Mike Moore: Poverty and corruption fuel terrorism
Column: Global order by Mike Moore
Recently we remembered and relived the chilling moments of September 11, 2001. The horror of that occasion changed everything. Leaders at the time said the terrorists would not win, that the democratic process would continue, life would go on.
All true. But the terrorists have won in the sense that they and their agenda dominate the electoral process, and leaders and politicians are judged by nervous voters on how they meet this terrible challenge.
The general election in Spain was decided on the conservative government's response to the Madrid bombings when that government dishonestly blamed the attack on ETA, a violent domestic separatist movement.
Just when our capacity to understand the grotesque inhumanity of it all is exhausted, we have a ring-side seat watching the mesmerising obscenity of terrorists holding school children in Russia hostage and then killing them. President Vladimir Putin's popularity and authority is now threatened. The public demands action and revenge.
Three years ago, the Howard government in Australia was returned, despite lagging in the polls, on the sole issue of security. Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington DC during 9/11. Refugees desperately trying to escape tyrants who were harbouring terrorists became an issue and Mr Howard unexpectedly won another term in office.
Now, in election month, the terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta has knocked all other issues off the front page during this very tight campaign. Labour was looking good with its leader, Mark Latham, taking the lead on some of the toughest social issues, such as encouraging welfare beneficiaries to work. The Jakarta bombing will also affect the Indonesian presidential election being fought out now.
Fragile democracies are vulnerable to those with the strongman theory of leadership who, with the support of powerful elites and the military, swear to ruthlessly restore law and order.
Meanwhile in the US, President George Bush holds a commanding lead on only one issue, the war against terrorism. That may well be enough.
The terrorists have succeeded in putting their presence on the agenda and lips of every politician in every democracy of substance.
I read a chilling report that there were only about 250 armed, dedicated members of the IRA in Ireland. This small group tied down a third of the British Army for over 20 years and helped force a negotiated settlement.
To defeat an enemy who doesn't fear death, even welcomes it and is prepared to kill children, to do anything, is beyond the moral comprehension of most of us.
What to do? Rooting out and killing their leadership is a popular and worthy tactic. But it's a tactic, not a strategy. Denying the terrorists safe places to plan and organise is also a vital tactic and strategy. Enlisting those moderate nations and their leaders in the coalition for peace is central to success.
Moderate Muslim leaders are also targets of the extremists who are waging war against what they see as impious sellouts. From Turkey to Egypt to Indonesia, secular democratic values are under assault.
Perhaps we should also begin to listen to what more successful Muslim leaders are saying to us. Southeast Asian Islam has traditionally been more tolerant and inclusive but under pressure by more radical influences. The struggle for the soul of Islam is a struggle for the future security of our region.
At the recent general election in Malaysia, Prime Minister Dato Seri Abdullah Badawi won a stunning victory over the opposition, PAS, an Islamic party. The battle was not over whether Malaysia was an Islamic nation but what kind of Islamic society it would become. Malaysia is possibly the only nation recently to have pushed back radical Islam via the ballot box.
It's significant that all the major presidential candidates in Indonesia are progressive Nationalists yet they found it necessary to promote vice-presidential candidates with serious Muslim credentials. A tolerant Indonesia is under pressure.
Progressive leaders in Thailand and the Philippines, with large Muslim minorities, are holding their ground; their eventual success at winning those hearts and minds will depend on their countries' economic success.
Here's where the west can be more generous: by ensuring that the development aspects of world trade are advanced and by a real commitment to implement the long-promised UN millennium goals to attack poverty and corruption to build sustainable democracy and functioning civil societies.
As always, poverty and helplessness are fertile ground for recruitment to extreme causes. It's always been so. Tsarist Russia imploded because of its arrogance, its unfair distribution of wealth and the cruel indifference of the ruling elites to the needs of the people.
Revolution nearly always delivers the opposite of its promise. When hope and respect are denied, anything can happen and does.
Mike Moore is a former director-general of the World Trade Organisation and a columnist for the Australian Financial Review
Nowhere else have I seen the comment that the US Presidential election is being influenced by the terrorist organisations, and their indirect threat of action.
But, when you think about it, it does make sense.
If it were not for Iraq, what would be the major debate topics be? Education? Health services? The deficit?
If it were not for AlQaeda, would the debate on “internal security” focus on the gun laws?
If it were not for Yusuf Islam, would the debate on immigration centre on illegals from Mexico?