By Arlen Grossman
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.
John Lennon “Imagine”
The West worries about terrorist attacks for good reason. The United States and other Western powers are angering a generation of Muslims, and some of them want revenge. Muslims all over the world are understandably angry at the interference, militarily, politically, and economically, of Western Christian nations in the affairs of Muslim countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
There are a number of reasons for anger among the Muslim population, but Western interference in their lands is probably the most important. Sharif Kouashi, one of the brothers involved in the Charlie Hebro attack in Paris, attributed his radicalization to the Iraq war and “the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. Osama Bin Laden cited among his grievances that led to 9/11: the sanctions on Iraq, the plight of the Palestinians and the occupation of Saudi soil by U.S. troops. Not much has changed since then, and in the intervening years there have been invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as bombings and drone strikes in other Muslim countries, killing thousands, many of them civilians.
Nobody expects Western nations to be leaving the Muslim world anytime in the near future. The West has economic and strategic interests they are unwilling to give up. Since Muslim countries are no match for Western Christian nations militarily, blowback has taken the form of terrorist attacks by various groups and individuals.
All of this is very costly to America and its allies. A 2013 report by Harvard researcher Linda Bilmes places the eventual cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq between $4 and $6 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans. That translates to as much as $75,000 for every American household. And Brown University’s Costs of War Project (2014) estimated over 350,000 people–armed forces on all sides, contractors, civilians, etc–have died as a direct result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Very grim numbers indeed. But lo and behold, there is a solution. Imagine what would happen if the United States took all the personnel and money currently used for military action against the Muslim world and put all of it to use helping and building up those same countries. Think of a super-sized Marshall Plan for the Muslim world.
Imagine what the average Muslim would think if Western nations, instead of invading their countries militarily, came to their lands to help them–building schools, providing health care, and building (or rebuilding) roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Americans and other Western countries would send thousands of non-combat soldiers and citizens invested in making the Muslim world more modern, secure and friendly.
Building a school in Afghanistan (Burlington Free Press)
They might be suspicious at first, but once real assistance was in place, Muslims would start to look at Western powers in a different way: as friends. Terrorism, for good reason, would dissipate. There would no longer be a compelling reason to seek revenge on the West. It would be a win-win scenario for everybody.
Sadly, there is little likelihood of this happening in today’s world. Too many Americans and other Westerners are making enormous sums of money combating terrorism. The military-industrial-security complex (as well as news networks) rakes in billions fanning the fears of a terrorist attack within our borders. They are not about to willingly give up this lucrative cash cow.
That leaves it to the people to demand it. If motivated and war-weary citizens, in America and around the world, organized and took to the streets, demanding a peaceful end to this murderous cycle of perpetual violence, advocating a radical shift in thinking aimed at helping our former adversaries, everything would change. Imagine a more peaceful world with a significantly decreased threat from terrorist attacks. Call me a dreamer, but it really is possible.
Also published at OpEd News, February 8, 2015
There is no question that as we continue to interfere in the Middle East, the violence will continue to escalate. Doing what we’re doing now is a recipe for failure.
This might actually work – the problem is that since the West is seen as an enemy, anything we do there will be seen with suspicion, and people from the West trying to, say, build schools and power plants will occasionally get attacked which isn’t going to help our resolve in moving this Marshall plan II forward.
We should at least get out of the region now, and maybe in 10-20 years try to come back and help; maybe earlier to countries that we haven’t invaded or bombed in the recent years, like Egypt or Tunisia.