- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

In the fight against global terrorism, broad-based free expression and free markets are not only necessary — they are inevitable if we are to build and sustain a safer world.

In the course of more than 40 hearings on terrorism issues by the National Security subcommittee, which I chair, this hard lesson emerged: We have been at war for some time and were unable, or unwilling, to admit it. For too long, the world tolerated the Taliban in Afghanistan and allowed Saddam Hussein to toy with U.N. mandates to disarm Iraq.

Malevolents in the Mideast, frustrated by an inability to achieve their goals under the watchful eyes of authoritarian regimes, shifted the battlefield by attacking softer targets in the West. In dispatching 19 Saudis to attack the United States in September 2001, Osama Bin Laden knew he would impact Riyadh, as well as New York and Washington. The Saudi regime’s precarious balance between Wahabi orthodoxy and Western alliances came under unprecedented, unwanted scrutiny in the Arab world and the West.

This is not the Pax Americana we expected. The Cold War is over, yet the world is a more dangerous place. Instead of a New World Order of growth and cooperation, intractable regional conflicts and the rise of radical Islamic militancy have brought the prospect of chronic, even cataclysmic, disorder. The Iron Curtain has been replaced by a Poison Veil that threatens to shroud the world in dread and horror.

Piercing that veil will require not one military thrust, but millions upon millions of daily pinpricks in the ancient fabric of Arab resentments. Those small stabs at self-reliance and self-esteem will come in the form of new ideas and economic choices knit tightly into civil and political life. If destiny is, in fact, written in demographics, the ticking time bomb of the Mideast population can only be defused by broadening participation in the creation and consumption of wealth.

The fact is, a man or woman with a job, with food on the table, with a stake in the economic status quo, and with opportunities to improve life for their children, their tribes or their sect, will have neither the time nor the inclination to succumb to the terrorist recruiter’s siren song. Or, as President Woodrow Wilson put it, “Business underlies everything in our national life, including our spiritual life. Witness the fact that in the Lord’s Prayer, the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.”

Yet, with the exception of Norway, no nation dependent on oil for the bulk of its national income has been able to develop the economic diversity which fuels pluralism and tolerance in civil and political realms. And concentration of wealth breeds concentration of power. Once consolidated in a family or region, that power is difficult to redistribute, particularly when the oil money used to buy off or suppress popular yearnings dries up. When the oil is flowing, there is no incentive to share power. After the wells are capped, even a willing government lacks the means to ease the transition to more participatory, entrepreneurial systems. Faced with the apparent choice between survival and chaos, between the rule of law and civil war, entrenched interests will opt for further repression, not liberalization.

Of course, oil wealth must be exploited to rebuild Iraq’s physical infrastructure. But that infrastructure must move more than oil. It should facilitate the movement of ideas, people and goods into and out of a diversified marketplace.

In the United States, our politics often look fractious and indecisive on television. But it is a mistake to equate a diversity, even a cacophony, of views with a lack of strength or resolve. Political, social and economic outlets for expression and dissent draw energy and adherents from destructive, violent modes of participation in the affairs of state.

But democracy and free markets are not Western cultural idiosyncrasies or cultural poison pills brought here to gut Arab culture and mores. The West has no exclusive franchise on those rights and aspirations so dearly purchased, interpreted and defended by evolving societies throughout human history. In fact, as one U.S. Arab scholar recently observed, “• emocracy is not a foreigner’s gift.” It springs from native soil fertilized by a social compact between the government and the governed.

Terrorists are enslaved by their hatred. They would enslave us all to their violent vision. Their toxic zeal can only be defeated by market forces, the relentless inevitability of free peoples pursuing their own enlightened self-interest in common cause. The universality of self-determination and economic freedom must be undisputed.

Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, serves as vice chairman of both the House Budget and Government Reform Committees, and is chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations and on the Select Homeland Security and Financial Service Committees.


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