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Where to now in the war on terror?

By Graeme Mills - posted Thursday, 18 August 2005

Up to now we have fought wars against a known enemy, usually a country or bloc of countries. The defining features of these wars have been an identifiable geographical location and an identifiable foe, usually in uniform or distinct clothing or with distinct physical features. Now we have the “war on terror”. If however, the term “war” is to be used, then certain questions should be asked:

  • Who is the enemy?
  • Where are they?
  • Why are they attacking us?
  • What do they want?

To expand on those questions.


Who is the enemy?

The simple answer, currently in vogue, is that the “terrorists” are the enemy. The fact most are from Muslim countries has, inexorably, led to the identification of Muslims as the source of the enemy. If the Muslims are the source of the enemy then we have a true “war”. We have an identifiable enemy, not to mention a history of enmity stretching back to the crusades. They are not us, therefore they must be them, therefore they are the logical enemy. I wonder if we have really shrugged off our colonialist attitudes.

Where are they?

Now we have a possible answer to the first question, the answer to the second question becomes obvious. Logically, where “they” are is any country that has a predominantly Muslim population. That country must now swear allegiance or become a legitimate target of attack - “you are either with us or you are against us”. Now, at least, we know where to find “them”.

Why are they attacking us?

For many people this seems truly incomprehensible. It certainly does not appear to be seriously addressed in the mainstream media. But should it be so? After a history that includes the crusades, colonialism, the inquisition, the partition of Palestine, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and so on, it is perhaps not so incomprehensible. There is a certain “them and us” theme threading its way through history.

What do they want?

I have heard many answers to that question. It is the question that I regard as fundamental. Apparently Osama bin Laden simply wants the West out of the Middle East, in particular, Arabia and Iraq which have special significance to Islam. By being there, the West has become the infidel, the enemy, a legitimate target of attack.

Is that all? Does bin Laden speak for all who use terror as a tactic? Do Muslim’s have a hidden agenda? Do they want more, do they want to destroy the West and convert us all to Islam? Heaven forbid! We didn’t win the crusades for nothing you know.

It would appear that in an attempt to answer these four questions, I have ended up with Muslims as the enemy, or at least the source of the enemy. Yet we are told we are in a “war on terror”, not a “war on Muslims”.


A war on terror sounds like the “war on want”, the “war on drugs”, the “war on poverty”, the war on this and the war on that. The term “war” suggests an effort above and beyond the normal. This effort is directed at a theme, which I would suggest is like a hydra - it has many heads. It manifests in identifiable points and then disappears into the ether to become a theme again. Want manifests as a starving child or a homeless family, yet no matter how many children are fed or families housed, there are always more. “Want”, as a cause, is always present. It has not been addressed. Yet we all feel good that we are in a war against such a worthy enemy. Drugs kill our youth. Yet, no matter what laws are passed, drugs still exist. Poverty still stalks this planet. Yet, no matter how much money is spent on welfare, it continues to exist. We have not addressed the cause.

Eliminating the individuals who commit acts of terrorism does not address the cause. To win a war, it is axiomatic that you need an enemy you can defeat. An enemy that at a certain point you can identify as having been defeated. We knew when World War I and World War II had been won. Terror is not an enemy, it is a tactic of the enemy.

We will not defeat the enemy unless we can first of all identify who the enemy is. Once we know for certain who the enemy is, we can then assess whether we can defeat them or whether we will have to negotiate a peace.

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Article edited by Angus Ibbott.
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This article was first published on Henry Thornton on July 27, 2005. 

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About the Author

Graeme Mills was born 1955 in a country town. He left for Sydney to go to university and lived there for 20 years before retiring back to the same country town where he now lives. His was mainly in property, finance and development. Graeme holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (majors in English and History) and a recently acquired Law Degree. He has written two books, both unpublished which he is investigating publishing online. He now has an extended family in China which has given him a whole new focus to life. He set up the BLOGs Dialectic Blue and Kaixin to give vent to this new direction.

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