Terrorism's tangled roots

When discussing recent suicide bombings of the Red Cross in Baghdad earlier this week, President George W. Bush was quoted as saying, "it's the same mentality [driving these bombers] that attacked us on September 11, 2001."

Our president is very likely right in this assertion, but unfortunately, by virtue of the fact that this comment is coming from Bush (who, of course, coined the term "axis of evil"), the implicit assertion is that these bombings are motivated by ignorance, arbitrary malevolence, and "hatred for freedom." This conception of terrorist motivations has been a long-standing (and dare I say, necessary) one in this country, and has been integral in gaining public support for a dubious war -- at best -- and "liberation" effort. As problems continue, as predicted, in post-war Iraq, it is perhaps time to take a closer look at our adversaries.

It is very easy to write anti-American terrorists off as insane religious fanatics who hate freedom and love suffering. However, contrary to what the Bush administration would like to have us think, this assertion is not easy to make because it is true. This assertion is easy to make because the West, and most specifically America, is so dominant in all world affairs, that shaping "reality" to meet its own ends is like taking candy from a baby. Or, shall we say, like taking true personal agency from economically and culturally disadvantaged peoples all over the globe.

This is not to say that Saddam Hussein's regime wasn't evil, nor is it to say that terrorist violence is acceptable. Hussein's regime was murderous and needed to be destroyed, and violence of all sorts, terrorist included, is totally unacceptable. However, what needs to be addressed is why we in this country seem to believe that violence done by the United States is somehow different from and morally more acceptable than violence done against it.

It is true that U.S. violence often (though not always) takes a different form than that which we see angled against our nation. This is because the United States, being on the winning end of a serious power imbalance, has the luxury of more subtle forms of aggression. Economic domination -- though far from being the only type of U.S.-perpetrated violence -- is the most contemporary and easy form to point to. United States companies have a history of setting up production in developing nations and then pulling out when things get "rough." Like, for example, when individuals dare to form a labor union and demand to be treated like human beings. God forbid. The United States also has a nasty habit of causing massive resource depletion and environmental damage across the globe. In addition, we have a history of supporting markets, like the diamond industry, that fuel civil conflict in countries like Liberia (that's right, Bush's pet country in recent months), Sierra Leone, Angola and many more.

Finally, we all remember the Enron crisis of 2001 in which the corrupt corporation attempted to take advantage of India's need for energy to make a massive profit, running smaller gas-industry suppliers out of business and then demanding prices that the vast majority of Indians could not pay. Unfortunately, these examples are not exceptions: they are the rule. Ask a resident of the developing world about United States "aid" to their countries, and they will most likely tell you these kinds of behaviors are par for the course.

One thing is clear: The United States, far from being the benevolent power that we like to pretend to be, has continuously advanced its own (overarchingly economic) agenda at the cost of individuals in the developing world. We have done this without remorse, and we continue to do it without any sign of stopping, or even slowing down. Perhaps, just perhaps, desperate opposition to this kind of ever-growing, amoral, unrepentant dominance and indiscriminate drive for profit is what is driving ever-growing terrorist networks around the globe. Or hey, it could be that "they're all crazy" thing. That works too.

As Americans, we are sitting in a very ideologically perilous place right now. We have been raised within a tradition of Occidentalism wherein Eastern cultures and peoples are trivialized, enabling us to dehumanize them should it be convenient. We are living in a society in which media conglomerates with strong ties to the government and its agenda control the view we are given of the world and its peoples. Given knowledge of these facts, we have the moral obligation to think critically about "arguments" we are given by our government in support of its actions. We all need to step back for once, allow ourselves to see the world as it really is, full of real people -- not strange, foreign monsters who "hate freedom" (come on!) -- and entertain for once the possibility that if you follow the trail of global unrest and injustice back to its primary source, you just might be surprised who's there waiting for you.

(Laura Parcells' column appears Fridays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at lparcells@cavalierdaily.com.)

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