They are everywhere. Terrorists. A few are easily recognisable. They blow up buildings, kidnap innocent people, and turn their bodies into bombs. But most terrorists go about their mundane, apparently peaceful, lives. But these ordinary terrorists are just as irrational, cruel, and obstinate as the all too visible types.
Who are the vast majority of terrorists? Well, it is you and me, ordinary people consuming much too much, leading a totally unsustainable lifestyle, committing cultural genocide on the vast majority of humanity, plundering the economies of non-western countries 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 often have a legitimate grievance; they engage in conscious terrorism because they see themselves as powerless to wage war against powerful governments that have inflicted some real injustice to them. We 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, rooted in our language, integrated into our system of thought and mode 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.
Just think what we have done. Of the 4.4 billion people living in the developing countries, nearly three-fifth lack access to save sewers, a third have no access to clean water, quarter to not have adequate housing, and a fifth have no access to health care of any kind. Every day some 800 million people go hungry. A baby born in Botswana this year could expect to live an average of only 39 years.
This is not the product of some fluke of history, or natural disasters, or mismanagement by tin pot dictators or lack of initiative by the wretched of the Earth. These people are direct victims of our consciously planned polices and actions. For example, we deny government subsidies and our markets to African peanut farmers but give billions of dollars in subsidies to American peanut farmers and ensure that they can sell their products all over the globe. We subsidise every cow in the European Union by $2.50 a day and force vast majority of peasants in Africa and Asia off their land to live on less than $1 a day.
But we dont just displace people and reduce them to abject poverty. We also kill cultures, destroy traditional communities in the name of development, turn rainforests into deserts to satisfy our craving for hamburgers. Ten languages die every year. This means entire cultures, lifestyles and different ways of being human disappear from the face of the earth as a direct result of the cultural terrorism we perpetuate on the globe.
In return, we gloat. America constitutes 3% of worlds population but consumes 25% of worlds energy and produces an estimated 30% of its pollution. Three richest Americans have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of 48 least developed countries. Americans spend $8 billion on cosmetics, almost as much on pet food, and $10 billion a year on pornography thats more than the estimated total needed to provide clean water, safe sewer and basic health care to the worlds poor. This wealth and conspicuous consumption is not a result of some innate American superiority but a direct result of our plunder, genocide and subjugation.
This, then, is the world that the West has created over the past two centuries; and America has shaped during the last few decades. In this world, inequalities, exploitation, imperialism are not just part of the system; they are the System.
Evil terrorists perform horrendous acts of carnage by insulating their conscious awareness from the emotional consequences of what they do. We insulate our conscious 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, decolonised and made more equitable and just. But to shape a future free from terrorism we must realise that the war on terror is not a war at all. It is cultural politics. It is 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 action into sharper focus. It is personal exertion to live a more sustainable and humane life. It is an attempt to addresses the politics of identity that accompanies neo-liberal globalisation. In the end, a terrorism-free future begins with our Selfs.
Ziauddin Sardar, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic, is regarded as one of the top public intellectuals in Britain. His most recent books include Why Do People Hate America? and American Dream, Global Nightmare, both published by Disinformation Books.
From Adbuster vol 13 no 1 Jan/Fab 2004