This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: December 3, 2008): A11.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
A most ugly alarm has sounded again, this time in South Asia. But will it be heard half a world away? Even as the incoming Obama Administration continues to strive to awaken America to follow its agenda for change on January 20th, in 2009 we clearly will continue to be confronted by an older, toxic danger whose residue is not easily rinsed off: international Islamist terrorism. As attacks this past week on India’s financial center, Mumbai, have shown, small numbers of ruthless Muslims who are determined to kill innocents remain both a major security threat and a dagger pointed at the world’s faltering economy.
It could not come at a more inconvenient time. Despite the enormity of our present financial and economic difficulties, sustained attention to reviving our economy may prove possible only in combination with continued vigilance in countering terrorism. As candidate Obama memorably suggested during the first stages of the financial crisis in September, effective leadership is going to require being able to do more than one thing at once. He soon will get his chance.
Modern international Islamist terrorists always have pursued more than wanton destruction to advance their goals. In the service of their vision of advancing Islam, in September 2001 al Qaeda attacked not just random New Yorkers but leading financial symbols there. Their openly stated goal was to paralyze the global economy so to force the West to leave what Islamists regard as “Muslim lands.” But al Qaeda ultimately aimed to induce this step as one of many that would lead to the collapse of Western civilization, and the final triumph of their extreme interpretation of Islam worldwide.
In much the same way, the Mumbai terrorists see their violence as a necessary element in order to change the world. Reports of the interrogation of the sole surviving attacker, Ajmal Qasab, have indicated that for six months before the attacks he trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based Islamist group often connected with al Qaeda. All this he did in one of Pakistan’s several lawless frontier regions. These exist because the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies long have found advantage in being able to deny responsibility for activities done by terrorists from these places … so long as those activities also advance Pakistan’s foreign policy interests. Thus, the Kashmir-based Lashkar – reluctantly outlawed by Pakistan in 2002– may be illegal, but front groups for it continue to operate openly in Pakistan.
Little vigor has accompanied Pakistan’s banning of Lashkar. And because the lawless “tribal areas” where it still operates provide safe haven, international terrorists still flock to the region. Two of the four 2005 London bombers trained there; it’s the same place Osama bin Laden has eluded capture for seven years; and it’s the same place where Taliban fighters continue to build bases from which to attack U.S. and N.A.T.O. troops in Afghanistan. Whatever Ajmal Qasab’s individual motive, it is evident that the organized group of which he was part undertook the murderous Mumbai operation with the intent to kill as many non-Muslims as possible. Nearly two hundred innocents perished. But in targeting Westerners and Jews, in attacking major tourist hotels, symbols of India’s growing connection to Western capitalism, the Mumbai terrorists showed their true colors. Thus, their deliberate torture and murder of six unarmed Jews at Chabad House, Mumbai, shows that the attack overall fits al Qaeda’s global war agenda much more than it fits any interpretation of these killings as some minor chapter in the longstanding India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.
Nearly drowning as we are in the depths of our current pit of financial quick sand, it is easy to forget that granddaddy of Islamist terrorism, al Qaeda, nearly succeeded in inflicting the lasting financial damage it sought to cause. The recession of 2002 was no picnic, and while it had sources other than 9/11, it also was deepened by nearly one trillion dollars in lost economic activity due to the attacks. These days, of course, trillions in losses have become almost par-for-the-course of a typical recession month. The dizzying sums involved seem to lull us into complacency, as if our government can solve all things by simply printing more money.
But in such an environment we should not be so blasť. As we skate merrily along on the thin ice prepared before us by a decade of fiscal irresponsibility, a second danger still lies outside the rink. Mumbai underlines that a major terrorist attack here could make things much, much worse. Managing what to do about Pakistan will be a heavy ball that Mr. Obama will have to juggle into the mix of the several others already in the air.
return to Professor Bowen's main page