Yes, it could be stopped. First, we have to look at the root cause for this mayhem. We have to accept the fact that a group of people with a high level of education, coordination and sophistication, scattered around all over the world, cannot become crazy and willing to commit heinous crime simultaneously without any reason.
Especially why now? Why not before September 11, 2001? After all, Islam is not a new religion. It goes back to more than 1400 years. Its root and principles are the same as Judo-Christianity. No one can demonstrate that Islam carries larger share of baggage in history in terms of participation in war, subjugation and misdemeanor than any other organized religion.
Many in the West believe that the aim of Muslim fundamentalist is not political. They just want to kill innocent people. Such thinking is beyond rational underpinning. This may be true for a few insane people, but cannot be applied across-the-board to a significant group, scattered all over the globe.
For argument sake, if fundamentalists are insane then ethically and legally there is not much we can do. Either we kill them or put into jail with keys thrown away. But their number is not known and fixed. It is not so easy that we go on killing them one by one and then declare that the war on terrorism is won (as President Bush tried to do many times). Al-Qaeda is an ideology; the members and cells are elusive. When we kill one, they generate in multiple. The only hope is to understand reasons for their barbaric act. Pay attention to their grievances and change their mindset.
To consider fundamentalists just insane people with no political agenda is annihilative and self-destructive. Thinking that billions spent on security can take care of the problem is at best, naive and cannot be sustained in the long-run. Security in an open society is extremely expensive. Billions of dollars spent on a potential or expected terrorism (whether realized or not) is a sunk cost. It does not add to the economic and social prosperity of the nation. Though it provides job opportunities for many, such employment is not productive. It does not create any thing new to the nation’s wealth and social welfare. It is just redistribution of income and capital from most productive use to the least. It is basically finding a nail in tons of haystacks; waiting for a completely unknown tragedy to happen and taking appropriate actions if one can. Then there is the psychological cost. How can we put a price on a society living in a constant state of vigilance, uncertainty, threat and terror?
Western cities and societies are very open. Each metropolitan city is highly multicultural and multi-ethnic. In this era of political correctness, no one can create barriers and restrictions against a particular group. It will create turmoil and defeat the very essence of the civilized society that the West is proud of and want to protect and preserve.
Osama Bin Ladin’s grievances started in his home country, Saudi Arabia in late 1980s. He wanted to throw away the corrupted kingdom, which have been sustained and nurtured by Americans since decades. During and after the Gulf war, Americans further infuriated the fundamentalists by establishing permanent military base in the Muslim holy land. This was too much to bear. Already plight of Palestinians by Israelis was a soaring wound in the heart of all Muslims.
Ladin and his supporters figured out that the only way to get rid of autocratic rulers in the Middle East is to knock the support of the West (read America). The most effective course was to attack the West directly in their homeland. The attack on September 11, 2001 on America’s military power (Pentagon), economic infrastructure (Twin Towers) and political epicenter (White House) is self-evident.
Any one, who is not as block headed as George Bush like many other Americans, can clearly identify three main reasons for Islamic terrorism:. Israel’s continuous subjugation and humiliation of Palestinians with blind folded support (financial, militarily and all other means) from the United States and in some respect, from other Western countries. . Support and sustenance of autocratic rulers in the Middle East (and in many African countries) by the West, especially by the United States for their selfish and short-term economic and political gain. . Presence of American forces in the Middle East, especially in the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia (the base being moved to Gulf States). And now occupation of Iraq on the basis of completely illegal and false pretence.
These three factors (not necessarily with same degree of importance) are constricting the heart of an overwhelming majority of Muslims (and in fact citizens of the developing countries). These are the factors that bring rage and hatred of Muslims towards America and its allies.
The irony is that Israel is the greatest and most convenient shield for the autocratic rulers in the Middle East. Whenever there is any revolt against heavy-handedness and ruthlessness of their regime, rulers deviously direct those angers toward Israel. If an amicable and just solution that would allow Palestinians to live with dignity and to pursue economic prosperity like any other independent country is implemented by the West (read the United States), greatest irritant and painful thorn from the heart of all Muslims will be gone. It will take away the dominant share of the frustration and significantly erode the fodder for the fundamentalist to recruit and carry out their heinous crime.
Is Islam different?
Basically not. In terms of practical philosophy, Islam is not different from Judo-Christianity. In fact, it is very practical in outlook: encouraging material pursuit, freedom of thought and expression and taking care of have-not. There are some verses in Quran, which could be interpreted in a way not compatible to Western democratic and secular principles, but Muslim fundamentalists are not looking for conversion of Europe and America into 14th century Saudi Arabia. They want to change their own land into old Islamic golden era. Nothing is wrong with this ideology as long as majority of people in their own land want to implement that? Problem arises when Western powers create barriers against their ideals and impose rulers for their own selfish purposes and economic gain. In the present environment, continuation of such policy does not come cheap: thousands of innocent people have to die by indiscriminate bombings.
The dominant majority of Muslims loath terrorism just likes any rational worldly person. But hatred of fundamentalists (though few in numbers) has now gone so deep in heart after decades of autocratic rule in the Middle East by Western chosen repressive leaders and Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians that they are willing to take any extreme measures to kill as many innocent civilians in the West as possible.
Fundamentalism is not the monopoly of Islam. In fact, it has been part of all organized religions. Even in this day and age and with such high level of economic prosperity and education, many people living in South and rural areas in America are bordering on fundamentalism, at least in their thinking. Re-election of George Bush as US President is a classic example. To citizens of the world it is mind boggling that how a leader of a free world, who boldly and repeatedly told lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Saddam’s link with Al-Qaeda, declared US guaranteed victory over terrorists — “mission accomplished,” and believes in simplistic Biblical notion of “good” and “evil”, got elected by American populace with the highest margin of victory vote.
This is extremely sobering and dangerous for the global welfare when the leader of the greatest and sole hyper-super power with richest economic means and most lethal military weapons has such a childish and narrow view of a complex and complicated world.
Muslims living in cities in their home countries or the West can be broadly divided into three groups: (a) educated and professionals with Western thinking and way of life (very small proportion, roughly 5%); (b) educated and professionals with strong affiliation to Islam (at least in principle) in dominant proportion, roughly 90%; (c) fundamentalist: uneducated or educated only in religious text, ready to execute every dictum of Quran (a small proportion, roughly 5%).
However, there could be a notable segment of those who are in the borderline category (b). Frustrated with the deplorable situation of Muslims and finding their brethren humiliated all over the world, they can easily be persuaded to jump to category (c). These people are real fodder for carrying out terrorism act, especially in the West. They are well educated, well versed with the Western way of living and could easily be immersed in the general population.
War in Afghanistan against Soviet Union (strongly and generously supported by the United States) provided perfect opportunity to these fundamentalist to be trained how to handle explosives. They also owned large stockpiles of weapons when US abandoned them after the war.
This is the worst combination one can imagine. Hearts fill with hatred against America and its allies and hand full with explosives that can easily be placed in a backpack on an underground train. And you need only a few people with crazy mindset and strong dark hatred against others to create mayhem.
What can be done?
Al-Qaeda is a movement and ideology. We cannot fight ideology with conventional military means. We cannot defeat it in fair and straight game. We have to enter into the minds of perpetrators. Try to understand and mold them through education, persuasion and addressing their concerns with appropriate policies, like ending Israeli occupation, discontinuing support to autocratic rulers and getting rid of American forces in the Middle East. These policies are also overwhelmingly supported by people in the developing world and vast majority of European public.
If measures are taken to ameliorate the three factors identified above, more and more moderate Muslims would be satisfied. Their inclination and understanding for extremists will decrease. Fundamentalists’ base and support would be eroded. The greater the concerns of Muslims at large are addressed; smaller would be room for terrorists to maneuver. After all, educated and moderate Muslims are the recruiting ground of today’s sophisticated nature of terrorism. As is clear from qualifications, background and planning of those who were involved in 9/11. Otherwise, it is foolish to think that war on present form of Islamic terrorism can be won by conventional technique of retaliation and security measures.