Terrorists R us

Sometimes it seems like the world can be simply divided into good and evil, into terrorists and pacifists. But is it that easy? British intellectual Ziauddin Sardar lodges a complaint

Ziauddin Sardar | March 2005 issue

Most terrorists lead mundane, apparently peaceful lives, but, in their own way, they are as cruel as those who behead victims for audiences on the internet. They are you and me, ordinary people consuming much too much, leading an unsustainable lifestyle, plundering non-western economies in the name of free trade, and imposing our lifestyle and morality on the rest of humanity. Yes, terrorists R (also) us!

Of course, there is a difference between “their” terrorism and, “our” terrorism. They feel they have a legitimate grievance; they engage in conscious terrorism because they see themselves as powerless against governments that have inflicted real injustice on them. We, on the other hand, are motivated by greed, a sense of superiority and an unshakable belief in our right to dominate the world. They kill indiscriminately. We kill en masse. Their nefarious deeds get the attention of the global media. Our terrorist activities are invisible, shrouded in pious rhetoric about “freedom and democracy,” embedded in our way of life, integrated into our system of thought and way of looking at the world. They know they are guilty. We have an innate belief in our innocence. They kill in hundreds and thousands; we kill in millions.

Of the 4.4 billion people living in developing countries, nearly three-fifths lack access to sewers, a third lack clean water, a quarter lack housing, and a fifth lack healthcare of any kind. Every day 800 million people go hungry. A baby born today in Botswana has a life expectancy of 39.

This is not the product of some fluke of history, or natural disasters, or mismanagement by tinpot dictators or a lack of initiative by the wretched of the Earth. These people are the direct victims of our deliberately-planned policies and actions. We close our markets to African peanut farmers but give billions of dollars in subsidies to American peanut farmers and ensure they can sell their products all over the globe. We subsidize every cow in the European Union by $2.50 (U.S.) a day at the same time we force peasants in Africa and Asia off their land to live on less than $ 1 a day.

We also kill cultures in the name of development, destroy traditional communities, turn rainforests into deserts to satisfy our craving for hamburgers. Ten languages fall silent every year. Entire cultures and different ways of being human are disappearing as a direct result of the cultural terrorism we perpetuate.

In return, we gloat. America constitutes three percent of the world’s population but consumes 25 percent of its energy and produces 30 percent of its pollution. The three richest Americans have assets exceeding the combined gross domestic products of the 48 least-developed countries. Americans spend $8 billion (U.S.) on cosmetics, nearly as much on pet food, and $10 billion a year on pornography—more than the estimated cost of providing clean water, sanitary sewers and basic healthcare to all the world’s poor.

This, then, is the world the West has created over the past two centuries and America has shaped over the last few decades. In this world, inequalities, exploitation and imperialism are not just part of the system—they are the System.

“Evil terrorists” commit horrendous acts of carnage by insulating their conscious awareness from the emotional consequences of what they do. We too insulate our consciousness from the repugnant consequences of what we continue to do every day of our mundane lives and the truly hideous world we have created and maintain. For sure, terrorists need to change. But we need to change even more.

The future need not be an extension of the past or the present. It can be shaped, decolonized and made more equitable. But to shape a future free from terrorism we must understand it. The terrorists believe they are fighting a form of cultural politics. It is a struggle to create cultural space for other ways of knowing, being and doing. It is a politics of visibility that brings the inhuman consequences of our policies and actions into sharper focus.

In the end, a terrorism-free future begins with our Selfs.

Ziauddin Sardar is a British writer, broadcaster and cultural critic with a Pakistani background. His recent books include Why Do People Hate America? and American Terminator: Myths, Movies and Global Power (Disinformation Books).

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