Terrorists are Everywhere
It didnt take long for the Bush administration, after the events of September 11, to declare a unilateral "war on terrorism." While many have suspected that this was a less controversial way of saying "war on our Middle Eastern adversaries," there are signs now that Bush may really have been serious about his commitment or that some specific interests are now coming to the fore. Although it took a terrible, terrible attack against America to really drive the point home, the message did arrive, and the US is taking steps against not only the Middle Eastern countries, but against several other places where it perceives terrorism to exist. That said, we should understand the significance of the definition of "terrorism" as applied to various situations in the world.
In my view, if the 21st century is going to be dominated by incessant guerrilla and clandestine warfare (as looks to be the case), then it behooves us to understand who is to gain from the appellation, and why. A quick look around the world shows what is at stake in various situations of "terrorism" where the US has crucial interests. The semantic war has already begun and it looks like the winners and losers of the next century will be decided by those sides which can successfully requisition the term "terrorist" as the key descriptor for their would-be enemies. Right now the trench warfare of public relations is heating up, and whomever you ask, the answer is the same terrorists are everywhere.
THE THREAT, THE FRENZY, THE JUSTIFICATION
If September 11 was the catastrophe that prompted a sea change in American perceptions of their place in the world, and in the way that public relations wars will be fought from now on, then the droning hysteria that has followed it is feeding the process of justification for a unilateral clampdown on terror wherever it can be found, and for the purposes of whomever can win the argument about its existence. As long as Americas fearful frenzy continues, and bin Ladens warning that "Americans will not dream of security" resounds, the "war on terrorism" will be used by any and every state that seeks American help.
EVEN THE TERRORISTS ACCUSE TERRORISTS
Revealing the ludicrous transparency of war-by-nomenclature, some in the Middle East are now declaring Americas recent bombing of military installations in Afghanistan to be "acts of terrorism." These high-profile, high-risk attacks seem designed more to cheer up the average beer-drinking American football fan than to actually threaten a weak country with less than 25 viable targets. The attacks seem terroristic to the Middle Easterners, however, for the same reason that the WTC seemed terroristic to the West. That is to say, both kinds of attacks seem to come from nowhere, and it is impossible to defend against either. Many dismiss the WTC attacks as "acts of cowardice" yet how much courage does it take to launch a missile from a battleship, far away in the Indian Ocean? It may have been sick, depraved, and insane for someone to fly a plane into a building, but I myself couldnt do it: for I lack not only the motivation, but also the indoctrination which may just be another word for courage.
Yes, it will only be when American troops go in on the ground that we will get a true estimate of their courage. From the American soldiers I have met, I have no doubts as to their skills, training and courage; but until they actually engage in man-to-man fighting, the Arabs have a point: bombing defenseless targets from ships and from high-flying airplanes is not very brave. It may not be "terrorism," as traditionally defined, but it isnt courageous, either. Arab hatred of America will certainly increase when ground troops go in but so may their grudging respect.
EVEN THE IRAS DUCKING FOR COVER
As far as Bill Clinton goes, Irish eyes are always smiling. Everywhere Clinton went on the Emerald Isle, he was greeted by thunderous applause and playful winks from comely Irish lasses. The Clinton years were a renaissance for Sinn Fein; the US put top priority on implementing a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Gerry Adams became for the first time a respected diplomat on the international stage. The historic "Good Friday" agreement brought a power-sharing government to Northern Ireland, and all indications pointed to the gradual lessening of the British presence in Ulster a last vestige of empire which few Brits wanted anything to do with any longer. Yet the prospects of peace were too much for the extremist elements on both sides, and Protestant paramilitaries continued to commit terrorist attacks, as did splinter groups on the Republican side, such as the "Real IRA."
This splintering effect, however, helped legitimize the original IRA. Adams and his right-hand man, Martin McGuinness, were looked to hopefully as the leaders of a newer and more humane Sinn Fein. The party began to win more seats on both sides of the border despite one continuing sore spot the IRAs failure to decommission. Having always been a lazy and manageable failing, there was little pressure to decommission for real until September 11, that is.
BUSH TO ADAMS: "THE PARTYS OVER!"
Even given the new administrations predictable backlash against the allegiances of the old, Bushs concerted attack on Irish republicanism has been really amazing. Just yesterday, the FBI shut down a pro-IRA website in the US, and has cracked down on funding channels for the IRA from America. Other embarrassments, like the alleged discovery of IRA members in Columbia, have resulted in a serious loss of stature for the Republicans in American eyes. Adams has been sidelined and stripped of his former clout, and the promotion of Martin McGuinness to IRA chief of staff is now being tied by British papers to the imminent possibility of IRA decommissioning. It is clear that the UK has the upper hand now, and that the IRA is ducking for cover. The US desperately needs strong allies against its selected "terrorists" and so it is more than willing to reciprocate against the "terrorists" threatening its staunchest ally Great Britain. The interconnection and exigencies of foreign policy mean, quite simply, that the movement for a united Ireland will go nowhere until long after the threat of terrorism from other quarters has receded. That America hardly blinked an eye when famous Irish journalist Martin OHagan was recently killed by paramilitaries in Belfast, while walking from a pub with his wife, shows Sinn Feins dramatic loss of influence in America.
MACEDONIAS BAD LUCK
From the moment last Spring that the western press stopped calling the NLA "terrorists," and started calling them "ethnic rebels," it was clear that Macedonia was destined to lose the PR war and therefore the war with its own Albanian separatists. The NLA won a further diplomatic coup by handing in some 3,000 of their older and less useful weapons as a token gesture of their cooperation. And, as with the IRA, the NLA was further legitimicized when a splinter group (the ANA, or "Albanian National Army") broke off, to continue doing the NLA's dirty work while boss Ali Ahmeti was posturing around the diplomats' table.
According to Macedonia, Western concession to the NLA proved that terrorism gets results. This is why the reaction to September 11 in Macedonia (and in Serbia) was somewhat ambivalent; they felt that America should have understood from Macedonian experiences with Albanian "terrorists" how it felt to be bullied into chaos.
Following the WTC, Macedonia responded diplomatically by taking the offensive in exposing the NLAs links with bin Laden and Islamic mujahedin in general. The Albanians responded angrily that they were being victimized unfairly by a Macedonian government intent on making political capital of the situation. It is well-known that Islamic mujahedin were trained in bases in Northern Albania to fight the Serbs in Kosovo it would be surprising if the same situation did not exist in Macedonia. While Albania itself is moderately Islamic, a much more austere form pervades Western Macedonia especially in areas near Tetovo, the center of the fighting in 2001. Macedonias reluctance to amnesty NLA members resulted in increasing frustrations from the EU and also from the Albanians, who allegedly recently tried to assassinate the Macedonian prime minister.
It remains to be seen whether Macedonia will convince the West to reverse its pro-Albanian position. To do so would be an admission that NATOs interventions in Macedonia and, by extension, in Kosovo were fundamentally flawed. For this reason a radical about-face on the part of the West is unlikely and the continuing pullout of NATO troops from the country may mean that Macedonia will finally be able to fight on its own terms, without having to please its Western "allies" which may just constitute a victory. Recent threats from NATO and the EU, however, indicate that Macedonia will not get that kind of leverage anytime soon.
Poor Albania has been strung up on the rack since September 11 because of allegations that bin Laden maintained bases there in the 1990s, and that he has had an intimate connection with the country. Albanians, of course, vociferously denied the claim; a Washington Post article spotlighting the case against Albania resulted in an official open letter from the Albanian government, denying the charges and pledging the countrys support in the "war on terrorism."
I fear I may have been too harsh on little old Albania. The true situation is probably thus: owing to its poverty and isolation from Europe, Albania made some far-reaching decisions in the early 1990s to accept money, aid and advice from governments and/or groups in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Egypt. The decision to look east for support came about largely because Albania, just free from communism and utterly isolated, needed help badly; but it wasnt aware of, or at least not worried about, the long-term implications of the trend it was establishing by accepting aid from quarters hostile to the west.
With the benefit of hindsight, Albanias Middle Eastern sponsorship now looks like a colossal mistake. However, the Albanian government also cultivated a beneficial relationship with the US, militarily and economically, and this is why its scrambling now to crack down on any Islamic extremists left in the country. Just this week it arrested five more people with links to bin Laden. Previous to September 11, the possibility of revenge from the bin Ladens of the world probably outweighed the benefits of cracking down on Islamic terrorists within Albania. Now, however, that terrorism has become Americas number one priority, Albania is rushing to fulfill Bushs wishes knowing that the future of its relationship with America is at stake.
WHAT ABOUT BOSNIA?
There is a growing sense of satisfaction now among those who always maintained that Bosnia is a haven for borrowed mujahedin from the Middle East and Central Asia, recruited to kill Serbs and Croats over the past decade. It has been confirmed that bin Laden and several of his fighters were issued Bosnian passports, and that even when the situation got too hot, and the majority of mujahedin were expelled, around 70 of the most wanted foreign fighters were given sanctuary in Bosnia. It may be argued that this was done as much out of fear (on the part of the Bosnian government) as out of charity. Nevertheless, we must remember that Bosnias wartime leader, Alia Izetbegovic, wrote a book calling for the creation of a fundamentalist Muslim state in the Balkans. I highly doubt that that idea will be resurrected anytime soon.
During his candidacy, Bush hinted that the US would withdraw some troops from Bosnia. That was even before the threat of another, far-off war had been contemplated. Now it is only a matter of time before the Balkan contingents of NATO and the UN are reduced. With Clinton out of office, and "bombs for peace" maestro Richard Holbrooke off the scene, Bosnia will be left to its own fate. The internal divisiveness that has characterized it thus far in its short independent existence may well end up destabilizing the country; but, with sympathy in the west for Muslim states waning, its not likely that the US will rush to the defense of Bosnia with the same vigor as before. Nevertheless, Bosnia is, like Albania, doing its best to root out these leftover terrorists just this week arresting a man linked to aides of bin Laden.
WHO WILL BE THE LUCKY WINNER?
As US strikes increase, and with them, Arab protests, it grows more and more uncertain who will ultimately win out. If this were a game, however, one thing is certain it would have to be called "Jeopardy."
Will it be Vladimir Putin, finally getting the crackdown against Chechnya he has wanted? And will Uzbekistan finally rid itself of its own Islamic "terrorists" or be invaded by the Taliban? Will Israel manage to push its agenda on the Palestinians by force, or will Arafat win a coup, in the form of a Palestinian state, by sacrificing the extremists among his own people? Will Iraq be invaded, and if so, can Turkey survive its precarious balancing-act between support for the US and a tentative friendship with Saddam? How about Pakistan, perhaps only a few days from anarchy? And will the house of Saud, in all its opulence and vulnerability, come tumbling down? This coming weekend has much to reveal and most of it, unfortunately, seems to be headed for the worst.
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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