The question is: what is the problem?

When everybody is worrying about solutions post-11 September, perhaps we should be interrogating the underlying problem.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Politics

As the bombs rain down on Afghanistan and white powder sprinkles itself across the West, a debate rages about possible solutions to the problems caused by the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

That’s fine. There would be something deeply wrong with the USA if it did not want to avenge itself for the worst terrorist attacks it has suffered in history. But isn’t it time to take a step back and ask the prior question: what’s the problem?

Over one month on, it is pretty clear that the solutions that have so far been put forward to counter terrorism are problematic. Bombing Afghanistan is no solution – it was not the Afghan people, or the Taliban regime, that committed the murderous acts of 11 September. Catching Osama bin Laden might help the USA avenge itself for these particular attacks – but as President Bush has made clear from the start, that won’t wipe out terrorism.

And yet, as Western politicians are quickly realising, an endless ‘war on terrorism’ could have little positive outcome, either abroad or at home. The war with Afghanistan has unsettled that region enough already – the last thing anybody wants is that problem magnified ten-fold, as a result of declarations of war upon all other states suspected of harbouring terrorists.

At home, it might well be the case that today’s political elites are not a liberty-loving bunch – but even they know that however many rights and liberties are given up in the name of keeping us ‘free from fear’, there can be no guarantee of protection from the kind of nihilistic zealotry we saw on 11 September, or the lunatic element that seems to lie behind many of the recent anthrax attacks and hoaxes.

One thing we can do something about is the reaction to the events of 11 September within the West, and the consequences of that. The solution to the fear generated by the terrorist attacks and their aftermath cannot be to shut everything down. But as politicians and statesmen are now realising to their cost, nor is the solution simply to tell people to go about their ‘business as usual’. The generalised sense of fear that they have contributed to, through dire warnings about the possibility of full-scale chemical warfare and continuous warnings about the likelihood of more, and worse, attacks, is too powerful to be laid to rest with that simple mantra, ‘get to work’.

Such solutions will not work, because they do not address the problem at the core of 11 September and its aftermath. As Mick Hume argued on spiked on 16 October: ‘There is no solution “out there” to America’s domestic malaise.’ Everything from the fact that the terrorist hijackers, with their Western education and non-Muslim lifestyles, were made not in the poverty-stricken Middle East but in the USA and Europe, to the fact that the Western media and other institutions find themselves paralysed by white powder sent, not by airmail but from the state next door, indicates that the fundamental problem lies at home. And because of that, there can be no overnight solution, dreamt up in the Pentagon, the UK’s war cabinet, or in the meetings of the United Nations.

What there can be is a discussion, of the kind that has not yet taken place. As we sift through the rubble of 11 September, we can at least draw some clearer conclusions about the state of our world – and from there, work out what to do about it. This is the debate we want to start here, on spiked, over the next few months.

At spiked, we know that the point is not just to understand the world, but to change it for the better. But as many commentators and campaigners have pointed out over the past month, half-cocked solutions often change things for the worse. So let’s stand back, take stock, and start asking some tough questions.

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Topics Politics


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