Water cannons in Cambridge

Sabri Zain's Cambridge Diaries

A new kind of war
September 15th, 2001

The world is preparing for war.

For those who have sown fear and terror over the years - and saw the fruits of their evil seed erupt in a riot of death and carnage in the streets of New York last week - it is now they who shall cower in fear and terror. As the free world gathers its military, political and moral strength for the coming day of reckoning, it is now the terrorist who should taste the terror of his victims.

It is said that this is going to be a war of light against darkness, good against evil, civilization against barbarism, freedom and democracy against terror and oppression. It is therefore strange that what is likely to be the frontline State for the forces of democracy in the coming conflict is Pakistan - a military dictatorship that overthrew its democratically-elected government, dissolved its Parliament and suspended its Constitution less than two years ago.

Joining the ranks of nations that have pledged themselves to join the United States in this war for freedom is my own beloved Malaysia - whose government has, in this year alone, arrested dozens of Opposition and human rights activists and imprisoned them without trial, arrested or expelled students for taking part in peaceful demonstrations and continues to maintain a stranglehold on a cowed and servile media.

America and the West must, indeed, choose their friends carefully in this war for democracy, if they are not to repeat the mistakes they made less than two decades ago, when the very forces that they are pledged to annihilate today were also friends of democracy. Just how many US aircraft will be shot down or US servicemen killed in the coming conflict by the tons of military equipment generously dispatched to Afghanistan in that particular war for freedom and democracy?

These terrorists are bastards, you may say - but they were our bastards.

No, not again. This time it has to be a very different kind of war, a new kind of war.

Those who had perpetrated the terror in New York must be brought to justice - and if this means unleashing a military onslaught of such destruction that it strikes complete terror and death in their ranks, so be it. As you sow, so shall ye reap.

But will that vengeance be enough? No. The terror of evil in its final death throes cannot compare with the terror in the death of innocents.

And for every one of the terrorists killed or captured, there will be tens, hundreds, thousands others waiting to take their place. For the terrorists of the world find fertile ground wherever and whenever injustice, oppression and the abuse of human rights exists. The breeding grounds of terror are the detention cells and torture chambers of the world, where innocents are imprisoned without trial for expressing their views. The propaganda sheets of terror are the newspapers that are silenced by oppressive governments, which do not want to give voice to any shred of dissent. The assemblies of terror will be where peaceful demonstrations are violently dispersed with riot police, tears gas and guns.

For terror is the ultimate voice for those who have no voice.

And terror is but a symptom of a far more evil, fatal sickness. While guns, bombs and missiles may eliminate the symptom, the war against terror must be waged with equal determination - and courage - against its root causes: injustice and the abuse of basic human rights and freedoms.

There was a time when we thought that atrocities in the Middle East, or imprisonments in Southeast Asia, or coups in Africa, or similar events that occurred an ocean away from us, had nothing to do with our daily lives and that of our loved ones. Those days are gone. The government of the United States and that of the other nations of the world now have a new mandate to fulfill the roles and responsibilities they had only spoken about before - to be the beacons and defenders of freedom and democracy. The time for real action is now.

This kind of war cannot be won with a quick surgical air strike or a few weeks of carpet bombing. It is going to be long and difficult, and we may not see the final fruits of victory in our generation.

But it will be an opportunity for us to create a new world - a world of open and free societies in all nations. If the sacrifice of thousands on the altar of terror last week is not to be in vain - as well as the sacrifice of thousands others before them - this must not be a war of revenge, a war of narrow national pride and interests, a war of hate. It must be a war for change, a war on all fronts - military, political and social.

If this is indeed a war for civilization, for democracy, for freedom, it must be waged long after the terrorist guns are silenced and the smoke from the bombs have cleared. It must be waged in the ballot boxes of the world, in the Parliaments, in the law courts, in the newspapers, in the hearts and minds of people wherever and whenever basic human rights, freedoms and justice are under threat.

If the victors of the coming battle are indeed the beacons of world freedom, they must be unrelenting in shining their light on the oppressed people of all nations - even those nations who have, for now, declared themselves as freedom's allies.

And let us not allow this war to be the justification for those who today hide behind a mask of democracy to further abuse, hijack and terrorize freedom. For this will only make it the beginning of yet another vicious circle of violence and terror that may, one horrific day in the future, end in a repeat of last week's ultimate day of terror.