[R-G] Couldn't we build, not bomb, in Afghanistan?

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Sun Nov 12 17:31:41 MST 2006


Copyright 2001 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
Toronto Star

November 11, 2001 Sunday Ontario Edition


LENGTH: 1024 words

HEADLINE: Couldn't we build, not bomb, in Afghanistan?

BYLINE: Michele Landsberg

TODAY MARKS A double Remembrance Day; it is also the two-month  
anniversary of the World Trade Center catastrophe, and no one can be  
sanguine about where we are headed. After all these weeks of bombing  
and political posturing, I still can't see what shape a "victory over  
terrorism" will take.

John Le Carre, the British author, writes in the current issue of The  
Nation that "the war is long lost. By us. What victory can we  
possibly achieve that matches the defeats we have already suffered,  
let alone the defeats that lie ahead?"

Indeed, the breadth and depth of the terrorist triumph was bitterly  
evident by Sept. 12. Thousands of lives were destroyed; the symbolic  
heart of capitalism reduced to rubble; stock markets reeling; tens of  
thousands of jobs wiped out and millions more imperilled; entire  
industries shaken to the core; long-cherished freedoms curbed in the  
name of the war against terror.

It's Le Carre's theory, and that of many other war-resisters, that  
"we cannot prevent another suicide bomber being born each time a  
misdirected missile wipes out an innocent village."

The image that keeps coming to my mind, however inappropriately, is  
that of a gigantic global carnival game of Whack-A-Mole. Slam one  
terrorist into the ground, and up pop a dozen more, their desolate  
lives kindled with the pure fire of meaning by the drive for revenge  
and transcendence.

It would be one thing if we could really extinguish terrorism by the  
war in (or on) Afghanistan. But even if the Taliban are driven out of  
Kabul, what then? It's hard to believe that any surviving Afghans  
will be in the mood for a democratic election, or that there will be  
visionary contenders for leadership.

Even a massive United Nations presence - supposing the U.N. could  
marshal the resources, after years of being starved by a delinquent  
U.S. - couldn't guarantee a peaceful and constructive transition to a  
reborn Afghanistan.

Anyway, we're all being sidetracked here. Loathsome as the Taliban  
are, they did not create the terrorist plot against America. And the  
plot's very birthplace - Saudi Arabia, where almost all the criminals  
in the plot originated - is supposedly our great ally.

How would we regard the Saudis (think of them as Taliban in clean  
clothes, Rolexes and Mercedes-Benzes) if we didn't need their oil?  
The hypocrisy surrounding this anti-terrorism "coalition" reeks  
almost as foully as the burning oil wells in Kuwait during the Gulf War.

My prediction is that two seconds after the "end" of the bombing of  
Afghanistan, with the entire countryside reduced to a parched and  
emptied desert, Unocal will be building its long-lusted-after oil  
pipeline across Afghanistan, bringing Caspian black gold to the gas- 
guzzling west. Then the true meaning of the war will be made clear.

Remember, just last year the proposed Unocal deal with the Taliban  
was stopped at the last moment, and only thanks to the ferocious  
women's protest lobby led by the Feminist Majority organization. At  
that time, the Texas oil barons didn't seem very troubled by the  
Taliban's denial of all human rights to half their population. And  
just let me hazard the guess that, should the Northern Alliance  
replace the Taliban, the U.S.-led coalition will miraculously forget  
its recent dedication to the cause of Afghan women.

Everywhere in the world where fundamentalism takes hold, there is  
terrorism. Are we forgetting the Christian fundamentalist acts of  
terror against abortion clinics in the U.S. and Canada? Just to show  
their kinship with their Islamic counterparts, Christian  
fundamentalists mailed anthrax threats and hoaxes to 450 U.S. women's  
clinics and family planning organizations in the last few weeks.

How can we attack fundamentalism at its roots, if not by bombing?  
Recently, I pounced on an article in New Africa magazine that boasted  
of Tunisia's grand success in defusing Islamic fundamentalists by a  
huge push toward universal education, women's liberation and  
eradication of poverty.

It sounded wonderful, every democratic socialist's dream, until I  
recalled that Tunisia has been harshly criticized in recent years for  
its brutal repression of political dissent.

Still, there's a lesson there. Habib Bourguiba, who led Tunisia to  
independence in the 1950s, abolished polygamy, legalized abortion,  
raised the literacy level to two-thirds of the population, and laid  
the groundwork for rising prosperity. As a result, for decades,  
Tunisia escaped the turmoil of fundamentalism that plagued its North  
African neighbours, Egypt and Algeria.

Of course, wherever women have access to education, property and  
inheritance rights and control of their own reproduction, the well- 
being of the entire society rises. The children are healthier,  
families stronger and economies more productive. Conversely, wherever  
people are desperate for the most elementary services for their  
families, fanatical churches of every kind have a field day.

More than a decade ago, in a meeting with Mariam Ma'ari, the Israeli  
Arab feminist, I asked plaintively why Hamas, the fundamentalist  
fanatics, were making such headway in the West Bank and Gaza. The  
answer was crushingly simple.

It was not the religion that was so attractive, she said, but rather:  
"They offered free schools, health clinics and day care."

We know now the true cost of those "free schools," the same kind of  
indoctrination barracks where the boys of the Taliban learn to burn  
with a joyful hatred of Islam's enemies.

Now the theatre of war provides a different kind of negative  
instruction. Even so soberly conservative a source as The Economist  
reported recently that "as the bombing of Afghanistan proceeds, the  
extremists are also gaining new converts."

In the years when the Soviets and Americans fought their proxy war in  
Afghanistan, they poured in a total of $45 billion in weaponry. Forty- 
five billion.

Just think if, instead, they had competed in pouring money into  
building schools, training agronomists and teachers, creating rural  
health services and increasing food production.

Make dinner, not war.

Maybe, someday, we'll try it.

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