POSTSCRIPT / September 20, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Merely killing bin Laden won't solve the problem

WHAT R.P. CAN DO: What role should the Philippines play in the emerging gang war in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region?

We see two things: One is to try to be a moderating voice amidst the hysterics of the lynch mob being sent to hunt down international terrorists, and Two is to resolutely fight our own battle against local terrorists.

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BUSH A FUNDAMENTALIST?: A word of caution is in order. Let’s not swallow everything that Uncle Sam throws our way.

Some references in the war rhetoric of President George W. Bush expose a kind of fundamentalism in the makeup of this man who happens to be president of the greatest power on earth and, by extension, ex officio enforcer of the agenda of the West.

Early on, Bush characterized as a war between Good and Evil the coming US retaliation for the Sept. 11 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. America is goodness incarnate, and anybody who dares to talk back or hit back is evil personified?

Later, Bush referred to the sending out of a US-led posse to get terrorist-suspect Osama bin Laden as a crusade. This emotion-charged term, reminiscent of the crusades in the Middle Ages to recover the Holy Land from the Moors, rakes up animosities between the devotees of Christianity and Islam.

* * *

CRUSADE vs JIHAD: Dropping by the Pentagon the other day, Bush was still in a lynching mood, remarking “There’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ ‘” He was referring to bin Laden.

When Americans belt out the rousing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and invoke God’s terrible swift sword and draw a picture of Him victoriously marching on, glory glory hallelujah, we get goose bumps sensing a holy war in the offing.

Apparently, not enough people have noted that a holy war, or a crusade in the movie in Bush’s mind, is nothing but the Islamic “jihad” seen from the other end of the gun barrel. Is this the Christian “jihad” that Bush wants us to join?

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WAR MEANS MONEY: Yeah, why not? If we have nothing better to do, maybe a war would change the tempo of our laggard life. The soldiers that our military thought of contributing to the war effort will have a chance to make good money. A war might also help curb the problem of overpopulation in the Third World.

If we play our cards right, we might even earn a few million dollars, or billions as in the case of Pakistan which has been reportedly promised in the range of $30 billion representing a write-off of its unpaid and unpayable foreign loans.

(Knowing from personal experience how deceitful official America could be, we wonder if Kabul saw to it that the US promise is contained in an enforceable legal instrument that is signed and sealed with blood.)

* * *

ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS: To the delight of the war industry, Bush is raising $40 billion for his war chest (including the mopping up of the collateral war damage in New York). Even by American standards, that is quite a sum, so the federal government will borrow scarce resources through the issuance of war bonds. Pati giyera ipinang-uutang na!

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the economist might understand the economic implications of the impending war better than many of us.

That’s why for days now, we have been waiting for her to explain and help Filipinos understand how $40 billion would impact on the US economy that is now in recession or thereabouts.

Will the war spending resuscitate the American economy and will part of the overflow, if any, cross the Pacific and bring food, jobs and security to Filipinos? Or is that recovery scenario farfetched?

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MERCENARY STREAK: Is the Arroyo administration angling for material benefits in the event we unfurl the Philippine flag alongside the Stars and Stripes on a battlefield in some far-away land?

Vultures in government, some of them military types, are showing their mercenary streak by proposing that we send troops to fight in Afghanistan or wherever the US decides to bring the war.

This is insanity. Why should we send an elite force to a foreign front when we cannot even solve our own problem with domestic terrorists?

The Abu Sayyaf problem, for one, is part of the global problem that is terrorism. We stamp it out in the home front and we would have contributed immensely to the international fight against terrorism. No need to fly and fight elsewhere.

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UNDER THE TABLE: What can we offer the US in the first place, aside from a standard declaration of solidarity plus their unhampered use of the former US facilities on Clark and Subic (which actually are far from the projected theater of war)? Frankly we don’t see much that could be offered.

Oh, there’s actually a little something, but we will mention it in Pilipino (we’re read online worldwide) so as not to embarrass ourselves.

Maaring buksan uli natin ang mga kung anu-ano sa Olongapo at Angeles para sa R&R ng mga maiinit na sundalo nila. Ang pangit pakinggan… ang baba, ang baboy… pero yung lang yata ang maiaabuloy natin sa mga Kano.

This side business (sometimes under the table) can be good for the local economy, kasi ang bayaran diyan ay cash before delivery, not subject to the usual US congressional processes.

* * *

GROPING FOR DIRECTIONS: But now they tell us that not even American leaders and US allies know for sure what kind of war Bush wants to wage.

If they themselves are not sure at this late hour, how can we be sure ourselves? And if we’re not sure — in fact we don’t even know who the enemy is or are — how can we move?

No wonder the top-level security meeting the other day in Malacañang did not plot or approve definite steps leading to Philippine participation in the war that Bush wants.

* * *

CALL FOR MODERATION: As we said in our intro, a role we can play very well is that of a moderating voice amidst the hysteria.

The prudent path has been defined by Jaime Cardinal Sin, who appealed for sobriety in his homily last Sunday in observance of the National Day of Prayer and Solidarity against Terrorism. Let’s listen to the good cardinal.

It was terrorism at its worst when hijacked jetliners were flown kamikaze-style into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands of innocent civilians.

Will it be a holy war, and not terrorism, if US bombs and missiles are rained in retaliation on civilian communities in Afghanistan or elsewhere? What is the real difference between Muslim and American terrorism?

* * *

GOD INVOKED: Is a counterattack by avenging Americans on Afghans who have nothing to do with bin Laben less repulsive and more acceptable in the eyes of the Lord? (Aren’t we appalled by the loose invocation everywhere of His name?)

But we remember reading in the Bible of Christ admonishing Peter in Gethsemane after he drew his sword in defense of the Master to put the weapon back in its scabbard. He who kills with the sword shall die by it, we’re told.

The avenger of victims of terrorism is no better than the terrorists when he himself resorts to terrorism.

* * *

DRAWING THE LINE: At this point, lest we be misunderstood again, we want to repeat that we condemn with the rest of the grieving world the mass murder of innocent civilians who had nothing to do with official US government policy.

If we had relatives or friends among the victims, we would probably let out an anguished cry for vengeance. Not justice, which we’ve found elusive, but vengeance.

But in the same way that we denounce the targeting of non-combatants, we will not condone any move to bomb or harass innocent communities in a country where the suspected terrorist leader happens to be in hiding.

In the same way that we say that the end does not justify the means in the plane-bombing of the WTC towers, we say with as much vehemence that the end of justice (actually it’s vengeance, if we’re reading Bush’s lips correctly) does not justify just any murderous means.

We draw the line. But can Bush and the other members of his posse be able to see the line? Bush obviously has not seen the line. We hope more Americans will see it, and call their leaders’ attention to it.

* * *

LET’S ASK WHY: What we want to see happen is for the great American nation to go back to sanity by asking themselves the old question of Why?

We know that the terrorists attacked. We know when, where and how they did it. But we, American leaders especially, have neglected the question of Why.

Why the terrorist attacks? Why? Let Americans face that question squarely, and answer it honestly.

The question is not answered, the problem is not solved, by the mere elimination of Osama bin Laden. If the basic issues are not addressed, if injustices fomented by some US policies are not corrected, there will be more bin Ladens — and the American nation will never find peace.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 20, 2001)

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