Driven by Fear

As the frequent reader of this blog has probably noticed, I am fascinated by war. This is not a fascination of war per se, but a fascination for the rhetoric, logic and politics of war. I have previously discussed so-called pro-war libertarians and their contradictory standpoints. However, there is a much more generally accepted view of the war in Iraq, which is also fully applicable on most wars, that I would like to discuss briefly. It is the matter of war for freedom.

It is often argued that the terrible terrorist deeds on 9/11 were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists who despise the Western way of life: they were willing to blow themselves to pieces in order to threaten the Western rights and freedoms. They “attacked us because of our freedoms,” as it is often argued.

In a sense, this argument may very well be valid. There is no reason to assume religious fanatics do not feel such hatred to other cultures and religions that they cannot commit suicide bombings “in the name of god.” There are a lot of crazy people out there, and religion has proven to be a very efficient catalyst of such manias. After all, the crusades were not carried out because the people in the Middle East were a direct threat to the European society, culture, or religion. Europeans traveled thousands of miles to slaughter people of different religious convictions simply because they had other convictions (and sometimes because they lived where Jesus presumably was born).

So there is no doubt a possibility, how big is difficult to say, that the maniacs hijacking airplanes on 9/11 2001 and crashing them into the Twin Towers were motivated by their personal religious beliefs to carry out those terrible deeds. And just as Christians claim to preach the “message of love” through their religion, even though it is responsible for crusades, witch hunts, etc., it is also possible that there are Islamic fundamentalists who celebrate the hijackers as “heroes.”

This is however not the main point of this post; it is but a brief introduction, touching the fact that there are many possible reasons why people act certain ways.

The official propaganda (all one-sided “information” with a purpose from government should be considered propaganda) says they attacked the Western world because we are free and prosperous. This view makes us assume that freedom and prosperity are not part of normal life in the Middle East. I am not sure this is true – there are wealthy parts in the Middle East, especially in the oil producing countries, and there are also a number of freedoms that the general public (i.e., men – usually not women) enjoys. Terrorists aren’t necessarily poor, ignorant and unfree – Osama bin Laden, e.g., is (was?) an extremely rich and educated man who still developed a very narrow, evil and fundamentalist mindset.

However, let’s have a look at the argument for the anti-terrorism policies adopted by the United States and European governments since 9/11, policies often referred to as the “War on Terrorism.” And indeed this “war” includes real wars, such as the war on Iraq and possible future attacks on Iran and Pakistan.

The argument is based on the official truth (emphasis on official, not truth) that the terrorists attacked us and will continue to attack us because we in the Western world are “free and prosperous.” If this is truly the reason they attacked (and will attack again) there is no way of protecting ourselves – it is the perfect argument in politics: the solution offered to this problem is The Only One. If we are attacked because we are free, there is nothing we can do but kill them first. Since they are fundamentalists they do not care about their earthly lives, they will gladly kill themselves in order to bring our great society to its knees – they would be honored to die in order to make us unfree and poor.

If we take a little time studying this argument it no doubt seems a bit nutty. Why in the world would someone want to travel secretly to the other side of the planet in order to kill people they have never met (and never will) only so that other people they have never met (and never will) will get less wealthy? Well, that’s the reason these people are always referred to as fanatics or religious fundamentalists – if they are not fanatics or fundamentalist they would reason logically and would thus never go through all the trouble only to die (even if it did mean they would be awarded with 72 virgins in the afterlife). So we can clearly see it is necessary that the argument contains both parts – they are fundamentalists (1) and we are “too” free and prosperous (2).

Now we move on to the counter measures, since the argument clearly shows (or is designed to show) that there is no other way out of this mess than to wage war on fundamentalists and terrorists and engage in such a war until all of them are literally wiped out. “If we do not kill them first, they will kill us.”

If we accept the above assumptions and argument as true we would find support to wage wars, even though they would be costly. As long as the wars don’t cost as much as our prosperity it could be argued we are better off spending our money killing these people off so that they cannot kill us. And the sooner we do it the better.

But what about the “security” measures taken here at home? Both in the United States and the European countries the governments have gone a long way to control their peoples and get rid of their rights. In the United States we have the so-called Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act that explicitly reject and nullify a lot of the basic rights of freedom American citizens are guaranteed through the Constitution. They also effectively do away with a lot of the formal limits put on the executive branch of government in order to protect the citizenry from their government. In the European countries the same kind of measures have been taken for the same reasons, even though there is no constitution to protect such citizens’ rights in the way the United States Constitution supposedly does.

It is argued these measures are necessary to fight the “War on Terrorism” and that we need to be loyal and patriotic to our governments during this time of distress. Maybe so, but let’s go back to the reason argued for instating these measures: “they kill us because we are free and prosperous.” With these new policies of government allowing all branches of government seem to have gotten the “right” to spy on its citizens, jail people without trial or suspicion, steal people’s properties without even telling them why, torture them, and keep secret prisons where literally any horrors could be done to anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the same time. What this means is simply that we are free no longer.

Using the official truth about the reasons for future terrorism, is there reason for the terrorists to attack us? Not really; the freedoms they supposedly hate so much that they could kill others and themselves to stop are not there anymore. The Western world isn’t as free as it was pre 9/11, and it is getting less free every day – through our Western governments making sure to tighten the grip they have on their territories and citizens. In order to protect us from the terrorists, motivated by our freedoms and prosperity, our governments have stripped us of our freedoms and prosperity.

The ultimate effect of the War on Terrorism is thus that we have approached the fundamentalists and agreed to their terms: they don’t like our freedoms, so we have dismantled our rights and freedoms; they don’t like our prosperity, so we are investing large sums of our money in foreign wars and tightening government control of our society. If anyone should be happy with the way things have turned out, and the way things are heading, it should be the people who planned and carried out the attacks. They have won this battle even if they might end up getting killed by the Western war machine governments and their poor and unfree subjects.

Yet the risk of terrorist attacks is claimed to still be there. So we still, they assure us, need to be afraid – very afraid. The question is simply, what else do we need to give up?

About Per Bylund

Per Bylund

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