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the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Horror ... and Mistakes
Carlos Basombrío Iglesias,
Ideele (monthly magazine of the Legal Defense Institute), Lima,
Peru, Sept. 13, 2001.
legitimate indignation of humanity in the face of the horrendous
events in the United States is increasing with every passing hour.
Thousands of innocent people killed, tens of thousands of families
destroyed, and a sensation of emptiness and insecurity torments
hundreds of millions of people.
Without a doubt, we are facing the most important event thus far
in the 21st century and perhaps the event that will have the greatest
influence on the world since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Politics,
economics, international relations, and even the daily lives of
people will not be the same in the future. Unfortunately, it is
possible that what is to come is even worse than what we have already
seen, and it will affect everyone who inhabits the planet in different
Regardless of how small our role, all of us must try to make a contribution,
despite our bewilderment and anger, to avoid the risk of making
mistakes that feed the monster. While it is true that terrorism
in all its variants grows strong and feeds on our fears, it is also
true that it will find fertile ground to grow if we are unable to
add a dose of calmness and intelligence to our firmness.
The citizens of countries that have suffered the demented actions
of terrorist groups capable of indiscriminately attacking the civilian
population, which is the case in Peru, have experienced how easy
it is to make mistakes under circumstances of emotional upheaval.
This is something that the fanatical terrorists want so that they
can get stronger and somehow try to legitimize their crimes.
Some reflections on this issue:
1. There are no easy or immediate solutions. Who could have imagined
a few days ago that a commercial aircraft filled with passengers
could become a terrorist weapon? When there is an absolute lack
of scruples and a complete disregard for human life, including the
terrorists own lives, it is very difficult, maybe even impossible,
to ensure that there will not be terrorist attacks. You only need
a few willing people to provoke incalculable damage. It is impossible
to protect everyone and everything all the time. Whoever maintains
that there are immediate solutions to terrorism is lying to the
people, and the cost of that mistake could be immense.
2. It isnt enough to have immensely superior military strength.
What good has it done for the United States, having the strongest
military in the world, to prevent actions like this? Undoubtedly,
very little. When a poisonous spider bites someone, shooting a bazooka
at the spider does not help the victim. Furthermore, the spider
is very good at hiding himself in the victims own clothing.
3. Revenge is not a solution. People want reprisals that
we do the same thing or worse to them. The problem is that
them is so vague. A country? A people? A culture? A
religion? A race? A massive attack on the civilian populations of
countries that could be protecting terrorists will feed the hate
and resentment this phenomenon lives on. It will be an attack on
everyday, average folks, like those affected in New York or Washington,
who just happened to have been born in a different place in the
As the people and the leaders of the United States identify Arabs
or Muslims as the enemy they need to fight, we are talking about
billions of human beings, something like one of every five people
on Earth. Are they the enemy? Or is the enemy the fanatical extremist
minorities who look for legitimacy among these peoples as the only
possible option? The opposite of what they do needs to be done.
The extremists need to be isolated, building the broadest political
coalition possible to combat them. It needs to be an alliance that,
for justice and efficiency, includes the majority of the Arab world.
4. We need to defend the values that are being attacked and not
destroy them in the name of fighting the enemy. In Peru, the Shining
Path proposed destroying the bourgeois state, a profoundly
imperfect democratic regime but one that we tried to move forward.
A combination of police intelligence and the rejection of organized
peasants defeated the Shining Path. Nevertheless, the official history
maintainsand we have to admit that many Peruvians believe
itthat the terrorists lost because democracy was ended and
human rights violated.
We need to reflect for a moment on this issue: If it is necessary
to do away with democracywhich is what terrorists wantto
defeat terrorism, then in some ways they are achieving their objective.
In the developed countries, freedoms are more consolidated and democracy
more established, so this dilemma does not exist, but there may
be manifestations of xenophobia, intolerance, restrictions on immigrants,
violent aggression against minorities, etc.conduct that goes
against the values we need in order to defend against terrorist
5. Intelligence and information are essential. These fanatical groups
need to be found and deactivated before they act and not after,
when the tragedies have already occurred. Here in Peru, effective
police work led to the arrest nine years ago of [Shining Path leader]
Abimael Guzmán, who headed an organization that seemed invulnerable
and unstoppable. It collapsed like a house of cards. In the face
of failures by the CIA, everything seems to point to an agency that
is not efficiently carrying out its role. Its work needs to be thoroughly
redesigned. We recall, however, that intelligence cannot be separated
from other areas and that the possibility of receiving quality information
increases or decreases exponentially depending on the support or
rejection the population exhibits for terrorist groups and those
These reflections do not point to a prescription. The only idea
here that cannot be refuted is that there are no easy solutions.
Whatever happens, the world will not be the same after Sept. 11.
And hopefully we will not do something worse, giving the monster
exactly what he wants, feeding him with our mistakes.