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9/11: Fear of Freedom

Dr. Ikramul Haq[*]

The blatant acts of terrorism against the United States a year back jolted the entire world. These raised some important questions about the future shape of modern day societies. The U.S and Western people secured freedom from political, economic and spiritual shackles that have bound men for many centuries after a strenuous and protracted struggle during the last century. The 9/11 incidents have created serious apprehensions of losing freedom by these societies in the days to come. Terrorism like fascism is a self-destructive ideology and if we want to fight terrorism we will have to understand it. Wishful thinking about military might and invincible air strike power will not help to win the war against something that relates to human behaviour. Use of ill-directed force against a few groups, dubbed as terrorists by United States and some of its blind allies, without eliminating the causes leading to “terrorism”, will be inadequate and self-defeating exercise in futility.

Humanization of world societies is the only effective tool to eliminate terrorism. Use of force on the contrary is bound to provoke more terrorist acts around the world. The doctrine of right of pre-emptive strikes and attack is only a short-term solution. In the long-term, the governments of the world will have to sit down and chalk out a comprehensive strategy to ensure that miscreants are dealt with a strong hand without disturbing the peace and tranquility of individual societies and the world as a whole. The most important question faced by humanity in the aftermath of 9/11 is whether we are afraid of freedom or want to preserve it for our future generations. These attacks were a strike against freedom but at the same time resulted from callous attitude of those who claim to be self-appointed guardians of freedom. In a unipolar world, after the debacle of communist oligarchy, the responsibility of western democracies increased manifold to assure the rest of the world that absolute power in their hands does not mean high-handedness towards others.

The mankind after much struggle and paying a heavy price learnt the principles of economic liberalism, political democracy, religious freedom and individualism in personal life. There are now certain forces having vested interest to push the mankind back towards the dark ages when inalienable fundamental rights were denied by the authoritarian rulers. There are debates inside the USA and elsewhere pinpointing the likelihood of erosion of civil liberties on a massive scale in the name of defending the Frontiers of Freedom. Terrorism surfaced as a reaction towards growing “fascism” on the part of certain States is a human problem which needs to be understood. The analysis of character structure of a man is at the core of understanding the rising phenomena of fundamentalism and terrorism. The economic imbalances within a society and from global perspective, revival of religious movements (primarily a camouflage to manifest certain political aims) and imposition of will of the mighty on the weak have all given rise to what culminated in the shape of 9/11.

Freedom of expression per se has been considered as sufficient fulfilment of the need to achieve a democratic society. The fall out of this fulfilment appears to be a misconceived notion on the part of individuals and groups that freedom of speech ipso facto gives them an authority or a license to impose their own ideas on others using money, power and physical force as means. They are not only intolerant towards others’ views but also suffer from the misconception that their ideas are the only truth through which the world can be changed into a wonderful place. The terrorists think their way of thinking is the correct version of life and the defenders of freedom are of the view that they hold the ultimate truth. Neither side is ready to open a dialogue. Both the sides have a non-comprising attitude when matter comes to ideology. This growing authoritarian thinking has led to a perpetual conflict position in the world. In all the politically tumultuous areas the main reason for unresolved disputes is this stubborn attitude on the part of the parties in conflict.

Lack of rationalism on the part of the powerful to be fair towards the powerless has converted our world into a place full of misery, destruction and unhappiness. The frustration of the powerless gets its vent in ghastly acts of terrorism and destruction. If we want to change this situation drastically, a balance has to be struck between the powerful and the powerless. If a large segment of the world lives in a state of powerlessness, the powerful will always remain the target of hatred and attack. The powerful want to transform the world as a machine where all others act as a cog while he has the master control. The cogs have their own way to develop malfunctioning to deprive the master from its absolute control.

This authoritarian thinking on the part of the powerful and mechanism adopted by him e.g. imposing economic sanctions is most illogical and irrational way to fight a war against fundamentalism and terrorism. The oppressed and powerless have their peculiar ways of reacting, which by no means can be expected to be according to the norms of internationally agreed principles. Their destructive tendencies are symptomatic of a sick world order. Our world is fast emerging as an authoritarian State reminiscent of a fascist system of the last century practices in Germany and Italy where the dominant role of authority in social and political structure rests with the dictators. The revival of dictatorial State orders in the name of security needs is a step towards fascist systems. On global level, there are now open expressions of superior and inferior statuses while entering into relations with different States and blind admiration of the unipolar force. This is like pushing the entire World to Ground Zero.

In devising military strategies to fight the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism, the people at the helm of affairs should not overlook the human side of the whole problem. Freedom and democracy are inseparable. The right to express our thoughts clearly means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own. If the media and state machinery is shaping the thoughts of everybody then where is freedom of expression? If one does not have his own thoughts what does democracy mean?  If the shape of the world is to be determined by a handful of people having known economic interests [who want to make oil and political maps right] then of what need is freedom for the common man? When we are remembering 9/11 there is skepticism and cynicism towards everything. The future of freedom and democracy is at stake.

Looked at superficially, people in various societies may appear to be functioning satisfactorily in economic and social life: yet it would be dangerous to overlook the deep-seated unhappiness behind that comforting veneer. The despair of the human life in New York after the 9/11 tragedy is not an isolated individual experience of a community but a world over feeling on a political scale where dominant thought is losing of freedom at individual level at the hands of certain political forces who lack sanity and respect for human life. Those who are encountering it with military might are equally mindless of the fact that suppression of individuals and governments cannot win any agenda against terrorism. Erich Fromm rightly concluded, “The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom the last centuries. It will be triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a faith that is the strongest the human mind in capable of, the faith in life and in truth, and in freedom as the active and spontaneous realization of the individual self”.

The same is true for victory against terrorism. In order to secure triumph over the forces of destruction and disruption the people will have to unite and convince the fellow human beings of faith in life, freedom and truthas the active and spontaneous realization of individual self. This in possible only in a world that is free of authoritarianism, exploitation and injustice.

[*] Dr. Ikramul Haq, a practcising lawyer, is author of many books on tax laws, global heroin economy and socio economic problems relating to our present day international society.

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