Vicken Cheterian

Utopia Undermined by anti-Terror Wars

The 1990’s started with a new era of optimism. It was the end of the Cold War, the end of the nuclear nightmare and two-camps world. It was the end of the military madness that threatened to annihilate human civilization in an ideological war. The Soviet Union that had invested large part of its resources in the militaro-industrial complex, collapsed in spite of its military strength. Imagining a new utopia was now possible. For the first time in half a century it was possible to think about solutions for basic social, environmental, and moral challenges humanity and our planet is facing. 

While there were wars erupting in numerous places with tragic consequences – the Balkans, the Caucasus, Great Lake region of Africa – on the global level there was an opening to build international relations on new foundations. The military establishment had lost its hegemony, its utility to project power, and there was a historic window of opportunity to lay new, peaceful principles for international relations. 

The end of the Cold War was also the defeat of the socialist camp, and a great opportunity for the United States. For the first time in history, and for a short moment, humanity lived according to the rhythm of unipolar world. The American leaders had a unique opportunity to fashion the new world that was being projected in front of them. And as early as 1994, US President Bill Clinton chose to project the future through NATO – that obsolete organization that best represents the Cold War era - expansion to the east of Europe, until the doorstep of The Kremlin. The American ruling class, in their arrogance, imagined that they could impose a “new world order” where they would be the lone masters of planet earth, where thy could impose their own preferred economic, political and legal standards with their hegemony over the rest of the world. Even Zbigniew Brzezinski (a former American presidential advisor) had the boldness to compare US might with that of the Roman Empire, saying that like the Romans, the US had 300’000 soldiers stationed in military bases abroad. 

In spite of the US policies for a unipolar world, where it imposed its own hegemony on other international players, the decade of the 1990’s saw the growth of a social movement that opposed militarism, neo-liberal capitalism, and demanded social justice and protection of our environment. This movement became known as anti-globalization, succeeded in imposing a siege on the ruling classes of the powers, both figuratively and literally. First, they opposed the neo-liberal promise of maximizing profit and material consumption and instead promoting both social topics like rights of immigrants and women, or native populations, as well as a radical consciousness that our economic model is destroying our natural environment and needs to be stopped. They were young people, urban, educated, who opposed the choices of their own leaders. They organized a series of large demonstrations against the ruling political class, such as in Seattle in 1999 against World Trade Organization meeting, or in Genoa in 2001 against the G-8 summit. The anti-globalization movement was the major opposition against the post-Cold War order based on neo-liberal materialism, and promised change based on universal, humanist values.

Then came al-Qaeda and destroyed this movement. The rise of al-Qaeda put an end to the possibility of anti-globalization utopia. And since then we are living with the rhythm of indiscriminate attacks against civilians on the one hand, and large armies carpet bombing entire areas with the civilian populations in the name of anti-terror wars, on the other. Al-Qaeda itself was a marginal group that did not represent much. It was composed of radical Islamists from Egypt, Syria and Algeria, who had tried to overthrow the military regimes in their countries, and failed. Regrouped in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban regime, this rag-tag group declared “Jihad against Jews and Crusaders”. The practical translation was first attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, where dozens of innocent civilians perished in bomb attacks, and then the horrible September 2001 attacks against New York twin towers, and US defense ministry building (Pentagon) in Washington. 

Al-Qaeda’s attack proved catastrophic for the entire globe. A small group of individuals that did not represent much, succeeded to hijack world politics. Police states found legitimacy in “war against terror”, military invasions now had a new had raison d’être. The post-Cold War decade had gone, and with it social and environmental concerns. Now, state budgets went to police and army forces for “security”, instead of education, culture and development. Military spending illustrates well this reality: US military budget was at a pic of $427 billion in 1987, started slow decline until it reached $307 billion in 2001, and after that it exploded to $527 billion in 2007 – from this later one should still add the military expenses of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq! 

The 11 September attacks opened a new page in international politics conditioned by terrorism and anti-terrorism. Now, each and every police state has its own version of “fighting terrorism”, which is very useful to legitimize autocratic and corrupt regimes and the status quo. 

Al-Qaeda, with its attacks brought disaster to Afghanistan. Although Ben Laden did not think that the Americans would send ground troops to Afghanistan, they did and overthrew the Taliban regime. After countless thousands of death and trillion dollars spent, that war is still continuing. Al-Qaeda was defeated everywhere it tried to ignite insurrection, but it succeeded in developing a new model of rebellion: to declare others kafer, use extreme violence including suicide-bombing on industrial scale, and attract media attention and further recruits. 

In 2011 the Arab Spring – a series of revolts against dictatorial regimes in North Africa and the Middle East – promised a new beginning. Peaceful, popular demonstrations had succeeded in overthrowing the regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, where a decade of salafi-jihadi terrorism had failed. People wanted freedom, even Western-style democracy (denounced as bud’a by the jihadists), and most of all young people wanted jobs. But the Arab Spring failed to develop stable political systems, and the region fell apart. In Libya, Yemen and Syria the ancient regimes did not give up, and used their armed forces to bring down the popular movements. In the chaos of the new civil wars another monster was born, declaring itself to be the “Islamic State”, taking control of vast areas in Iraq and Syria, and even developing franchises in far-away corners from the Philippines to Nigeria. In their arrogance, ISIS declared war to every other state and political force present in the Middle East, and even announced their intention to conquer Rome! 

 For the second time a salafi-jihadi formation frustrated struggles for peaceful, democratic change, by imposing their violent, dogmatic, policies. Again, their choices had global consequences, serving militaristic agendas around the globe. Today, ISIS is losing its capital Raqqa, after having fought and lost the city from where the news of the new caliphate was announced: Mosul. The price for this mad adventure is extremely high for all concerned. ISIS not only caused thousands of victims from among its rivals – be they from the Free Syrian Army, or loyalist forces in Syria and Iraq, minorities such as Assyrians and Yezidis. ISIS also destroyed the community it was supposed to represent; it is reducing each and every city it occupied to ashes, and the young people who believed in its propaganda to corpses on the streets.

While, for the second time a salafi-jihadi adventure seems to be ending, there is little hope that the world will take another, hopeful turn. More than ever before we seem to be hostages between two sterile forces: the jihadi nihilism and the anti-terror state.