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29 Jun, 2015

Let’s cut the useless anti-terrorism condemnations and pose some hard questions

Commentary by Imtiaz Muqbil

Bangkok — Last week, both the UN World Tourism Organisation and the World Travel & Tourism Council, the two apex bodies of the global travel industry, issued perfunctory condemnations after the spate of attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. That put them on the record as having done their duty to do something. However, the fact is, these condemnations have the same toothless effect as those issued by the Arab world whenever Israel announces another expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine.

Rather than trot out these simplistic condemnations, the UNWTO and WTTC would be better off demanding answers to some tough questions about what the 15-year “war on terror” has achieved since 9/11/2001, and the return on investment for the trillions of dollars expended on it.

The timing of these latest atrocities may appear to be coincidental, but the first tough question that needs to be posed is: Was it really? Just the previous week, global newspaper headlines were dominated by the debate over the terrorism in a Charleston church and the arrest of a white American supremacist. A few days later, poof. Dylan Roof has disappeared from TV screens. The world is back on track, raging against the regular whipping-boy, “Islamic terrorism”. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Tunisia became the focus of attention because the gunman targeted tourists. The North African state is the genesis of the Arab spring, where on 17 December 2010, a street vendor named Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest against the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation by a municipal official and her aides.

According to Wikipedia, “His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country.” Public anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi’s death, leading then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January 2011, after 23 years in power. That democracy movement spread to neighbouring Egypt where another pro-American strongman, Hosni Mubarak, was forced out.

Then, suddenly, the Arab Spring suddenly sputtered and reversed course. Now, the West’s regime-change agenda across the Arab world is proceeding unabated. Egypt is back in the hands of a pro-American military strongman, Syria, Libya and Iraq remain raging infernos, Israel is dangerously close to wiping Palestine off the map, migrants are fleeing North Africa in droves, a new flashpoint has emerged in Yemen, and a group called ISIS has replaced Al Qaeda as the primary danger-man.

As arms dealers chortle all the way to the bank, there is no end in sight to this conflict and mayhem.

So, here’s Question Number Two: Who strangled the emergence of the Arab spring, and why?

Question Number Three: Is there more to it than meets the eye?

Let’s take the Tunisia massacre. Apparently, ISIS has taken responsibility. If that is the case, the gunman must have been communicating with someone higher up in the ISIS chain of command. There would have been a substantial period of preparation, including scouting missions. A number of other “support staff” would have had to lay the groundwork and supply the equipment.

So, in spite of the trillions of dollars and man-hours spent on monitoring the communications, movements and financing of these terrorist networks over 15 years, security authorities did not detect any of this preparatory chatter or activities. Sounds like heavy-duty incompetence.

Question Number Four: What next? Thousands of G4S gun-toting lifeguards and CCTVs on global beaches? Wow, that will work wonders for the tourism industry. Airports, cruise terminals, hotels, department stores, convention centres, etc., are having to upgrade their security, which often means buying useless, outdated equipment that does nothing except boost the profits of the security companies. Now even global beaches will have to follow suit, especially in Islamic countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Maldives, Malaysia and Egypt, many of which have a high degree of dependence on beach tourism. What a windfall!

Question Number Five: What are the world’s overpaid diplomats doing to solve the root causes of terrorism? Diplomats are supposed to be in the business of preventing problems and negotiating peaceful settlements. They jet around the world in business class and stay in fancy hotels, all at taxpayers expense. What have they achieved? What are their yardsticks of measurement? Their key performance indicators?

These questions deserve answers, but for sure, neither the UNWTO nor the WTTC will take them up. Which leads to Question Number Six: Why not?

The UNWTO and WTTC do not represent only government ministers, CEOs and corporate shareholders. They are really supposed to represent the tax-paying travelling public. And the travelling public deserves answers, especially in an age of “freedom and democracy”. That is what former U.S. President George W Bush Jr promised the Middle East after the 2003 U.S.-led attack on Iraq, remember?

The Iraq attack was followed by Mr. Bush’s heroic pronunciation from the windswept deck of a naval battleship: “Mission Accomplished”. Hence, the final Question Seven: What exactly has that mission accomplished?

The UNWTO is propagating a global code of ethics for the travel & tourism industry. For it and the WTTC to either pose these questions themselves or provide platforms for others to do so would be a highly ethical course of action. There is nothing unethical about holding political and corporate leaders accountable for their failures. Doing so is a moral and professional duty and responsibility. Shying away from it is what is really unethical.

The “war on terror” is proving to be a colossal failure. Across the Middle East, anarchy and chaos abound, including both terrorism and state terrorism. The ripple-effect is being felt worldwide. It’s time to cutback on the ritual condemnations, demand some solid answers and accountability, hold its planners and strategists responsible, review the game-plan and chart a new course.

Given the number of tourist casualties, and the number of destinations suffering due to the wider fall-out, the travelling public deserves no less.