No Distinction Among Terrorists

Whoever carried out the attacks on the hub of American business and finance as well as the headquarters of the mightiest military force ever, for whatever reasons, committed acts that go against norms of modern civilization. It was hi-tech barbarism.

Americans are no angels. They can be held responsible for many human tragedies of modern times in many countries. But the crashing of aircraft loaded with innocent passengers into the twin towers of New York and the Pentagon while around 100,000 people were working in these establishments and its environs is not going to bring opprobrium to America or sympathy for whatever cause in which name these insane and criminal acts were committed.

Palestinians danced in the streets upon receiving news of the attacks, but their joy is misplaced, because these attacks are not going to help their cause in any way. In fact, the fallout can only be negative.

We, in this little island nation, know all too well the anguish and rage the Americans are going through today. We have been through this torment many times in the past 18 years—the last occasion being the terrorist attack on the military and civilian airports at Katunayake [committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka, on July 24]. We see similarities and divergences in the fallout of the two acts of terrorism.

Immediately after the attacks on America, the cry that emanated from President Bush, leading American politicians, and the ordinary people shown on TV was that terrorism must be eliminated, root and branch, from the globe. Countries that gave shelter or support to such terrorists should be held responsible for their actions, they said. In contrast, after the Katunayake tragedy our national leaders did not call for a determined effort to eliminate terrorism. Leaders, including fellow travelers of the peace brigades and ambassadors of Western nations, asked us to hold negotiations with the terrorists! Apparently, there are terrorists, and then there are Terrorists.

The attacks on American targets were described as crimes against humanity. But in the case of Katunayake, some of our academic pundits attempted to justify the attacks as legitimate because a military air base was involved. Who in the world today would justify the attack on U.S. military headquarters, the Pentagon, on the grounds that it is a military target? When the central bank of this poor country was bombed in 1996, some also claimed it was legitimate because “freedom fighters” had a right to select economic targets. Now, who would justify the attack on the hub of American business and finance?

Immediately after the bombing of Katunayake, this poor country, which depended so much on tourism, was hit viciously below the belt by our friendly Western nations, which declared it to be a war zone and issued travel advisories to their citizens not to travel to Sri Lanka. The robber barons of international insurance not only hiked up insurance premiums for aircraft landing here by astronomical amounts this country could not afford, but went on to hike up freight-insurance premiums for shipping, crippling our export and import businesses. Today, America has declared war on its unidentified aggressor. Its airports are closed and all aircraft grounded. But which insurance company will declare the United States to be a war zone and jack up insurance premiums on ships and aircraft landing in America?

True, little Lanka is not mighty America. But the effects of terrorist attacks on poor countries are many times more disastrous than on a big power. And those who are responsible for the proliferation of international terrorism are our brothers, big and powerful as well as big and not so

In the 1980s, Sri Lanka watched in desperation as our neighboring Big Brother took a ragtag band of terrorists and molded them into efficient guerrilla fighting units. They, with their active canvassing, helped spread the Tamil diaspora around the world. It is today the main source of terrorist funds keeping the carnage going on here.

On Tuesday, we ran a report from the Canadian newspaper the National Post, which accused the Canadian government of permitting the LTTE to collect as much as US$30 million in Canada to fund terrorism in Sri Lanka. Thus, when U.S. leaders look around for countries helping international terrorism, it should look at not only the “rogue states” of the Third World but also their own G-7 brethren.

We are indeed sorry that America has had to bear the brunt of international terrorism, because it is the first country that recognized the dangers of international terrorism, named the organizations openly, and proscribed some of them from operating in America. But elimination of global terrorism needs a much more concerted effort than the United States is making today.

It was the indulgent attitude shown toward so-called “liberation movements” by Western nations in the ’80s that resulted in the proliferation of numerous terrorist groups. Religious bodies and human-rights groups spoke of terrorism as being the result of injustices caused to various ethnic and religious groups. Terrorism had to be tackled by eliminating the causes of terrorism, they held.

This is indeed true, but today many such groups that have sprung up believe they are justified in being terrorists because their causes are just. The question now before America and other powerful nations is whether these terrorist groups should be shown indulgence because their causes are supposedly just causes.

The horrendous attacks in New York and Washington now quite clearly indicate that the world cannot tolerate such terrorist groups anymore, although terrorist groups like that of the LTTE exist today due to the munificence and tolerance of European governments. The West knows too well the links that are being established between international terrorist outfits. It cannot ignore any outfit in this globally linked terror chain. President Bush has vowed to crack down not only on terrorists but on countries that harbor them. He should be supported by the civilized world.

Western nations have been the foster father—and some still are—looking after this Frankenstein monster. It is now up to them to destroy it.