Troika forces the world to choose one evil and fight another

Congratulations were apparently the only order of the day when two Palestinian students were killed in Gaza by Palestinian police forces on Monday. Israeli authorities could hardly contain their glee, delighted that the Palestinian Authority had finally stooped so low as to deny Palestinians the right to even rage at other people’s tragic circumstances. Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Ariel Sharon, did not hide the Israeli Cabinet’s satisfaction, saying: “For the first time we congratulate the Palestinian Authority for taking the measures which it promised to implement against terrorists.”

These “terrorists” were in fact 13-year old Abdullah al-Franji and 21-year old Youssef Bakr, whose appaling crime was protesting the strikes on Afghanistan, or, as was reported in the media, being anti-American demonstrators. And the measures included not only police opening fire on students, but also closing Gaza’s universities and banning all foreign reporters from the area. It’s not that Arafat is embarrassed by the killing of students, but rather by the fact that his oppressed people would sympathize with others under military assault by America. Which is why, Israeli sources claim, he then asked Israel for anti-riot gear to use against the protesters, the same gear used by Israeli soldiers to crush the year-old intifada. The Israelis denied his request, preferring to save the gear for their own struggle with stone-bearing children.

For all their felicitations, the Israelis obviously did not deem that the PA was doing a good enough job alone in eliminating these “enemies of freedom,” and thus sent armored bulldozers and tanks into Gaza, pausing shortly on the way to kill a further three Palestinians. Let it not be said that anyone can outdo the Israeli Army’s capacity for brutality in the Holy Land, even if the PA seems to be trying.

The American administration did not even bother to condemn any of these killings. Then again, it’s been too busy segmenting the world into two zones according to new criteria (“good” versus “evil”) and bombing accordingly, naturally pretending to only hit some terrorist training camps (and ignoring state terrorism when it’s done by allies like Israel). Surely the families of the four United Nations employees who were killed in Tuesday’s raids along with numerous other civilians (possibly mistaken for Afghan terrorists, although all they actually did was help rid the country of Soviet mines) will understand that sometimes, even American weapons can sadly be misguided. It’s really a good thing there is no Chinese Embassy in Kabul.

People not even involved with Operation Enduring Freedom have been dragged into it, whether passively or actively. In spite of their own misery, Palestinians, like everyone, cannot help but have an opinion on the current US and British strikes in Afghanistan. At this point, however, they are the only demonstrators (with Pakistanis) shot dead by their own authorities; others venting anti-war sentiments in America and Europe have the right to live for now.

That only some are brutally silenced is a given. Any voice that represents anything less than total submission to American and British hegemony faces not just criticism, but outright attempts to stifle it. The greatest democracy in the world, champion of enduring freedom, has asked Qatari authorities to try to tone down Al-Jazeera’s so-called biased (or anti-American) reporting, and even Voice of America was condemned for doing its job of broadcasting news (which obviously must include Al-Qaeda’s statements). However, voices spitefully blaming Islam for practically every ill in the world are apparently only exercising their freedom of speech.

We have been given identical choices by the two sides in this conflict: either we’re with them, or we’re against them. No abstentions are tolerated, no neutrality is allowed. We are being intimidated into taking sides in a war which remains to be properly defined, as many people have still not fully grasped the nuances of “enduring freedom.” Or, perhaps, they have grasped them only too well.

Apart from bombing “terrorist camps” (which will anyway just re-sprout elsewhere) and ending the misery of untold numbers of Afghans by literally ending their lives, these strikes seem to be just the first step in establishing an ultimate world order, a new Pax Americana establishing a bipartisan arrangement, like the American political system.

Three individuals of distinct backgrounds and the most opposing views have agreed on at least one thing: dividing -é and conquering -é the world according to their own contrasting rules. Bush and Blair on one side, and of course bin Laden on the other, share one characteristic: belief in a divine authority to impose their visionary version of a fight against evil.

Many have already stressed that one does not have to be American to be appaled by the vicious terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, or be anti-American to deplore the strikes on Afghanistan. Likewise, one does not have to be Muslim to condemn these strikes without being even remotely sympathetic to Al-Qaeda’s aims.

The World Council of Churches, grouping 342 Protestant, Catholic and Anglican churches representing 400 million Christians around the world, called on the US and Britain to promptly “end the present action,” urging other states not to join them. Does this make the Council sympathetic to bin Laden and his cronies?

The World Council of Churches could be in a difficult position indeed, having been warned: you are with us or against us. In sharp contrast, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) cautiously tried to avoid this trap. Strongly condemning the Sept. 11 attacks in its meeting on Wednesday, the OIC meekly expressed concern at the prospect of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but steered clear of any denunciation of the strikes, albeit voicing a desire that no other Muslim or Arab country be targeted.

This shows you not need be Muslim to condemn the raids on Afghanistan, while you can be Muslim and not denounce them.

While neither the World Council of Churches nor the OIC are likely to face retribution for their respective stands, others are less lucky. Isolated Afghans are probably those who are the least aware of (and least responsible for) world events since the Taleban began their reign. For all they know, the Russians are back! They are the first to bear the brunt of this odd phenomenon called enduring freedom, and it is they who are paying the ultimate price, not the Taleban.

Few Americans have speculated about the probable consequences of these strikes, with 94 percent supporting them according to the latest major poll. Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat, Washington) stood alone when he deemed Operation Enduring Freedom’s success claims to “smack of a certain arrogance.” He has been harassed since he voiced these comments.

As bombs rain on Afghanistan, threats from Bush, Blair and bin Laden continue to mount. Nevertheless, most people refuse assimilation into one camp or another. It is normal to be horrified by Sept. 11, and to be horrified by Operation Enduring Freedom. It is normal to decry the death of innocent civilians in America, and that of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

Each bomb and each threat is just creating a new “reason” for terrorists to wreak havoc on our lives, consequently “justifying” further large-scale operations of reprisal.  This is the real domino theory we should all worry about.

* Rime Allaf wrote this commentary in Damascus for The Daily Star

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