Politics & Policy

A New United Nations?

Bush, back at the U.N.

It was bound to happen and it did today. The United Nations is beginning to commit itself to facing jihad terror. Between Secretary General Kofi Annan’s remarks and President Bush’s speech, the file is clearly open on the table: The international community must address this threat, not just as a criminal activity to punish and eliminate, but as an existential danger to humanity to uproot. Just as fascism and nazism lead to the launching of the U.N. in 1945, it sounds as if jihadism will force the world to relaunch the international organization in the 21st century.

When Mohammed Atta and his 18 suicide-terrorists ended thousands of lives just downtown from the heart of world coexistence, there was little room for interpretation. It was jihad vs. the world. Since that horrific morning, terror strikes have surrounded the international community with reminders: Bali, Kenya, Casablanca, Riyadh, Jerusalem, Moscow, Karachi, Bombay, Kabul, and Baghdad. All races, all religions, all creeds have been touched by the terror; al Qaeda and other terrorists have no notion of affirmative action. Every non-jihadist is a target.

That’s precisely what President Bush attempted to stress today. 9/11 was a signal of an “unfinished war against humanity.” It was a signal to all nations, not just the United States.

This 58th General Assembly, in the words of Kofi Annan, has a crucial historical decision to make. “Article 51 authorizes nations to defend themselves if they are attacked,” the secretary general said today, but he doubted that “unilateral military actions should be taken against a potential enemy of peace outside the U.N.” Of course he does; the U.S. moved ahead without the U.N. for precisely that reason: The world institution had not committed itself to fighting terrorism yet. The U.N. has condemned terror acts but not terrorism as an ideological doctrine.

But Annan also said,

[T]he “hard” threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are real, and cannot be ignored.

Terrorism is not a problem only for rich countries. Ask the people of Bali, or Bombay, Nairobi, or Casablanca.

Weapons of mass destruction do not threaten only the western or northern world. Ask the people of Iran, or of Halabja in Iraq.

That is the historical stage we’re on today. While for decades, it was a matter of sophistication to acknowledge a “terrorist” as another man’s freedom fighter, since September 11–and certainly since the “martyrdom” of U.N. diplomat Sergio de Mello–jihad terrorism may have finally ended attitude, however tragically and abruptly. For much of the world, terrorism is no longer an academic question–it is about a doctrine of doom that hates non-jihadist life.

President Bush may have been speaking to a tough audience today, but given all that has happened since 9/11/02, his words could not have fallen on completely deaf ears.

Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East Studies and a terrorism expert.


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