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Penny Jamieson:

Weighing options
to regain security



It is just over a month since three hijacked planes slammed into the side of the strongest symbols of American power.   The devious intent of the fourth was never quite clear,  but its target was saved by the bravery of those who were unable to save themselves.   The world seemed to stop that day.

And marking that month there were services of mourning and remembrance at ground zero as the overwhelming task has continued of sifting through the still smouldering rubble,  gently picking over the fragments of broken and charred human remains.   Then comes the task of restoring these bits of humankind to the people who have loved them.   It is an act of terrible tenderness.   And it speaks volumes for the value that Americans place on human life.

But how much trust do our American friends place on their gift of tenderness?   Now,  the B52s and the smart bombs and the bunker bombs and the not-so-smart bombs are falling on Afghanistan.   US military might is carpeting a dusty,  bare and famished country.   Refugees are on the move in huge numbers.   The most serious humanitarian crisis yet is about to happen.   And how much are we noticing it?   It all feels grimly familiar.   After all,  it has happened in Iraq and in the Balkans over the last decade.

I am uncomfortable about the use of military power,  in this or in any situation.   It is never noble,  never honourable and it always produces outcomes that are not intended and which ultimately lead to further strife and further violence.   But the apocalyptic nature of the attacks in New York and Washington was on such a scale as to make some response almost inevitable.

It is imperative that the networks that planned those attacks be dismantled to prevent further attacks.   There is profound global insecurity that will endure while this movement of global terrorism is at large and prepared to carry on with its demonic work.

Right from the start,  the US State Department seemed to know that this was no ordinary enemy,  for this is a network that has no clear centre.   So it has been reinvented in terms that the Americans can understand.   There is an arch-villain,  who is assisted by his henchmen  --  for Saddam Hussein read Osama bin Laden.   And the conduct of the war is all too familiar.   Not too much difference here.


So what are the options for nailing bin Laden and the networks he controls?   Perhaps these fit under three headings,  legal,  military,  and pacifist.

The US might consider taking the route of international justicc.   But the resources are thin.   The United Nations does not command a broad-based international support and there is no adequately established international justice system.   History tells us that we can only bring charges against the military crimes of our enemies once they have been defeated.   The legal route would be long and uncertain and still require military force to bring bin Laden to the point of justice.



And then there is military action.   Given the scale of the attacks and given the anger of the traumatised American people,  military action has seemed inevitable.   But there are real dangers here.   President George W. Bush has said he wants bin Laden,  dead or alive,  and the al-Qaeda network destroyed.   But his rhetoric reaches wider:  the US is clearly considering Iraq as a significant part of the problem,  and the Palestinians have been "terrorists" in their own land for over 50 years.   As many as 20 other Middle East targets have been proposed.   And now Australia is joining the fray.

The rhetoric reaches ever wider:  this is a war against evil,  for freedom and democracy.   It is all just too vague.   And it is very dangerous,  for there are certainly those in the State Department who regard the attacks as an occasion to implement their own vision of a new world,  one that proposes to rid the world of "evil" and advances its own apocalyptic vision.

And herein lies the danger.   To expand war objectives in this way would be full of risks,  require massive military strikes inflicting much destruction and suffering,  and would create a new wave of retaliatory violence against the US and its allies throughout the world.   If military goals overshoot,  either by becoming part of a design to destroy Israel's enemies or to solve the problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,  as in Iraq,  the war against global terrorism will be lost,  and badly.   And worse,  it would consolidate and mobilise Islamic opposition,  and the final result would be far,  far worse than the first position.


And then there is the pacifist position.  which seems too hard to argue for in this situation.   It includes the use of other options,  diplomatic and financial.   These seem feeble and inadequate in the face of the severity and cruelty of the attacks.   Perhaps,  also,  it is too late.   The bombardment of Afghanistan is well under way.

However the pacifist argument does have a place and should be listened to.   Spiritually motivated pacifist witness can be both inspirational and instructive,  and help to mitigate and interrogate militarist postures.   On September 11,  the US unequivocally held the moral high ground.   Now,  it is well on the way to losing it.

The African American feminist Audre Lorde said:  "The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house";  and Jesus said  "Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you".   Tackling violence with violence,  terrorism with terrorism will not return America to security.   I just wish Americans could trust their tenderness.   It is the most winning of virtues.

This article was first published in the Otago Daily Times of October 23,  2001.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.

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