By Angelo Olayvar
It is exactly one month before the impending May 1 deadline to pull out all US troops in Afghanistan. The destruction brought by the wars waged by the United States in the Middle East against terrorism along with the counterterror measures it curated have had far-reaching consequences that resulted in countless loss of human lives and hampered the promotion of human rights all over the globe.
The US-led global effort to counter terrorism and contain violent extremism has resulted in the death of at least 800,000 people due to direct war violence. This absurd number does not include the people who suffer and continue to suffer from physical, emotional, and/or mental trauma from the war. The destruction and instability resulting from the global war on terror has forced at least 21 million people in the Middle East to live as refugees and internally displaced persons, in extremely inadequate conditions. The never-ending wars on terror have cost US taxpayers at least $5.4 trillion and an additional $1 trillion for veteran care. These numbers are ridiculously excessive and it could have been avoided if the United States had adopted more responsible and peaceful methods in addressing terrorism and violent extremism.
The war has also created significant ripple effects on the economy of the United States that include job loss and an increase in interest rates. The federal government’s investment in military assets, in the duration of the wars, has made the United States lose the opportunity to fundamentally advance capital investments in core infrastructure such as roads and public transit. Given the fact that military spending creates fewer jobs, the United States should have just invested in clean energy, public education, and health care which could have resulted in the creation of millions of jobs for Americans and create a sector that can fundamentally address climate change. Even more, it is important to note that war spending is entirely financed by borrowing. The debt accrued from military spending has contributed to higher interest rates that basically charged borrowers such as new homeowners.
Reviewing the overview of the financial and human cost of the global war on terror does not shed light in discerning the full extent of the impact of the US-led global effort to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The global war on terror and the counterterror measures have resulted in gross human rights violations and obscured the promotion of human rights all over the globe.
The response to terrorism and violent extremism by the United States, along with the response of the United Nations, has been immoral, unethical, undemocratic, illiberal, and counterproductive. Instead of curbing terrorism and violent extremism, it has brought destruction, instability, seemingly endless wars, humanitarian crises, deaths, and loss of human rights of many people around the globe. It is apparent that the counterterror practices curated by the United States and the United Nations are being exploited by authoritarian regimes to legitimize their repressive and oftentimes violent acts towards their own population to maintain their grip on power. It is disheartening to learn that there has been an erosion of civil and political liberties in many democratic societies because their governments adopted authoritarian practices to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Since terrorism is a scourge of all modern civilized societies, state governments should and must not misuse counterterror measures and violate fundamental human rights to advance political gains.
Counterterror measures by democratic and authoritarian states necessitate the use of rhetoric to legitimize their anti-terrorism campaign. Oftentimes, these rhetoric results in the increase of anti-muslim sentiment. The rise of Islamophobia has detrimental effects on the basic human rights and dignity of Muslims and people of Middle-Eastern descent in many countries. Although Islamophobia existed even before 9/11, its frequency and notoriety increased dramatically during the past decade. In many western societies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, many people with Islamic background and Middle-Eastern descent are victims of discrimination, hate crimes, and racist acts due to the rhetoric adopted by the US government and political leaders.
Autocratic states such as China and Myanmar exploited counterterror measures and the global war on terror to strengthen their hold on power. In these autocratic regimes, Muslim ethnic groups lost their fundamental human rights due to the states’ paranoia in preserving territorial integrity, which is crucial in securing their regimes’ legitimacy. Millions of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province are subject to human rights abuses and genocidal acts. The Chinese Communist Party links the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (a separatist group that operates in Xinjiang and uses Uighur dissent to attract members) to the Taliban and Al-Qeada groups to justify their so-called ‘counterterror measures’ against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. In Myanmar, the Tatmadaw (military of Myanmar) adopted the language of counterterror measures to justify their military operations against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. The Tatmadaw created a narrative linking the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (an insurgent group that aims to defend, salvage, and protect Rohingya Muslims) to Taliban groups. The military operations have resulted in ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide of the Rohingya Muslims, producing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in modern times. The lethargic provisions and vague language of the counterterror measures that the United States have curated and advocated for in the United Nations Security Council have far-reaching consequences in the promotion of human rights around the world. It is with great sadness to hear that 71 years after the holocaust, genocides are still happening.
It is important to note that many autocratic regimes and illiberal democracies have capitalized and exploited the global war on terror and various counterterror measures laid out by the United Nations Security Council to secure the legitimacy of their regimes. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Russia, and the Philippines have implemented counterterror measures in order to silence political opponents and the civil society. The leaders of these countries have no respect for fundamental democratic principles. They create an enemy out of the civil society to justify their use of oppressive and repressive measures. The actions of these regimes have resulted in the dramatic erosion of civil and political rights.
The global war on terror, counterterrorism campaign, and the fight against violent extremism have had counterproductive and adverse results that culminated in the erosion of basic human rights. The United States along with the United Nations should design more comprehensive and humane counterterror measures so that authoritarian regimes would not exploit it to advance their political gains. The temptation to adopt autocratic practices in fighting terrorism and violent extremism is strong, but it is paramount that democratic states should maintain their adherence to liberal values and establish human rights as the bedrock of its campaign against terrorism and violent extremism. Furthermore, state governments and political leaders should be careful in using rhetoric that can incite paranoia and hatred towards religious and ethnic minorities and other traditionally disfavored groups.
Angelo Olayvar is an intern with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.