23 March 2004

Who's appeasing who?

By Tapani Lausti

"The world is now less safe, less democratic and less just!"

These were the words of the main speaker at the anti-war, anti-occupation demonstration in Malaga on Saturday evening (20 March), the anniversary of the US/UK attack against Iraq. Looking around the crowd I thought that these people are now being insulted by US neo-conservatives for exercising their democratic right to change their government.

So the word now is "appeasement". Few expressions have been used with such vehemence without, however, really pausing to think what is being said. If Spanish socialists gain a victory in democratic elections, it is described as appeasement of terrorists, because the victory supposedly was caused by al-Qaida's bombs in Madrid.

My feeling is that the Madrid massacre and José María Aznar's unpleasant manipulation tactics did not so much change voting preferences as galvanised a great number of people who normally are reluctant to vote at all. They arrived at the polling stations in their thousands. Most young Spaniards were already angry at Aznar's defiance of popular opposition to the war in Iraq. They see Aznar as a man with a small mind, inhabited by a big ego, all of which makes him seem a bit ridiculous.

If one followed the neo-conservatives' appeasement argument to its logical conclusion, we shouldn't do anything to defuse the international situation which breeds terrorism. We should support Israel's occupation of Palestine and the US/UK occupation of Iraq. We would not be allowed to analyse reasons behind terrorism. We would not be allowed to point out how the US has created deep resentment in the Islamic world by subjecting people in the Middle East to US strategic interests in a humiliating way. We would not be allowed to question George W. Bush's credibility when he rants on about "democracy" and "freedom" in the Middle East.

We should be more worried about appeasing Washington's dangerous aims. Many Finnish experts on Islam and the Middle East have pointed out the dangers of US foreign policy. The director of the Helsinki University Institute of Developing Countries, Pertti Multanen, tells about the hatred which one encounters in Iraq. This hatred, according to Multanen has been getting ever worse since the first Gulf war. The humiliation felt by the Iraqis goes very deep, says Multanen who last visited Iraq in January.

"The hatred is directed towards the United States and the Western alliance, especially NATO", Multanen says in an interview in the regional newspaper Turun Sanomat (Eva Latvakangas, "Eurooppa pelkää tulevaisuutta", 21 March 2004).

Multanen says that in opposing the enemy, terrorism is the only weapon available to defeated and humiliated people. In their eyes it is self defence, they see their enemies as terrorists. In the world of Islam, threatening words spoken by representatives of the West are being taken very seriously. People believe that the West is getting ready for another bloody crusade.

There is an even longer historical background to the feelings of humiliation, Multanen points out.

"We are going through a logical development, the roots of which are far away in 19th century colonialism. As a researcher of the developing world I would like politicians to wake up to the realisation of the crisis which so-called globalisation has created in half of the globe. The terrorist strikes of our time are a consequence of colonial rule. That is what we have to deal with."

Multanen draws attention to the unequal balance of the world trade of the 20th century.

"Developing countries were subjugated under foreign powers in a humiliating way, they were not allowed to build a viable social order of their own. They were left to survive by handouts. Such a situation cannot last forever."

Multanen is also critical of EU security policy which he says seems to put all emphasis on the use of force.

"In the December report, security expert Javier Solana uses similar rhetoric as Bush's regime. The report talks about getting ready for war, suggests rapid deployment forces, and has a fortress mentality in getting ready to defend European interests. It is aggressive rhetoric of a European superpower saying don't step on our toes."

Finnish experts warn that aggressive rhetoric and threat of armed force are hopeless means of fighting terrorism. They only help in spreading it. Mutual fear increases hostile perceptions between cultures. Xenophobia grows.

Professor Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, an expert of Islam at the University of Helsinki, also interviewed by Turun Sanomat, emphasises the importance of avoiding increasing tensions.

"Easing tensions is the best way to fight terrorism, not using the army and security services. If this is not successful, the imagined conflict between the West and Islam will become a self-fulling prophecy."

Hämeen-Anttila does not believe that the actual al-Qaida group is behind the Madrid massacre.

"Rather, al-Qaida has become an ideology, a way of thinking, with which one can identify. The strike was carried out more in the spirit of al-Qaida than actually by this group."

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