A Nationalist Religious Rite

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Five Years Later

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis

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The anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. are by now a national religious rite. Amid tearful remembrances, Americans are asking themselves if they are safer and if they are winning what President George Bush calls the "war on terrorism."

The war proclaimed by Bush in 2001 continues without relent, and with no end in sight. As fast as groups of Islamist militants are broken up — for example, in Egypt or Yemen — more spring up. American conservatives are now branding Pakistan as the hotbed of terrorism, and claiming the Musharraf government is hiding al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. A leading Republican conservative, Newt Gingrich, who one hears has presidential ambitions, just called for the U.S. to invade Pakistan!

The Bush Administration and its media megaphones are furiously milking 9/11 and rekindling fears of terrorism as November elections approach.

On the eve of the tight 2004 Bush-Kerry election, a bin Laden tape threatening America appeared, boosting Bush’s rating four points, and helping him win.

An old al-Qaida composite tape that surfaced last week showed two of the 9/11 hijackers and a smiling Osama bin Laden. One certainly wonders if bin Laden is not trying to help keep Bush and the Republicans, who are playing right into his hands, in office.

Interestingly, many Americans — one poll says 33% — believe their government is covering up facts about the September 11 attacks, or was even somehow even involved in them, though there is no evidence of this to date.

The hastily enacted U.S. Patriot Act enabled governments to sweep away laws protecting individual rights and begin the torture, wire-tapping, surveillance, jailing without charges, and record-mining found in totalitarian states. Long after Bush is gone, these ugly practices will remain.

In a wise, informative new book, Being Muslim, Canadian author Haroon Siddiqui describes how 83,000 mostly Muslim “terrorism suspects” were arrested in the U.S. and abroad. Only 40 were convicted of terrorism; 100 died in custody. These blanket arrests and a McCarthyite anti-Muslim witch hunt, observes Siddiqui, have created a sense of “psychological internment” among 7 million American and Canadian Muslims that recalls the odious confinement of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Afghanistan has turned from an anti-al Qaida operation into a classic 19th century colonial war against unruly Pashtun tribesmen costing $2 billion monthly. Washington has totally failed to impose a viable regime in Afghanistan, which now produces 80% of the world’s heroin.

Taliban and its nationalist allies have put foreign occupation forces on the defensive. Americans are not being told the truth about the growing political, economic and military mess in Afghanistan, nor how they are now running the world’s largest exporter of morphine and heroin.

The Iraq war, undertaken to get revenge for 9/11, grab oil, and help Israel, is clearly lost. So far, the U.S. has spent a staggering $500 billion and lost over 2,600 soldiers with nothing to show but chaos. This huge figure now exceeds the cost of the Vietnam War at its height.

Iraq has become a second Afghanistan, a magnet and incubator for angry Muslim jihadis. Washington must find a way to extricate itself from this historic folly.

Al-Qaida, originally with only 300 members, has been demolished, mostly by Pakistan. But after five years and billions spent, with 22,000 U.S. troops and an army of CIA and ISI agents still hunting them, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri still remain elusive, mocking Bush, urging new attacks on the west. By simply surviving the U.S. onslaught, they have won an historic victory.

Al-Qaida has morphed into a worldwide anti-American movement whose force and numbers are spreading. Bin Laden failed to inflame Muslim religious passions, but he has been brilliantly successful at mobilizing anti-western nationalist political fervor across the Muslim world.

Bin Laden focused the rage of 1.5 billion Muslims over the agony of Lebanon, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, inspiring violent homegrown groups worldwide and remains a hero for defying western might.

Mirroring bin Laden’s extremist religious exhortations, anti-Muslim hatred and racism is boiling among American Protestant fundamentalists, whipped up by demagogic TV evangelists preaching anti-Islamic crusades, anti-Muslim hatred, and promoting doomsday mania.

In the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden stated the only way to drive America’s influence from the Mideast was to attack the U.S. economy and bleed America dry in a series of small wars. Afghanistan and Iraq fulfilled two of his scenarios. While the U.S. wastes billions and its overstretched military staggers under the strain of a two-front war, bin Laden’s ideological movement continues to flourish.

Wars, even a phony one like the “war on terrorism,” almost always end with a political settlement. Those neocons and supporters of Bush who expect to repeat the unconditional and abject surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945 are dreaming. Only political compromise will end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dampen down the Muslim world’s seething fury against what George Bush and his later-day crusaders have wrought. Diplomacy, not more bombs, is what is needed.

Eric Margolis [send him mail], contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.

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