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The United States, the West and the Rest of the World

by Johan Galtung

[DIAGNOSIS.] The world will never be the same again after the terrible attack on the economic US, the military US, the foreign policy US, and on human beings like all of us. We embrace the victims of the violence, of all violence, in deep grief, and express our hope that those responsible will be brought to justice. A violence at this level can only be explained by a very high level of dehumanization of the victims in the minds of the aggressors, often due to a very deep level of unresolved, basic conflict. The word "terrorism" describes the tactics, but like "state terrorism" only portrays the perpetrator as evil, satanic, and does not go to the roots of the conflict.

The symbolism of targets (World Trade Center, Pentagon and the failed attempt to hit the Capitol or White House) reads like a retaliation for US use of economic power against poor countries and poor people, US use of military power against defenseless people and US political power against the powerless. This calls to mind the 230 US military interventions abroad, the near extermination of native Americans, slavery, the CIA's responsibility for 6 million killed 1947-1987, according to CIA dissidents, and the 100,000 dying daily at the bottom of an economic system identified by many with US economic, military and political power. Given the millions of victims, not thousands, it has to be expected that this generates a desire for retaliation somewhere, some time.

The basic dividing line in this conflict is class - of countries and of people. It is not civilization.

The basic dividing line in this conflict is class - of countries and of people. It is not civilization, although US sense of mission, manifest destiny, and Islamic sense of righteousness are parts of it. Right now the confrontation seems to be between the US/West and Arabs/Muslims. But this may simply be because the latter possess more intention and capability than other victims of the enormous US/West violence - direct, structural and cultural - since the Second World War. We should neither underestimate the extent of solidarity in the "rest of the world", nor the solidarity of the world upper class: the West; because of the strength of these two camps, it is crucial to build even stronger solidarity with all victims, everywhere.

In placing the horrendous attack on the US in the context of a cycle of retaliation, there is no element of justification, no excuse, no guilt-attribution. There is only deep regret that this chain of violence and retaliation is a human fact. But it may also lead to a desire to break that vicious spiral. Bombing terrorist bases would also kill many civilians, and only provoke many more to avenge this violence and become "martyrs".

[PROGNOSIS.] With talk of Crusades from the USA, and of the fourth stage of jihad, Holy War, from Islamic quarters, the world may be heading for the largest violent encounter ever. The first jihad, against the Crusades 1095-1291 lasted 196 years; the Muslims won. The second, against Israel, is undecided. The third, against communism in Afghanistan, ended with Soviet withdrawal and collapse. Some Muslims are willing to die for their beliefs, idolizing martyrdom, expecting to earn a place in paradise.

[THERAPY.] To prevent a slide into a large war with enormous, widespread suffering, the US, everybody, should not rush to action. We need deep self-reflection, identifying the conflicts, the issues, solving them, reconciliation. Dialogue and global education to understand how others think, and to respect other cultures, not debate to defeat others with stronger arguments, can lead the way toward healing and closure.

The enormous global inequality, which denies basic needs to billions while they see a privileged few indulge in luxury and waste, must be overcome, through a peaceful, cooperative world economic system.

The enormous global inequality, which denies basic needs to billions while they see a privileged few indulge in luxury and waste, must be overcome, through a peaceful, cooperative world economic system. This will hardly change the minds of terrorist leaders, but will deprive them of the fertile soil of frustrated and angry young people who feel they have nothing to lose, from which they can easily recruit eager followers.

All clergy - including Christian and Muslim - need to stress that killing innocent civilians is wrong, blasphemous.

Outside support and the supply of arms to autocratic regimes must stop. People who grow up in a democratic culture - where they can not only vote, but freely express their ideas and grievances and are heard, where governments truly represent their people's aspirations - rarely resort to violence. But if all opportunities for change by peaceful means are denied, some feel tempted to resort to violence.

The prolonged wars in the Middle East and many other Third World regions have bread a culture of violence. Transcending those conflicts, finding solutions that bring justice to all parties, is an essential component of a successful strategy against terrorism.

Governments in the West, and also in the South, cannot be relied upon to do this; they are too tied to the US and also too afraid of incurring US wrath. Only people can, only the global civil society. What is needed as soon as humanly possible is a massive peace movement, this time North-South. It worked last time, East-West. The future of the world is more than ever in the hands of the only source of legitimacy: people everywhere.

Peace researchers and members of peace movements must put these problems back on the agenda: poverty and hunger in poor countries; Western disrespect and arrogance towards Non-Christian cultures and religions as a source of hatred; a historical understanding of cultural-political conflicts including the crusades, the conquest of the Americas, the destruction of Africa and slavery, the Opium War, Britain's conquest of Afghanistan, among many others; the political economy of capitalism-globalism; the empirically proven truth that using violence against violence is counterproductive (Gandhi); the overcoming of hatred as the cornerstone of civilization as told in all major mythologies. Violence only breeds more violence. Common security, global solidarity with all those who suffer from violence, is indispensable for human survival.

Johan Galtung, a Professor of peace studies at the University of Hawaii, the University of Witten/Herdecke, the European Peace University, and the University of Tromsoe. He established the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research in 1964. He has published hundreds of articles and over 50 books, including recently "Human Rights in Another Key", "Choose Peace" and "Peace By Peaceful Means. Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization." He is a consultant to several UN agencies, a constant traveling lecturer and has recently founded TRANSCEND, a global network of experts trained in conflict analysis who do field work in various trouble spots. He holds numerous honorary degrees and awards, among them the Right Livelihood Award (aka Alternative Nobel Peace Prize).

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