Coping with the 'Axis of Evil'

By Shuja, Sharif M. | Contemporary Review, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Coping with the 'Axis of Evil'

Shuja, Sharif M., Contemporary Review

THE horrible attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 has compelled its leaders to undertake a profound reassessment of their nation's defence and foreign policies. The virtual world unanimity of sympathy for America and condemnation of these terrorist attacks may lead, in time, to a change for the better in world affairs. When President Bush addressed Congress on September 20, he spoke for 35 minutes. There were 25 standing ovations. The Democrats in Congress scrapped their traditional speech in reply to the President. Instead, one Democrat leader declared:

Tonight there is no Opposition Party... We stand here as Americans ... Now we must pull together... Tonight he [the President] said all the right things... We will fight for freedom here and all around the world.

The U.S., along with other affluent democracies, is increasing its surveillance and security. It declared a 'war on terrorism' and started a campaign in Afghanistan in order to crush terrorist cells and to prevent such acts in future. Some fundamentalist Muslim clergymen have called on their followers to unite against the United States and its allies to wage a holy war, but the majority of people in the Muslim world are not listening. The rest of the world is far too ready to equate Islam with terror and radical fundamentalism while, at the same time, the voices of the Muslim mainstream continue to go largely unheard.

Today extremists lure adherents from among the poorly educated and unemployed by preaching a return to the true religious values of former times. But they have misrepresented the teachings of Islam and have deceived their followers - and the non-Muslim world. The religion they preach is a cover for advancing their political agenda and their lust for power, an ideology more akin to Fascism and Marxism than to the Islamic faith. Fanatics are perverting the Koran's message of tolerance.

The Muslim's moment of truth has arrived, because if they continue to be hijacked by the vested interests of fanatical terrorist and extremist elements, then the future is bleak. The events after September 11 provide an opportunity to Muslims from different backgrounds to shun all such acts which promote ignorance and extremism. They should unleash a learning process in key areas of human development so that the gap, which one can see between them and the Western world, is narrowed.

It is this very gap which has served the interests of Muslim radicals so well. Islam, it is often said, is the religion of the marginalised. Radical leaders have become adept at exploiting those many millions who are indeed marginalised both politically and economically. Illiteracy, poverty and a lack of development in much of the Islamic world have combined to produce an enormous underclass, increasingly open to the divisive rhetoric of those who seek to harness its numbers for their own political ends. For many of those trying to foment unrest, the war in Afghanistan has come as a welcome opportunity.

It is, of course, true that many Muslims regard Washington's politics in the Middle East as wrong and view its bombing campaign in Aghanistan as delivering misery to millions of innocent civilians. The West will need to take a greater interest in the Muslim world if it is to check growing anti-Western sentiments.

The 11 September attacks reinforced fears that the biggest threat to the U.S. is now from terrorists and rogue states. From the narrower security perspective, there is no doubt that the attacks could have been much worse if weapons of mass destruction had been used, or if nuclear sites had been targeted. The Bush administration appears to believe that the terrorist threat is unlikely to go away soon, and steps might be taken by terrorists to seek weapons of mass destruction. Could rogue nations give doomsday arms to terrorists?

In his January State of the Union address, President Bush used the term 'Axis of Evil', and accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea of developing such weapons, and implied that all three sponsor terror. …

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