By Ravi M. Khanna
It is high time the West realised that one can kill Osama bin Laden, but even the best of bombs cannot kill the anti-West sentiment triggered and then fueled by the Al-Qaeda leader. Why? Simply because drones can kill only people, not their beliefs, which may be right or wrong. But yes, their beliefs can certainly be changed.
Osama bin Laden is dead, but Al-Qaeda, the hydra-headed monster he created, is still active, and not only in Pakistan. It has also spread its tentacles into Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Today, Al-Qaeda doesn’t even have to give orders to the militants in other Muslim countries where there is a serious disconnect between the people and their governments.
There is a silent networking among different militants who are fighting against their own governments because those governments are supported by the West. They already have the message from Al-Qaeda that says: terrorise any community that is pro-West, and weaken and destroy any government that is supported by Western countries, especially by the United States.
And the problem is that these militants “fight to die” whereas the government forces anywhere “fight to live”. They fight to die because they have been brainwashed into believing that if they die while fighting a Jihad, or a holy war, they will go straight to Jannat”, or heaven. The fact is that they are easily brainwashed because they are poor, because they are uneducated and because they have nothing to lose in their present lives.
So the glaring reality that is escaping the Western countries is that the only way it can conquer this “anti-West attitude” is through economic development and by educating the people. It is very easy for groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to recruit uneducated youngsters and brainwash them against the West. But if the children are educated they will not fall for myths and false promises made to them in the madrassas, where they are made to recite Koran day after day, sometimes without understanding the meaning of what they are reciting from the Holy Book that is written in Arabic. In fact, it has been proven in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan that parents will rather send their kids to schools where they also teach science and math along with the Koran. But since the madrassas also provide free milk and food to the kids, poor parents clamour to get their kids admitted to these Islamic seminaries.
So the best way for Western countries to counter the false propaganda against them is by giving citizens in these countries economic development and educational opportunities to prepare the youngsters to decide for themselves what is wrong and what is right, and what is false and what is true.
Instead of spending trillions of dollars on making bombs and missiles, it would be better if a fraction of that money is spent on providing nourishment and educational facilities to children all over the world so that they may recognise the benefits of democracy and development, and their “attitude” can be changed. They will be able to see through the lies told to them by their religious teachers and start relishing the opportunities they can enjoy in the “free world”.
No one can argue against the fact that educating people is the most crucial necessity for a democracy to work and survive, and that when we talk about the so-called “free world”, the world can be free only if and when every child is given a right to education and the poor nations are given economic aid and development to give their children that right.
Today, there are roughly 800 million children in the world who live in poor countries, and they either have no means to go to schools or do not have schools to go to. So if the rich countries can spend even one thousand dollars per child per year, the total cost will come to only 800-thousand million dollars per year, as compared to trillions of dollars spent by the world on manufacturing or acquiring lethal weapons.
For example, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the final cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run into at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.5 trillion. And these numbers are expected to continue to rise because of overlooked costs, such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans of those wars.
If nothing is done, the cleverly brainwashed generation will continue to hold Western countries responsible for their plight and harbour a constant grudge against them, and Osama bin Ladens will continue to appear and reappear to pounce on the weaknesses of the Western countries and incite the poor and uneducated into the militancy against them.
(Ravi M. Khanna is a long-time South Asia observer. He has headed the South Asia Desk at Voice of America in Washington and has published a book, ‘TV News Writing Made Easy for Newcomers’. He can be reached at email@example.com)