war as a tool of distraction from domestic woes such as unaffordable health care for many, and rampant crime (that is unacceptable for the worlds economic powerhouse) also a tactic used by other extremist leaders and terrorists to garner support for a power base. Basically, the Americans should replace this “God bless America” business with “God bless the whole world” as a good start to changing the national attitude. The British are still suffering from imperialist guilt and are too liberal in allowing amnesty to foreigners, and too lax on immigration laws. The British should have been on alert for domestic Islamic extremism since the Rushdie affair where the Liberal intelligentsia cried fowl when Islamic fundamentalists publicly burnt copies of Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”. This would have helped raise awareness of the capability terrorists have in striking London. The French have simultaneously defensive and clandestine offensive approaches, perhaps the best in dealing with the current situation. The French realize that the U.S war on terror, and invasion of Iraq has put them, as well as the rest of Europe in a more dangerous situation due to their geography (which the U.S does not have to worry about), and they have reacted by asserting that France is and always will be a secular and great democracy, through harmless laws such as the headscarf ban. Expelling radical imams that preach hate and violence, like the Dutch are now practicing after the assassination of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, an incident seen as the first attack against liberal Europe, is another way to defend the nation. The French offensive tactics include closely monitoring terrorists around the world, as well as religious institutions at home, something the British need to strengthen, for the French realize that although they opposed the war in Iraq, ultimately fundamentalists will try to find a reason to strike.

As a secular Lebanese Christian, I personally feel like I am being crushed by extremists on all sides, and I know secular Muslims feel the same way, perhaps more so. Having been born in the United States and spent considerable time in London, I have seen the U.S sacrifice the qualities that have always made it a great nation, replacing them with persecution, ignorance, and fear. I have also seen the American liberals disappointingly let down the nation by not accepting the fact that Islamic fundamentalism, war in Iraq or not, is literally dying to destroy America. I have grown increasingly disappointed with Arabs lack of condemnation of terrorist’s such as Osama bin Laden, and with the Islamic religious schools (Madrassas) that seem to preach extremist ideology which only renders madrassas as places where academia comes second, not first as it should. Another disappointment is the international community’s failure to aid in poisoning the cesspools that breed terrorism not through military action (unless against a country where anarchy reigns such as Afghanistan, and Somalia), but through education programs and an emphasis on secularism and tolerance of others in many countries where terrorists come from. Also, reaching out to Muslim and Arab moderates and secularists would prove to be the greatest asset in combating these elements, instead of westerners assaulting Muslims and Mosques across Britain and America when terror strikes, which only marginalizes this incredibly important minority. Yes the world needs to be united in combating terrorism, but this can only be successful in a world where poverty, unemployment, and oppression are eased, double standards eradicated, and greed contained. Infringing on human rights and starting wars all falsely in the name of combating terror (and non existent weapons of mass destruction) is a step backwards, not forwards.