KUALA LUMPUR - A dangerous idea is gaining currency in the U.S. administration and among a significant segment of the American public: If a person does not support the U.S.-led bombing, it means that he or she backs Osama bin Laden and the Qaida network.
This simplistic approach owes a great deal to the assertion by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 tragedy that governments and peoples the world over have to choose. They are either with his government or with the terrorists who slaughtered the thousands of innocent people in New York and Washington.
Yet many honest people condemn the carnage of Sept. 11 and are determined to see terrorism eliminated, while being genuinely pained by the bombing of Afghanistan. Such people, in America and many other countries, are deeply concerned at the deaths of many Afghan civilians who are no less innocent than the Sept. 11 victims.
Military might will not achieve the objective of destroying the bin Laden organization. Even if the ultraconservative Taliban regime is overthrown there is no guarantee that the terrorist network will be eradicated.
In a post-Taliban scenario, Afghanistan would again descend into chaos, and the impoverishment and suffering of the people would become even worse. With competing political warlords, terrorism of the bin Laden variety might well continue to thrive. And the network has cells in many countries apart from Afghanistan.
The bombing campaign is not achieving any of its immediate goals. Dislodging the Taliban does not seem to be that simple, let alone finding and crushing bin Laden and his base. The time has come for Washington to listen to critics of the bombing. They are not friends of Osama bin Laden or the Taliban. Like Mr. Bush, they want terrorism to be wiped out. But they are inclined toward legal, financial, political and diplomatic measures.
These may in the end turn out to be more effective in combating the scourge of terrorism. Of course, the root causes of terrorism should also be addressed. Just solutions should be found to issues such as the Palestinian struggle for a homeland and the deaths of Iraqi children from economic sanctions, both of which have generated much anger in the Middle East, thus fueling terrorism.
The terrorists have also been able to exploit the feeling of alienation and exclusion so pervasive among the impoverished and disenfranchised in many countries.
The war against terrorism calls for a comprehensive approach. Such a complex threat cannot be overcome by strategies rooted in a simplistic black-and-white mind-set.
The writer, a Muslim, is president of the International Movement for a Just World, a nongovernmental organization based in Kuala Lumpur. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright © 2001 the International Herald Tribune