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FROM THE MOYERS FILES: Bill Moyers talks with Benjamin Barber

July 30, 2004

BARBER: A lot of people thought the Democrats would go to what was traditionally their strength: the domestic agenda, education, the economy, our seniors, prescription drugs. But, in fact, they know what George Bush knows. They know that national security, homeland security and even foreign policy have now become obsessions of the American people thanks to 9/11. And there's no way that this election, the first presidential election after 9/11, could be about anything other than national security.

MOYERS: But does this mean that the two parties have trapped us in the cul-de-sac where a perpetual state of war is our destiny for decades to come?

BARBER: Well, I think right there is a fundamental difference between the two parties because I think people are beginning to get the impression that the idea of a perpetual war against terrorism, that it takes all of our time and resources, is what this administration wants. And I think what the Kerry forces are looking for and what the Democratic Party is looking for is a set of strategies that turn this away from a simple war, a perpetual war, on terrorism into a set of policies that unite domestic and foreign policy, education, the economy, a strong military into a single set of themes that aren't just about terrorism and aren't just about a foreign war.

MOYERS: The 9/11 Commission Report itself talks of a catastrophic threat from, quote, "Islamist terrorism." I mean, those are dire words coming from an official commission of the United States government. What's your take on that description?

BARBER: Well, I think they are looking at the cancerous tumor there. And rightly saying if we don't deal with the cancerous tumor, it's likely to kill us. But they also make very clear in the body of the report that there is a systematic undermining of the immune system of the world that is allowing cancer to grow.

What we need to do in addition to taking out the tumors — which we have to do with military, intelligence and cooperation with our allies and even some of our adversaries — what we also have to do is deal with the defective, the defaulting immune system that has allowed these cancers to grow.

And the 9/11 Report says, Bill, very clearly that unless we deal not just with al-Qaeda and with terrorism and the radical sect Wahhabi Islam that gives them their ideology, but that we also deal with the millions and millions of young Muslim men around the world who are angry, who feel left out of the new world markets, who feel engaged in defensive ways by the aggressive American consumer mentality and materialist economy being pushed around the world that I called McWorld. Unless we deal with that, even if we excise the tumor of al-Qaeda, we will find new tumors growing on this same immune defective system.

MOYERS: But there is a school of thought which holds that al-Qaeda and the terrorists that everyone takes so seriously come not from conditions in the world but from a radical ideology embedded in Islam itself.

BARBER: But the problem with that argument is that it assumes that ideologies, whether it's Communism or radical Islam, grow in isolation from the conditions around them. Communism became a radical and virulent and dangerous ideology. But it came out of three centuries of class warfare.

It came out of the abuses and difficulties and contradictions of capitalism in the 18th and 19th century. That grew the ideology that in time grew Bolshevism and all the terrible costs that we paid because of Bolshevism. And radical Wahhabi Islam is very much the same. I mean, there's a good way to define a radical religious movement.

Radical religion is normal religion under siege. When people feel threatened in their normal religious beliefs, they become radical. So we have to do something about normal religion under siege if we're going to deal with radical Islam.

MOYERS: But by your own admission this is an elusive and loose network of stateless killers who seem to thrive on anarchy and who are extremely difficult to locate and destroy. I mean, if they lure us into a permanent state of war and cause us to change the basic nature of our society in order to protect ourselves, haven't they really won already?

BARBER: They have, indeed. And the theme of Fear's Empire, in fact, is that as long as we fight the battle with terrorism on fear's turf, as long as we invade countries that haven't attacked us in the name of removing a possible supporter of terrorism, we cannot win the battle. Because even if we win, when we fight on fear's turf, we lose. Because fear captures us.

And the problem in the United States has been that although we've been attacked once in that dreadful, terrible morning on September 11th, we have been in a kind of perpetual state of fear since then with the terror alert codes bumping up and down. With anonymous threats being translated by our Homeland Security Office saying somewhere a bridge, a school, a market may be attacked.

I just came from Boston which looks more like the center of Iraq when you get near the Fleet Center because of the amount of security and tanks and guards and Coast Guard ships and overhead choppers flying around. You had to go through six layers of security to get in there. This is our nation's great celebration of electoral democracy.

And you feel like you're going into a maximum security prison when you go in there. That's wrong. That's fighting on their turf. And, as you say, we cannot win the battle against fear if we make fear our weapon. Let me just say one thing, when the president called the first wave of attacks on Iraq shock and awe I imagined Osama bin Laden sitting somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and saying, "Why didn't I think of that? What a great term for what I wanted to do to the United States. Shock and awe them." We will not shock and awe terrorism into submission. We have to create conditions in which the terrorists no longer will be motivated to do what they do.

MOYERS: Are we justified in calling this a war?

BARBER: No, I would much prefer to say we live in a dangerous world. Among the things we have to do is take on the specific and explicit threats of militant terrorism. But to do that we have to engage in a much wider campaign. And one thing I like about this book, by the way, which...

MOYERS: The 9/11 Commission?

BARBER: The 9/11 Commission book, yes. They talk about Wahhabi Islam. They say there's a specific ideology. But they also say that until we take much wider steps aimed at education in the Third World, aimed at providing alternatives for Muslim youth, schools that are alternatives to the madrassas.

And, you know, Bill, in Pakistan today, there are Wahhabi, that's the radical sect out of Arabia, Wahhabi madrassas, schools, that are educating young people in hatred for the West, hatred for Christianity, hatred for Jews. Along with the three R's. One of the reasons a lot of otherwise moderate Muslims in Pakistan send themselves, send their kids to those schools is 'cause those are the only schools there are.

There aren't other schools. We need to support what this commission report says it will be youth opportunity around the world. We have to provide and help Muslim nations provide real schooling.

MOYERS: The Republican National Convention will be held two blocks up the street from where we are right now within a month. And there's no way we can tackle education and poverty and health in the Arab world sufficiently to remove us from the fear of what a few people might do right up the street from us. What do we on practical terms about these terrorists? About the threat of terrorism?

BARBER: Well, again, and the 9/11 Commission Report is very helpful. It says we've got to target the real dangers. The real danger is in the uninspected container ships that come in every day to ports around this country, 95 to 98 percent of which have no inspection whatsoever.

The real dangers in the cargo holds of our cargo planes where cargoes go out uninspected every day despite all the work being done on passenger planes. The real danger is in proliferating weapons that we ourselves sell around the world. It's much easier. We worried about Saddam Hussein giving the terrorists weapons.

They don't have to go there. They can go buy them. They can buy them on the Asian arms bazaars. So we can't deal with the threat that way. We have to go after the conditions that create the threat, that sustain the threat, that finance the threat, and that provide the weapons for the threat. That's what the 9/11 Commission book says so clearly.

MOYERS: You talk in here about terrorism's strategic jujitsu. What is that?

BARBER: By that I mean that this is the premise of all terrorism is powerlessness. People who have power don't use terror. It's only people with no economic power, no political power, no pull, no influence who turn to terrorism because their only weapon is fear.

They use our power against us. They make us fearful. Think of what happened after 9/11. They brought down three, four airliners, did terrible initial damage. But, we closed down the air transportation system for three or four days. They sent a shock through the stock market. We closed down trading for four days.

They threatened us and got us once. We've been on a perpetual war footing ever since constricting our liberties. Al Qaeda didn't constrict American liberties. We did that to ourselves. The jujitsu they use is to use our fear to get us to do the things that they are powerless to do. So, that the first lesson in fighting terrorism is not to permit fear, and fear's empire, to govern us in how we behave, how we take them on, and how we live out our lives.

MOYERS: Let's come to the election. Given that both Kerry and Bush want to do the right thing for the country. Given that both are equally concerned I believe about the state of national security and making our country safe. Is there really much wiggle room between them? Aren't Kerry and the democrats proposing to do more of the same of what Bush and his administration want to do?

BARBER: No, I don't think that's so. It's certainly true as Bill Clinton said it Monday night at the convention that these are two good, honest men. Each of whom wants to protect America. I have doubt of that.

The vilifications of George Bush is somehow unpatriotic or doing the wrong thing out of the wrong motives, I don't buy. I don't think it's about oil. I think George Bush believes that he's defending America. The problem is he is mistaken in his means and means are everything. It's not enough... Kerry said it last night, it's not enough to want to make the world safe. You have to know how to do it.

It's not enough to want to declare war on terrorism. You have to know how to defeat terrorism. And the means question, how you do it is, absolutely essential. Do you we send more American troops preemptively into still another country? There's been noises about Iran, maybe there really are weapons of mass destruction in Iran.

Maybe Iran really does have some ties to 9/11. Do we then take them on? What about North Korea? Do we go in there? Indonesia? They get the wrong government. Do we go in there?

What if Pakistan defects? Pakistan... its population is very friendly to Wahhabi Islam. What if they get a government that makes them our enemy? Do we then invade Pakistan? Is that how we're going to do it? War after preventive war, none of which works.

Or are we going to develop policies that allow us to create a world in which Pakistan and Iraq and Afghanistan and Indonesia and Sudan join the world of democracies? And in which terrorists become simply common criminals.

If we work with the world and we find ways to strengthen our ties to allies, follow the path of law, follow the path of international organizations, follow the new treaties that give us real strength, real teeth in dealing with terrorism and international criminal tribunal is the ideal instrument to deal with the prosecution of terrorists. If we do that

MOYERS: But the United States doesn't wanna join that.

BARBER: Right. Not the United States. The Bush Administration doesn't wanna join it. But my point is, Bill, we've got to work with the world in order to survive.

But if we do, our survival chances will go up. Yes, we will have to get used to living in a risky world. Most of the world's population has always lived in that world. We, in a sense, are not entering a new age. We are entering the age the rest of the world's been living in for a long time but Americans were insulated from by their good fortune, the bounty of the land and the walls that the oceans once represented.

MOYERS: Our new granddaughter is six months old now. Is this six month old child going to have to spend the rest of her life in this shadow of anxiety, fear and terror?

BARBER: I don't think she has to live under the shadow of terrorism. Unless our own government is constantly telling her, "There may be a bomb in your school today honey, although we don't know that, and we don't know where the information's coming from." I think what she has to is live in a world that's interconnected, that's interdependent.

And where children who are outraged, or hungry or feeling they have no future in Beirut, or in Kabul, will affect her safety and her future in the school she may be in, in Kentucky or in New York.

So, she'll have to know that her growing up and flourishing will depend on others growing up and flourishing as well. But, I think that will probably make your daughter and my daughter and my granddaughter, and your granddaughter, far more aware of and willing to work with the world. It's not time... George Bush said it back then. George Bush said, "The world better join us, it's gotta be with us or against us." It's not time for the world to join America. It's time for America to join the world.

MOYERS: The book is FEAR'S EMPIRE: WAR, TERRORISM AND DEMOCRACY by Benjamin Barber. Thank you for joining us on NOW.

BARBER: Thank you so much Bill.

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