Lessons From Mombasa

The Nov. 28 bombing of the hotel in Mombasa, Kenya and the attempt by terrorists, using a shoulder-held, portable surface-to-air missile, to shoot down an Israeli airliner filled with tourists is a significant warning. We are all endangered; not just Israelis, but people everywhere.

According to an Associated Press report from Afghanistan, American-made Stinger missiles are for sale on the Kabul black market for $200,000 each. Rockets capable of blowing up buildings sell for as little as $5,000. The CIA, which supplied Afghani fighters with hundreds of Stingers for their war against the Russians, estimates that 50 to 100 are unaccounted for. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of less-effective surface-to-air missiles, like the Russian Strela used in Kenya, are available on the international black market. Five-feet long and weighing about thirty pounds, these weapons can be hidden in a duffel bag.

Al Qaida or one of its offshoots is, evidence indicates, likely responsible for these attacks. This marginal underground movement of fundamentalist religious fanatics ("Islamic fascists" as Christopher Hitchens has aptly described them) are at war against Western culture and civilization. They themselves cannot overthrow or destroy any Western country, but by killing innocent people and sewing fear around the world they can, as they are doing in America, undermine hard-won freedoms and constitutional government.

There is nothing liberating or progressive in the politics or on the agenda of Al Qaida and other terrorist movements. It's telling that, twice now, they have been willing to sacrifice black Africans in order to kill a few Jews. The hotel they destroyed in Mombasa employed 245 people. The tourist industry accounts for 40 percent of the Kenyan economy, and if the missiles had hit the plane, it would have slammed into a densely populated neighborhood surrounding the airport. To the self-righteous zealots of Al Qaida, the Kenyan victims can no doubt be dismissed as, what the Pentagon likes to call, "collateral damage."

These are evil people: fundamentalists misusing religion to kill people of other religions and cultures. (Christian, Jewish and Hindus have similar kinds of fanatics). What's needed to stop this is international cooperation of police and intelligence agencies; strong condemnation of fundamentalist terrorism by Muslim religious and government leaders; and relentless international pressure on Israeli and Palestinians to accept a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis.

Israel's oppression of the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza cannot be blamed for all Muslim terrorism. The bombings in Indonesia, for example, have local roots that date back at least to the 1960s and the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of General Suharto. Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were murdered in a government-sponsored massacre of supposed leftists. Nevertheless, Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians and the material and political support Israel enjoys from the West, complicated by the myopic, ineffectual, and morally-compromised leadership of the Palestinian resistance, is an injustice that incites Arab opposition.

Against the real threat of terrorist groups like Al Qaida, the Bush Administration's obsession with Iraq becomes even more inexplicable. For a while I thought that Bush's Iraqi policy was a cynical political ploy that he'd drop after the November election (and recharge again for the 2004 election). In this scenario, Bush would take credit for forcing Saddam to accept the UN weapon inspectors, and then move on to other issues. Well, the inspectors are in Iraq and Bush can claim victory; but the saber-rattling continues, as does the actual war build-up including, now, a call-up of reservists. Bush's bluster not only destabilizes the Middle East and encourages terrorism, but it threatens to undermine the independence and professionalism of the UN weapon inspectors. The CIA has acknowledged that Iraq has had nothing to do with Al Qaida; it has also predicted (what's obvious) that an American attack on Iraq would provoke Iraq to use retaliatory terror. Determined to start his war, Bush has responded by creating his own personal intelligence agency to provide him with the necessary "proof" to justify his policy.

You don't need a weapon of mass destruction (or a hijacked airline) to do big-time damage. One successful terrorist attack with a shoulder-to-air missile on an in-flight civilian airliner would put a damper on international tourism and air travel. Such a hit would, in addition to killing more innocent people, hurt the economies of many Western and third world countries, and, here at home, incite more Bush Administration attacks on civil liberties.

The real international threat to our peace and security comes from loosely-structured terrorist networks, like Al Qaida, that do not adhere to national borders and have no geographic or physical assets other than what can be stuffed in a shoe, pocket, a truck, a SUV, or a duffel bag. The Bush Administration should shut-up about Iraq and let the U.N. weapon inspectors do their work. Instead of unilateral bombast that is likely to lead to unilateral bombing, Bush needs to focus on international cooperation. Good police work, with on-the-ground support when necessary, is what's needed to root out terrorism. Massive bombings, with its "collateral damage", won't stop terrorism or bring terrorists to justice, as we should have learned from our bombing in Afghanistan.

The Bush Administration needs to get real. A war against Iraq is the wrong war, against the wrong enemy, at a time when the real enemy, fundamentalist religious fanaticism and terrorism, is on the offensive all over the world.

Marty Jezer's books include The Dark Ages: Life in the US1945-1960 and Abbie Hoffman, American Rebel. He writes from Brattleboro (VT) and welcomes comments at mjez@sover.net

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