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Ending the War on Terrorism MAG
Since 9/11, fighting terrorism has become a top priority in our nation. Each year, the U.S. spends billions of dollars on the war in Iraq, attempting to dismantle the extremist groups that threaten us. However, we have had troops in Iraq for eight years and still terrorist groups continue to operate.
People in 22 of the 23 countries surveyed believe that the war in Iraq hasn't weakened the terrorist group al-Qaeda, according to a global poll by the BBC World Service. If eight years of war have had little effect on terrorism, it's obvious that America needs a new approach. To truly work toward a solution, we must help stabilize Muslim countries associated with terrorist networks. The most effective way to fight terrorism in the Middle East is to help these countries create a thriving economy, a functional government, and a successful educational system.
The war in Iraq is a temporary attempt at solving the problem of terrorism. Even if troops disable certain terrorist groups, they can't prevent new ones from forming. In fact, military suppression of a country tends to lead to more support for extremist groups. “Building a gauntlet of security around the U.S. and pounding Muslims into submission isn't going to make the world any safer,” wrote journalist Todd Wilkinson in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
To truly work through the issue of terrorism, America must look at its roots. Extremist groups exist in every religion. It is only when these groups gain power that they become dangerous. This tends to occur when a country is unstable. For example, after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Taliban took control of the region. If America provides support to countries experiencing instability, we will help prevent terrorist groups from taking power.
According to Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007, “Extremism, militancy, terrorism and dictatorship feed off one another in an environment of poverty, hopelessness and economic disparity among social classes.” Therefore, in order to disarm terrorism, we must combat these factors.
The first step to accomplishing this is to support the creation of educational systems that allow children to rise above the social and economic situation of their parents. Today, Pakistan spends 1,400 percent more on its military budget than on education, according to Bhutto in her book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. As a result, poor communities that don't have access to schools either go uneducated or turn to militant schools, known as madrassas. In the words of Bhutto, “From illiteracy and poverty stem hopelessness and from hopelessness come desperation and extremism.”
Some militant madrassas are seen as breeding grounds for terrorists because rather than focusing on education, they “manipulate religion to brainwash children” into soldiers, according to Bhutto. The U.S. needs to take the first step in providing international support to help Pakistan and other Islamic governments prioritize spending on education. In doing so, it would begin to prevent extremism. “There's nothing which disarms hatred more thoroughly than the promise of attaining a better life through peace,” according to Wilkinson.
Strengthening education in the Middle East will also boost local economies. When educated children surpass the economic status of their parents, a middle class is created. Micro loan programs can also aid the creation of a middle class, which is essential to a strong workforce and a stable country.
A strong middle class is also essential for a successful democracy. While the U.S. should not force democracy on any country, by supporting stable, civil governments, we can keep terrorist networks from moving into power. In Saudi Arabia in 2007, a woman who had been gang raped was sentenced by the government to 60 lashes and six months in jail. Stability cannot exist in this type of unjust government. As the book Enhancing Peace insightfully articulates, “Letting social inequities and injustices fester provides a rich breeding ground for terrorists.”
There is currently a strong sense in the Muslim world that the West wishes to impose its values on other societies and undermine Islamic culture. Many moderate Muslims see the global war on terror as a war on Islam, according to Bhutto. This is not the image that will help the U.S. build allies.
America needs to build a strong relationship with the Middle East to combat terrorism. When we earn the trust of moderate Muslims, we can join with them to overthrow extremist groups. This method aided the U.S. immensely during the war in Afghanistan when we sided with the Northern Alliance (the anti-Taliban coalition made up of several Islamic ethnic groups) to overthrow the Taliban.
How can we create the type of dramatic change in perception that's needed? The answer is to invest against terrorism by stabilizing the Middle East. As Bhutto wrote, “When ordinary people identify assistance improving their lives and the lives of their children, they bond with the source of that aid.” This type of connection could bring a dramatic turnaround in perceptions of America. In fact, substantial evidence supports this. After the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan that killed 90,000 people, the U.S. donated half a billion dollars for reconstruction, and American soldiers delivered assistance to freezing and starving survivors. A poll conducted by ACNielsen immediately afterward showed that favorable views of the U.S. increased by over 50 percent. The same poll indicated “a precipitous drop in support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” according to Bhutto. Direct and visible support from the U.S. creates dramatic changes in perceptions over a short period of time.
Creating and supporting organizations that stabilize the Middle East should be regarded by the U.S. as long-term investments against terrorism. Through the Marshall Plan, implemented in Europe after World War II, the U.S. spent about $13 billion to aid the recovery of European countries. The modern-day equivalent of that amount is about $185 billion. This money could be spent on rebuilding the Middle East, and if this cost were shared by North America, the European Union, Japan and China, the U.S. would contribute just $37 billion, compared to the estimated $2 trillion for the war in Iraq by the time it has ended.
But a solution shouldn't just be about writing checks. It should be about Americans working with Iraqi citizens to support visible, clear, and direct programs that give people what they need. This type of solution not only makes sense for the U.S. but is morally right. To paraphrase Greg Mortenson – who has spent the last decade building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan – money can fund wars; it can also prevent them.