From Liberty Street: The Real War

The victory by Hamas in the Palestinian elections has been greeted by dismay and surprise here in the United States. But it has been discussed mainly in the narrow context of what it means for the peace process between the Palestinian people and Israel.

It's an important subject, yet it's not as significant as what this election signals about the current state of world conflict. We here in the United States tend to speak exclusively of a "War on Terror" meaning by it our attempt to destroy all people who are willing to use non-militarized violence to to gain their political aims. This we say is disgusting and uncivilized. We don't, of course, apply the same judgments to violence carried out by uniformed forces under the command of a nationalistic structure. Presumably, that sort is civilized.

If we were, however, to shift our perspective slightly, we might begin to see the war on terror as the extreme element of a global struggle, which employs instruments  all the way from hideous violence to legislative action, a struggle defined by American desire to dominate the world both militarily and economically and the rest of the world's determination to resist.

The rest of the world is not unified in the techniques to be used in this struggle but I suspect it is coming to be unified by the purpose. It's hard to imagine how it will not be the case within a short while that a great majority of the non-American world population will be concentrated on escaping from American dominance. It's also likely that getting out from under the American thumb will become the principal diplomatic goal of most of the world's people.

A majority of these non-Americans will not be willing -- any time soon -- to employ violence in support of their goal. But some will. And the important fact for us in the United States to realize is that the overall struggle will win for the people we call terrorists a kind of covert sympathy that may not break out into official pronouncements but will benefit our declared enemies in a host of ways.

This being the case, there are two main questions confronting the American people right now. Can we realistically pursue world dominance? And, ought we?

It's not possible at the moment to get a sensible answer to either question. That's because within the United States the debate about the nature of our problem has been framed far too narrowly. We have been told that terrorists are backward-looking, fanatical, hate-filled monsters who are despised by most of the rest of the world almost as much as they are by us. And we have been assured that once they are destroyed, as they certainly will be, then the world will sail forward peacefully and prosperously. It has never been discussed in our public debate whether the terrorists are the extreme wing of a worldwide movement, which, for the most part, doesn't agree with their tactics but understands why they are behaving as they do.

If you could take a worldwide poll, and get honest answers, I suspect you would find that a majority of the world is glad Hamas won the election in Palestine.

If Americans were to begin to perceive the world struggle as most of the rest of the world does, I'm not sure how they would respond. There would be many who would welcome the thought of us against the rest of the world. It's an element of the American tradition to say, "We don't give a damn what anybody else thinks. We're going to do what we want." There are others, though -- and they may approach a majority -- who would like to live equitably with the rest of the world, rather than to dominate it. They would rather be respected than feared, and they don't view the two as being the same.

It would be interesting and instructive to see how that debate would play out here in our country. But we can't have it until the questions are set before us honestly. We can't have it until the "war" in which we are now engaged is viewed in a broader context. And that's a development that neither the dominant political structure nor the main elements of the media are willing to entertain.



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