America’s ‘Global War On Terrorism’
One day Mulla Nasruddin went to his neighbor, known to be a mean fellow. “Sir,” he explained, “your ox has gored my cow
and killed her after she refused his amorous advances.” His neighbors shot back, “So what has that got to do with me?
Should a man be held responsible for what an animal does.” The Mulla answered cheekily, “Thank you, Sir. It was my ox
that gored your cow.”
Idries Shah, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrud-din
The United States declared a ‘global war on terrorism’ within days of the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the Twin
Towers and the Pentagon. In-stantly, terrorism was elevated by the US establishment and media into the greatest, most
ominous threat the ‘civilized world’ had faced since the collapse of communism.
Why did the United States choose to frame its imperialist posture af-ter 9-11 as a ‘global war on terrorism?’ Not a few
have been puzzled by this way of justifying the new projection of American power. Terrorism is a tactic, not a country;
it is tool, not an ideology or an end. How does one wage war against a tactic or a tool?
Nevertheless, the frame was cleverly chosen. It was and remains a most effective tool for mobilizing the American public
behind the neo-conservative project of using wars – multiple and endless, if necessary – to deepen America’s global
dominance and to make it irreversible.
On September 11, 2001 nineteen terrorists tragically brought death to Americans on their own soil. Barring the attacks
of Pearl Harbor, this was unprecedented in American history. The terrorists had demon-strated that Americans were
vulnerable to attacks inside their own shores. It now appeared that the blowback from US policies in the Mid-dle East
could reach across the Atlantic to hit the US itself. To say the least, this was disconcerting.
American policy makers chose to magnify this new vulnerability to advance their imperialist goals. By constantly harping
on terrorism, by hyping the threat of terrorist attacks, fearful Americans would both en-dorse curbs on liberties at
home and endless wars abroad – anything that would prevent ‘Islamic’ terrorists from crossing American shores. The
‘global war against terrorism’ looked like the perfect tool for producing these twin results.
The rhetoric of terrorism had other uses too. Terrorists operate with-out a return address, are ready to strike
anywhere, and sometimes die with their victims. Instead of tracking them down through surveillance and police work, the
United States has used the elusiveness of terrorists to justify pre-emptive strikes and wars. In addition, since
terrorists may be hiding anywhere, the war against terrorism must be global.
Just as importantly, the United States has used its rhetoric of terror-ism to delegitimize all forms of resistance. This
occurs in two stages. First, US agencies employ a definition of terrorism that covers all groups that use violence as a
means to achieve political ends, even legitimate political ends. Thus, Hamas and Hizbullah are ‘terrorists.’ Next,
indi-viduals or groups who provide ‘material assistance’ to ‘terrorists’ are also ‘terrorists.’ The United States has
stretched this logic to delegitimize all resistance movements that it views as contrary to US interests.
Although the United States has almost exclusively targeted Muslims in recent years, it continues to insist that Muslims
per se are not the en-emy. They only target those who are ‘terrorists’ and those who support ‘terrorist.’ It is a clever
distinction that empowers the ‘good’ Muslims who are on our side – mostly corrupt and despotic rulers – to fight the
‘bad’ Muslims, who are ‘terrorists.’
In other words, the ‘global war against terrorism’ is a powerful rhe-torical device that mobilized overwhelming domestic
support – at least, before the Iraq war became a quagmire – behind America’s imperialist posture that depended on
endless, pre-emptive and illegal wars.
It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that ‘terrorism’ – as the new cover for a more invasive imperialism – has quickly
come to dominate the global public discourse. A Google search for ‘terrorism’ turned up 72 million hits, not too far
behind the 97 million hits for ‘democracy.’ Taken together, the related terms ‘terror,’ ‘terrorism,’ and ‘terrorists’
generated 236 million hits, which exceed the 210 million hits for ‘freedom.’
A Google search also reveals that the ‘global war on terrorism’ is di-rected primarily at Muslims. A search for exact
phrases that combined ‘Islamic,’ ‘Muslim,’ ‘Moslem,’ and ‘Islam and,’ with ‘terrorism,’ ‘terror-ists,’ and ‘terror’
yielded a total of 3.3 million hits. On the other hand, exact phrases that combined ‘Tamil’ with ‘terrorism,’
‘terrorists,’ and ‘terror’ turned up only 26,000 hits. Substituting ‘Jewish’ for ‘Tamil’ pro-duced 211,000 hits.
Why is the talk of terrorism directed overwhelmingly at Muslims? Despite the rhetoric of a ‘global war on terrorism,’ by
now we know all too well that this war is aimed at Muslims, mainly at Muslims in the Middle East. This is a war of
‘colonial pacification’ of Islamic lands: the Muslims must be ‘pacified’ to secure ‘our’ oil wells in the Persian Gulf,
and to entrench Israeli hegemony over the Middle East. This is also a religious war for the radical core of American
evangelicals; it fits into their theology of end times. We ignore this only at our peril.
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. He is author of Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI Publica-tions: 2007). Visit his website at http://aslama.org
. He may be reached at alqalam02760 @ yahoo.com. © M. Shahid Alam