Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 8, 2003
Fight terrorism with peace
The recent anniversary of the worst act of terrorism in recent times passed unnoticed. The Aug. 20, 1998 bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by an American cruise missile destroyed the source of 90 per cent of medicines in one of the world's poorest nations. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died because of this one act of terrorism by the world's most powerful nation.
The Al-Shifa factory produced low-cost drugs to treat diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. The medicines were a dire necessity in a country of limited arable land, a chronic shortage of potable water, a huge foreign debt, little industry and which is torn apart by a decades-long civil war. Its Islamic government is no friend to the Christians who live in southern Sudan, persecuting them ruthlessly. But the 1998 cruise missile bombing ruined what hopes there were at that time for a negotiated peace.
The attack on Al-Shifa, oddly, has a link to the other terrorist attacks we will hear a lot about in the coming days - the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Sudan had detained two men suspected of bombing U.S. embassies in East Africa and offered to extradite them to the U.S. It also offered the Americans voluminous information on the Osama bin Laden terror network - an offer the U.S. repeatedly refused. After the attack on the pharmaceutical plant, Sudan released the men and withdrew its offer to provide information on bin Laden to the U.S.
It has often been said that the Sept. 11 attacks changed the world. Many things did change - not least, the lives of the thousands of people who were killed or whose friends and relatives died in those bombings. The attacks also led, however, to an intensified U.S. "war on terrorism." (The U.S. officially declared this war for the first time during the Reagan era. It is seemingly losing the war, for despite all the bloodshed in the past 20 some years, terrorists are still able to wreak havoc with relative impunity.)
The latest attacks on the United Nations centre in Baghdad and the sacred mosque in Najaf, Iraq, are but the latest evidence of how fruitless it is to try to eliminate evil with violence. Despite invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. still has not captured Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or produced any evidence that Hussein possessed, let alone was planning to use, weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. So much for the moral defensibility of pre-emptive war!
Bin Laden's stated rationale for his terror network is to drive the "infidels" out of Islamic countries. By acting as though the West can solve the problems of the Islamic world, the Bush administration has only poured more fuel on the fire of those like bin Laden.
"There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland," Bush has declared. There's no telling, indeed. Will the whole world have to be laid to waste before this administration realizes war is not the way to peace?
What was new about 9/11 was that it was an attack on the American homeland. Most of the world has lived under the threat of terrorism - either state-sponsored or that of insurgent forces - for decades. When the U.S. became a victim, there was a brief moment of hope that the victims of 9/11 would not die in vain - that these brutal acts of terrorism would spawn a civilized response to seek an end to violence, rather than to create more.
In the days after 9/11 the calls for peace far outnumbered those for retribution. Unfortunately, that was not the course chosen. Building peace is a long-term project, one that will not be successful in every instance. There is no easy path to lasting peace. But respecting the demands of other religions, creating reasoned dialogue, and helping poorer nations raise their standards of living are good places to begin.
The hour is not too late. Peace can replace terror.
But it will only happen if we make peace our top priority.
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