International terrorism: keeping the issues in focusby Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
, June 29, 2002
The latest acts of Palestinian terrorism, including the killing of 18 civilians on a bus near Jerusalem, have a political rather than military purpose. The continued suicide bombings in Israel are designed to show that even the massive military presence by Israel in the Palestinian territory cannot halt the attacks.
In that light, they are apparently designed to force Israel to the conference table, although their effect on public opinion in Israel has been exactly the opposite.
Israel's real point of vulnerability is that the US might tire of supporting a policy of fighting fire with fire. Indirectly, President Bush's latest declaration of a "first strike" policy against countries which support terrorism, is a clear confirmation of a continuing commitment to support Israel.
This, however, is a quite separate issue to the continued operations against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which continues to exist, in weakened form, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US.
The US "war on terrorism" - if defined as destroying al Qaeda, which launched the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York - remains a necessary task. The continued threat posed by al Qaeda operatives can be seen in the recent arrest of a US citizen, trained by al Qaeda, who reportedly intended to construct a "dirty bomb", containing radioactive materials, for use against the American people.
However, America's "war on terrorism" risks becoming derailed by other issues, such as the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, the threat of Saddam to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and other conflicts.
Some countries, including China, are using the rhetoric to justify their own actions to deal with internal problems.
In China's far-western province of Xinjiang, Western reporters have been taken on conducted tours of the province, to justify Chinese claims that up to 1000 Uygur activists, overwhelmingly Muslim, were trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and 100 had returned to fight against the Chinese.
However, Uygur activists say their struggle is homegrown and accuse the Government of inventing an international conspiracy as an excuse to crush justified local dissent.
"The Chinese Government knows there is no connection between Uygur activists and bin Laden, but after 9-11 (the September 11 terrorist attacks), it made a good excuse," a spokesman for an Uygur exile group told reporters.
During their conducted tour of the province, reporters found no evidence of terrorist activities. Even the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang seemed keen to minimise the problem, saying, "The number of terrorists is quite small, so the threat to public order is small."
In other parts of Asia, including Indian Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and even Indonesia, Islamic terrorist groups operate, but their operations long predate al Qaeda.
For example, in April and May this year, a renewal of fighting in Indonesia's eastern province of Moluku, once known as the "spice islands", erupted.
Since 1999, religious and ethnic violence has claimed an estimated 5,000 lives in Moluku, with much of it orchestrated by Laskar Jihad, a Java-based group of radical Islamic paramilitaries who have declared a holy war against Christians.
As was the case during the violence in East Timor in 1999, there is considerable evidence that sections of the Indonesian military are supporting the terrorists, even if it is not official policy.
Jeff Hammond, a Christian minister who's been working with evangelical churches in Indonesia since 1974, told ABC's Religion Report
recently that "the police [in Moluku] as a general rule have tended to be more neutral, where military units coming from East Java have tended to have a much stronger support for the crusades of the Laskar Jihad."
He said that although the government had arrested the Commander of the Laskar Jihad, and taken him to Jakarta, the Vice President of Indonesia came to see him, then said, "Well, Jihad have done nothing wrong in Moluku, they're a good group, they're doing good work, they're working hand in hand with the government."
In the Arab world, the line separating governments and terrorist networks are often difficult to separate. As the US is the only remaining superpower, its citizens are acutely vulnerable to attacks by organisations which are hostile to American interests around the world.
However, effective action against terrorism requires a co-ordinated international response. The principal focus of the US' counter-terrorism policy remains to deter attacks on American citizens and property.
In its response to September 11, the United States showed it understood that attacks on Americans abroad cannot be stopped without international co-operation, including the Islamic world, Western Europe and Russia.
Its major challenge now is to maintain that coalition, so that the threat of international terrorism can be contained.