[OUTLOOK]The terrorists will surely lose

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[OUTLOOK]The terrorists will surely lose

A year later, it is pretty clear that the terrorists may win some battles, but they can't win the war. But it is possible that the United States can lose the war, too.

After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, there was a lot of talk about the "clash of civilizations." Samuel Huntington, a Harvard professor, was endlessly invoked to the effect that the next geopolitical struggle, now that the Cold War was over, would be jockeying for power among loosely grouped "civilizations" -- Western, Sinic, Slavic, Islamic and so on. Osama bin Laden's strident demonization of the West in the name of Islam seemed to bear out Mr. Huntington's thesis.

A more persuasive explanation, however, is the "end of history" thesis by another American professor, Francis Fukuyama.

Mr. Fukuyama's idea was that history has a general direction; it is not just random events or repeating cycles. History is made, he said, by competing ideas about how best to organize society. Ideas that have been tried and discarded in the West over the past two or three centuries include aristocracy, monarchy, church supremacy, nationalism (ending in Nazism) and communism.

Liberal democracy has triumphed over all of them, Mr. Fukuyama said, and has emerged as the social consensus, at least for now. A secular state, universal suffrage, free courts and press, a free economy and equality before the law are the hallmarks of liberal democracy. No serious faction exists in any Western state in favor of reinstating slavery or excluding women from civic life or nationalizing basic industries. The arguments in Western countries now are about unemployment, education, medical care -- about how to tinker with a society in which the great issues are settled.

Most controversially, Mr. Fukuyama insisted that history would reach the same end point in non-Western societies, too.

A decade ago there was a lot of talk about particular "Asian values" said to be better suited to traditionally hierarchical societies. Democratic Japan was regarded as a special case likely eventually to re-Asianize. But look today at Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea. All are functioning democracies. Thailand and Indonesia may be making the transition. India has found that only a secular, liberal democracy can hold together a billion citizens of differing religions, languages and ethnicities. China is steadily freeing its economy; free elections and human rights will take a little longer. Even North Korea seems to have decided that to survive it must modernize.

"Modernize" -- see Osama bin Laden's nostrils flare. He wars against the West in the name of Islam because the West, in particular the United States, is the force behind the modernizing, secularizing trends that he rightly sees as a threat to his purist Islamic sect. He expresses no interest in converting Americans, only in keeping his faithful from reaching the "end of history." It's a paradox, since he himself is modern-minded enough to use computers, international financial transactions and jet airliners to keep Muslims shackled to a pre-modern, intolerant Islam.

How many of the world's billion Muslims find inspiration in this vision and would follow Mr. bin Laden? It is hard to know. There is no Muslim pope, no Muslim World Council of Churches to speak for the faith or to serve as focal points for debate among Muslims.

States with Muslim majorities almost without exception have authoritarian governments, where citizens are not asked what they think. Many of those states initially declared themselves U.S. allies in the war on terror, apparently calculating that the chance to crack down on domestic opponents by labeling them "terrorists" outweighed any illusory Islamic solidarity.

Now those states oppose an attack on (secular) Iraq, lest a democratic successor state put pressure on their authoritarian regimes.

Even before the dust settled in Manhattan last September, the Bush administration appeared to calculate that the Muslim world would not back Mr. bin Laden, so long as Washington did not allow the situation to appear as a Huntingtonian "clash of civilizations." So Muslim clerics were invited to the White House, and George W. Bush took every opportunity to praise American Muslims as loyal citizens.

But Osama bin Laden's followers have one thing in common -- they are all Muslims. So, unavoidably, the terrorism suspects arrested or deported are all Muslims. The swarthy men stopped for questioning by airport security screeners or eyed with hostility by fellow passengers tend to be Muslims.

Even so, Mr. Bush's war is not against Islam. As the leader of a country that has reached the end of history, he now wants to re-enter history. He wants to nudge -- well, blast -- Iraq to history's terminus, equip it with liberal, democratic institutions and end Iraq's threat to the modern world. Some in the administration say such a transformation of Iraq would powerfully influence democratic change in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries.

An interesting report came from the United Nations Development Program this summer, written largely by Arabs and mostly before Sept. 11 last year. The report acknowledged that, despite rich resources, especially oil, the Arab world lags in economic development and technological energy. To catch up, it concluded, the Arab world needs political freedom, empowerment of women and the open pursuit of knowledge.

In other words, educated Arabs know that the Arab world needs to reach the end of history. One imagines Osama bin Laden gnashing his teeth and pronouncing a fatwa on the scholars who wrote the report.

He can't win, Osama can't. Trouble is, the United States could still lose. In waging its crusade for democratic values, the Bush administration is sacrificing many of those values. It is amassing vast new powers to eavesdrop and wiretap. It is conducting secret deportation hearings. Suspects are held without charge and without access to legal counsel. Congress goes along; terrified of being called unpatriotic, its members refuse to defend the values that justify American patriotism.

Some courts have begun to resist. Newspapers need to do the same. It seems that the end of history isn't the end of the journey. It is a precarious perch. We must defend our hold on it.


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The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Hal Piper

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