Commentary: Addressing terrorism

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor   |   March 22, 2004 at 3:50 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- The Arab world, and, in fact, much of the Western world, have criticized the killing of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, an outfit better known as Hamas.

While Palestinians regarded Yassin as a respected figure of the resistance to Israeli occupation, Israel claimed that Yassin was responsible for many of the suicide bombings carried out in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories that have claimed scores of innocent lives. Silvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister, speaking to CNN shortly after the attacks, described Yassin as "the godfather of the suicide bombs."

In defending its actions, Israel is trying to equate the militant quadriplegic imam to al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden. Israel accuses Yassin of being responsible for a multitude of terrorist attacks against the Jewish state, countering Palestinian claims that Yassin was a moderating force who could restrain Palestinians and possibly prevent further attacks.

Yassin was killed while emerging from a Gaza mosque following dawn prayers Monday, when a number of Israeli missiles fired from attack helicopters put an end to his life. He died along with his bodyguards and several other people.

Indeed, the United States would love to terminate bin Laden in a similar manner, if only they could find him. But the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan and Pakistan are harder to penetrate than the slums of the Gaza Strip.

However, a word of caution is required here to Israel, the United States and the rest of the civilized world as the fight against terrorism continues, and gathers momentum. Indeed, if the Madrid bombings were any indication, the situation in regard to terrorism is not likely to improve anytime soon.

Simply killing Yassin and bin Laden will not herald the end of attacks in Israel, the United States and other parts of the world. In fact, it could well have the opposite effect, as Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, one of the Hamas leaders predicted following Yassin's death. "Israel has opened the gates of hell," warned Rantisi.

Hamas' reaction to the assassination of its leader will be, says Rantisi, "as rough as a heavy earthquake." And as numerous analysts now predict, we could well witness the start of a fresh wave of violence erupting in the Holy Land. Some Palestinians are already referring to the killing of Yassin as the beginning of the "third intifada."

For every Yassin or bin Laden killed, history has shown us that there are dozens of other potential leaders waiting in the sidelines, ready to assume their place. Just ask the French about their attempts at eliminating the revolutionary leadership of the Vietminh in Indo-China or the rebels of the National Liberation Front in Algeria -- or the American experience in Vietnam when it came to targeting North Vietnamese and communist military leaders.

"There will always be terrorists as long as there is a reason for them to commit acts of terrorism," said Charles Henderson, a former Marine and author of four books on the Vietnam war. "These are fundamental lessons that the Marine Corps teaches. You have to eliminate the motivation."

Marine Corps Gen. Victor H. Krulak, says Henderson, recognized that in Vietnam you could not simply win the war militarily. "You had to win their hearts and minds," he says. That theory holds true with all groups that turn to violence. Eradicate the root reasons and you deny them popular support, without which a revolutionary cause cannot sustain itself.

While the war on terrorism must be pursued, it must also be accompanied at the same time by well-established strategies to help stamp out the causes that lead to such actions by Yassins, bin Ladens and others.

Since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in lower Manhattan and on the Pentagon, much emphasis has been placed finding bin Laden, as it should be. But what has been missing from the war on terrorism has been a comprehensive policy to study, identify and set out to eradicate the basic reasons for this worldwide contempt of American and Western norms.

The elimination of Yassin and bin Laden may well set Hamas and al-Qaida back, but it will not put an end to the threats presented by these groups. In the case of bin Laden, the United States, in cooperation with its allies and the countries concerned, should address the reasons young people in countries around the Arab and Islamic worlds flow to al-Qaida. Why are some young people so prepared to sacrifice their lives? How do you combat statements, such the one purportedly issued by al-Qaida after the Madrid bombing saying, "You love life, we love death"?

Emphasis must be placed on fighting terrorism, building walls and fences as protection against it, but at the same time delving deeper into the socio-economic reasons that motivates individual to undertake such drastic actions. And then address those reasons from a humanitarian perspective. Missiles and bombs alone will only help ensure that the never-ending cycle of violence continues.

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