The decision by Congress a couple weeks ago not to override President Bush’s veto of the bill outlawing waterboarding by our government and its agencies makes it unanimous: All three branches of our government have now weighed in on the subject and agree that torture is just fine … as long as we are the torturers.In the face of all the reasons to oppose the use of waterboarding (outraged world opinion, our most cherished constitutional traditions and the basic logic of human decency), our official stance is now quite simply that we don’t care. We have proved ourselves pathetically willing to easily abandon 200 years of American values. All it took was to scare us. Our principles turned out to be no deeper than that.In other words, the War on Terror is over, and Terrorism has won. We are practicing it with official sanction. We couldn’t beat them, so we joined them.The president, while gloating that his veto would be sustained by the Republicans in Congress, fabricated claims that the use of waterboarding by our intelligence agents has helped avert several attacks by terrorists on this country or its overseas facilities. Even were this true (and experts on interrogation are clear that information squeezed from torture victims is frequently unreliable as they will eventually say anything their inquisitors want to hear if it will only stop the torture), our chief executive seems to be arguing that the end justifies the means. That is the rationale for terrorism, not the argument against it.If we ever seriously believed we could end terrorism in the world, it would have been by eliminating the belief that terrorism works; that terrorism is a way to accomplish something; that terrorism (and the fear that is its active ingredient) can somehow serve as the foundation for solving something, for solving anything.Perversely, what we have adopted as our strategy for combating terrorism is to bomb, shoot, kidnap and terrorize suspected terrorists, thereby reinforcing for the entire world to see the validity of the terrorists’ approach. Worse, the “collateral damage” caused by our heavy-handedness produces precisely what we don’t want, what we can’t survive : a geometric increase in the number of those survivors who daily become more committed to finding whatever means is at hand to exact revenge on us. Kill a terrorist and you’ve spawned 50 others who will seek vengeance.An eye for an eye soon leaves the entire world blind.Bush would have us believe we have no choice. Kill or be killed. He’s wrong. I’m reading a book by David Oliver Relin about an ordinary American who is quietly demonstrating a far more effective approach to fighting terrorism, a peaceful one. Three Cups of Tea tells how Greg Mortenson, a nurse and mountain climber from Minnesota, went to Pakistan to climb K2—perhaps the most demanding of all Himalayan monster peaks—and stayed on to build schoolhouses for the children in the remote villages where he has been planting hope and trust (along with literacy) ever since.This desolate region, part of contested Kashmir fought over by India and Pakistan for decades, might be another of the many spawning grounds for extremists that spring up wherever poverty, oppression and violence take hold. If it doesn’t, it will be because of Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, a completely independent, privately funded organization he created, which has now financed, built and operated more than 50 schools throughout the area, even including some in Afghanistan.This is Osama bin Laden territory. This is where the only previous education were fundamentalism academies open only to males, where hatred is inculcated along with learning. What Mortenson discovered is the bedrock foundation for any attempt to eliminate terrorism with a chance for success: The greatest hunger in the human heart is hunger for learning. It is the only thing we have the oppressed of the world really want. Not our money, our automobiles, our lifestyle or our bling-bling; our one genuinely coveted possession is the simplest, the safest of all to share: education.Relin quotes a village leader in Nepal, telling Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Everest, “With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don’t envy you your restless spirits. Perhaps we are happier than you? But we would like our children to go to school. Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children.”We are spending $12 billion a month blowing up terrorists in Iraq. We are buying an ally in Pakistan for the war against terror with billions of dollars annually in military aid. And we are getting nowhere. Pakistan is a member of the elite “atomic bomb club,” the nations that possess the weaponry capable of blowing us all to smithereens, a club with extremely expensive membership fees. Yet Pakistan chooses not to educate its own rural villagers; will not provide schools and teachers for millions of young Pakistanis outside the metropolitan centers who are hungry for learning—and who are potentially recruits for Al-Qaeda’s message of hate.If we truly want to “win” the war against terrorism, I suggest the path offered by Mortenson will get us there while that paved by Bush will not. Schools, not torture by waterboarding, can end terrorism.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.