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VIOLENCE AS ROUTINE, AND MORE COMING

The Daily Star - Decemebr 29, 2007 by Rami G. Khouri Sadly, but not surprisingly, this year draws to a close with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, a ghastly symbol of the organized political violence that plagues many parts of the Arab world and South Asia. The advent of a new calendar year will provide only a new log for tracking the terrorist bombings, wars by invading armies, local rebellions, ethnic clashes, criminal violence and political assassinations that have become routine in this vast area that stretches from North Africa and the Middle East to South Asia. Historians will define the major underlying causes of the institutionalized instability and political intemperance in much of the Arab-Asian region. But, surveying the scene at the end of this year, I am struck by two contradictory trends: the prevalence of severe violence by a small group of actors - mostly governments and their security forces, terrorists, criminal elements, and the occasional enraged mob - alongside a vast majority of citizens in the region who live peaceful lives and practice nonviolent political, cultural, religious and social accommodation and tolerance in their villages and neighborhoods. The decency and humanity of ordinary citizens are routinely overshadowed by the greater drama of spectacular murders and organized military violence, orchestrated by local and foreign governments alike. The variety of conflicts, terror, and aggression throughout our region reflects a wide range of actors and causes. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Algeria all mirror different local and regional dynamics. Some of their brutality is the consequence of local warlords and incoherent states, whereby armed elements seize power in the absence of a credible, efficient government or state. Other cases are the direct consequence of invading foreign armies practicing a form of neo-colonialism, whereby American, Israeli, British and other external powers decide they have the right to use their military might to reconfigure politics and values in Arab-Asian societies. So it is not surprising these days to witness, simultaneously, American troops killing Iraqis in Iraq, Israeli troops killing Palestinians in Palestine, someone or other killing Lebanese in Lebanon, Osama bin Laden and his types killing all nationalities all over the world, and assorted Sudanese, Somalis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Algerians killing each other. The nature and culprits of political violence in the Arab-Asian region are very diverse, not monolithic. It is unacceptable to assassinate politicians, blow up pizza parlors, attack hotels, bomb civilian neighborhoods from the air, or send an army halfway around the world to change an unpleasant regime. All these forms of violence are explainable by historical and political circumstances, though, so they are not irrational acts, even if they are criminal acts. The fact that they occur simultaneously also suggests that they are linked in some way. The start of a new calendar year will not change the ways of the bombers, killers, and generals who orchestrate the violence that defiles our societies - whether they are holed up in a mountain cave in central Asia or in a local militia base, comfortable in an Arab presidential palace or an American-European capital, or strutting in the Israeli, Turkish, Iranian and Russian defense ministries. We can, however, start a fresh year by deciding to analyze and understand the cycle of violence more comprehensively and accurately. Some Arab and Asian countries have slipped into a debilitating cycle of violence and instability because their people and leaders refused to do this a decade or two ago, when the levels of violence were much lower. Israelis have repeatedly made the same mistake since 1947. Americans and Europeans made a similar mistake when they misdiagnosed the nature, causes and aims of 9/11 and successive terrorist attacks against Western targets. Ending or reducing rampant violence requires understanding its full cause-and-effect cycle, especially its root causes, so that they can then be addressed with all available legitimate political, military, judicial and socio-economic means. Sermons from London, double standards and surges from Washington, bravado from Tel Aviv, and renewed Arab-Asian authoritarianism - all of which we witnessed again this week - are not the answer; they are the among the core of the problem. The overwhelming majority of the over 1 billion people - mostly Muslims - in the Arab-Asian region did not bomb a restaurant, assassinate a politician or attack an army post in past weeks. Most Arabs and Asians congratulated their neighbors for the religious feasts of the day; shared a felicitous greeting and probably a celebratory meal, tea or sweet; sent their children to school; and prayed hard. They especially continued to pray for more merciful and sensible leaders in their own capitals and abroad, who could summon elusive wisdom and humility for a change, instead of only aggravating the global maelstrom of political violence they have created in our name.





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