Remarks to the South Australia Press Club

J. Thomas Schieffer
U.S. Ambassador to Australia
(As Prepared for Delivery)

August 20, 2004

As the British army left the battlefield of Yorktown after a defeat that effectively ended the American Revolution, the band struck up a tune called, "The World Turned Upside Down." For the British and the world the almost inconceivable had happened. A colonial people had broken away from the mother country and were about to become an independent nation, something that had never happened before.

Today, almost three years since the tragedy of September 11th, "The World Turned Upside Down," could be the theme song of our day. We live in a time of enormous change but sometimes I think we have not fully grasped just how profound that change has been.

To begin with, a new international order is in the making. The one we knew for almost sixty years after the end of the Second World War has finally come to an end, as have the international norms that governed it. We find now that old enemies are often new friends and old friends are often new skeptics. As we look around the world we can be pleased with much of what we have accomplished as free peoples. Truly great achievements have been realized in our day. For the first time in history, Europeans go to bed at night without fear that other Europeans will make war on them before morning.

Around the world, more people vote for their governments than ever before. More people avail themselves of the genius of free markets than ever before and more people believe that the rights of man are the rights of woman, too. Those are all good things, positive things that have made a difference in peoples' lives.

But all this positive change has not come without enormous stress and strain on the social fabric of our societies. With every meeting of the World Trade Organization, we are reminded that some feel alienated and left behind from a globalizing world that they perceive as indifferent to their needs. For many the spiritual as well as the material future of the world is at stake.

The author and theologian Karen Armstrong has argued that all this change has sparked a phenomenon of fundamentalism across the spectrum of organized religion. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have recently had to deal with a spate of violence brought on by religious zealots who are unable to understand or accept the change going on all around them. These zealots are fundamentally opposed to change and the concept of tolerance - a value that most of us believe is a virtue in society. To further their opposition they are prepared to kill themselves and others in the name of a faith that only they believe they have the right to define.

According to Armstrong, "There have always been people, in every age and in each tradition, who have fought the modernity of their day." But this is different; Armstrong argues because, "The fundamentalist movements that have evolved in our own day have a symbiotic relationship with modernity. They may reject the scientific rationalism of the West, but they cannot escape it. Western civilization has changed the world. Nothing - including religion - can ever be the same again."

What Armstrong is saying is that this brand of fundamentalism could not exist without the progress we have made over the last few decades. It feeds upon our success not in the positive, rational way that we would normally expect but in a totally negative, irrational way.

Nowhere has this irrational fundamentalism struck with more disastrous consequences than in the Muslim world. The events of September 11th galvanized the world's attention on just how serious this problem has become. All of us now realize that we have a stake in its outcome.

Samuel Huntington has called this a "clash of civilizations." I think it more correctly could be termed a clash against civilization. What Osama bin Laden and others have done is no more representative of what Islamic civilization stands for, than what Hitler did was the reflection of Christian civilization. Both were abominations to what any thoughtful person would call civilization.

The problem is not fundamentalism per se. The right to seek or not seek God, each in our own way, is a value that most of us cherish rather than condemn. Speaking as an American, I would proudly point out that my country was the first to enshrine in a Bill of Rights, the notion that government has no business trying to tell people how to practice their religion.

The difficulty for us comes when this new brand of fundamentalism marries up with its political cousin - terrorism - because we live in an age when technology has increased the ability of a few to harm many. Violent extremists have always been a part of society - people who are bent on destruction for their own obscure reasons. Anarchists, for instance, were a part of the political landscape at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. One killed President William McKinley in America. Another assassinated Archduke Ferdinand in the Balkans. The difference today is that the technology available to Islamic fundamentalists makes them a much more dangerous entity than their historical predecessors. It is ironic that those who decry change the most are ever ready to use it in the cruelest ways possible to turn back the clock.

To defeat these terrorists we must understand what they are and what they are not. Ever since the events of September 11th, whenever the subject of terrorism comes up, the question invariably arises: What are we going to do about the root causes of terrorism? The question is almost always asked as if getting rid of terrorism is like weeding a garden. All we have to do is just do it. The question implies that terrorism is only the by-product of poverty. If somehow we could just find these people a good job then they wouldn't bother us anymore. But is that really the case?

At the height of the Great Depression in the United States 25% of the workforce was unemployed, yet no one regularly strapped on an explosive device and walked into a crowded place to blow up themselves and hundreds of others. Across the world today, billions of people live on less than $2 a day and yet, most do not regularly advocate the killing of those who make more. Clearly we are dealing with something more than the consequences of grinding poverty.

Osama bin Laden is a multi-millionaire. He has surrounded himself with doctors, lawyers and engineers who are well educated and should be able to prosper in any part of the civilized world. Yet, they have turned away from their professions and the world that is emerging and chosen terrorism as a way of life. To be sure, the mules of terrorism are often uneducated, unemployed and unstable in any conventional sense, but the leaders of terrorism are seldom men of modest means or low intelligence. They are, however, people who have trouble fitting in with the rest of society. They have often been spurned by members of their own communities. They argue that others - whether it is the United States, Israel or their own governments - are conspiring to keep them from succeeding. They say the world would be more just and spiritually fulfilling if only they were allowed to lead it. From that standpoint they adopt an old storyline. They seek power not from a message of hope, but one of hate. They spin out tales of conspiracy that appeal to prejudice, not reason. They scapegoat others who practice a different religion or hold a different nationality. We must be careful not to let these extremists define our world.

We must understand that Islamic fundamentalists who become terrorists are not spokesmen for the entire Islamic world. We will make a serious mistake if we assume they are. There are many faces to Islam, the vast majority of which espouse a religion full of compassion and love. The people who endanger us are far removed from the mainstream of their own religion.

Neither should we assume that all regimes that have Muslim populations are on the threshold of becoming violent, fundamentalist Muslim states that foment international terrorism. This is not to say that Islamic fundamentalists who could cause a lot of trouble are not present in virtually every Muslim society - they are. But ample evidence exists to show that all fundamentalists are not violent and those that are have real difficulty moving government out of the mainstream when democracy is practiced.

In Turkey, for instance, the ruling party came to power with strong ties to fundamentalist elements but that has not kept the Turks from continuing to support NATO or applying for membership in the European Union. By the same token, the bombings this year across Turkey are further proof that terrorists have no sympathy for Muslims of any kind who practice democracy.

In places like Malaysia and Indonesia, elections have been held this year that offer little encouragement to the violent or even radical elements in the fundamentalist movement. Their presence was noted and their voices were heard but when it came time to vote, their candidates were largely rejected. Even in places where democracy is not practiced, which is most of the Middle East, regimes threatened by violent fundamentalists do not appear on the verge of being overthrown.

Perhaps this is a good place to say something else. Sometimes in the debate over Iraq the United States was accused of having a naive faith in democracy when it comes to Arab states, as if somehow, we fail to recognize an anti-democratic gene that exists in Arabs. Earlier this year President Bush made a very strong call for democracy in the Middle East. He said, "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish," the President said, "it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

President Bush believes democracy can have a transforming effect on society because it does. Democracies are tenacious foes of tyrants but they do not wage war on one another. Where democracy has gone, peace has inevitably followed.

Those who say democracy will not work in the Middle East had kindred spirits in the past that argued that democracy would not work in Germany, or Japan or Russia. But, thankfully they were wrong then, and they are wrong now. Muslims, like Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus can be successful democrats. They just haven't had much chance to do so in the past. Democracies in the Middle East may wind up looking different than ours, but if people have a chance to express themselves, if they believe they have a stake in the outcome of an election, if they believe that once chosen their government will be allowed to govern, then democracy will work in the Arab world just as it has worked in the rest of the world.

To reinforce that message we must remind our friends in the Muslim world that members of their religion are citizens of democracies around the globe. In my own country of America, somewhere around 6 million people identify themselves as Muslim. In the not too distant future there will be more Muslims than Jews in America. The vast majority immigrated to pursue their dreams just as Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus did and they are proud to call themselves Americans.

We should not be shy in trumpeting their success to a larger Islamic world that is told on a daily basis that America and the West are anti-Muslim. We are not anti-Muslim. We are anti-terrorist.

We should also remind our Muslim friends that these fundamentalist terrorists who are regularly killing Westerners are also regularly killing Muslims. To the terrorists, those who disagree with their interpretation of the Koran are marked for murder just as easily as the most devout Christian or Jew. In the world of fundamentalist terrorism there is no room for dissent or disagreement.

Across a broader front, as an international community, we must recognize that failed states can have a direct impact on the security of our citizens. Governments that are not delivering basic services and security to their citizens are governments that will be vulnerable to the threat of terrorism. Not only will these governments be endangered themselves but the failure to act against the terrorists in their midst will be a danger to us. In many parts of the world the problem is not as much bad government as it is no government. There exist in some countries, places where the central government has little or no ability to control those who would do harm to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We must be ready to help those countries help themselves. In doing so we will be making our own citizens safer. None of us can idly standby to watch a state fail, arguing that it makes no difference to our own welfare. Failed states are the weak states that terrorists seek for haven and training while they plot their next attack against the civilized world.

We must also realize that terrorism itself is not monolithic. Since September 11th we have tended to focus on Al Queada as the face of all terrorism. It is not. It may be a sort of franchisor for terrorism but it is not the be all and end all of terrorism. If we captured Osama bin Laden today, we would do great harm to the terrorists but we would not end terrorism. If anything over the last three years, we have learned that Islamic fundamentalists who practice terrorism have a tendency to fracture and go their separate deadly ways. A week hardly goes by that a new group is not discovered whether it is Jemah Islamiya or Lashkar-e Tayyiba or dozens of others whom prior to their discovery were unknown groups operating with varying degrees of success. Some, like Al Queada or Hamas or Hezballah, can have thousands of members. Others may only have a handful. All seem to share an affinity for killing Westerners and Muslims associated with regimes or theologies they oppose.

But this tendency to fracture does not mean that it is easier for us to combat what they are doing. On the contrary, it makes it harder. The modern technology so often scorned by the fundamentalists allows them to maintain contact with terrorist organizations whose agendas can be quite different from their own. This common ground means that terrorists do not have to agree on theology in order to pursue common goals like the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.

Fractured groups do not mean that small numbers cannot do great harm. Those planes on September 11th only had nineteen terrorists on board - nineteen. The September 11th commission recently estimated that the cost of the total operation was somewhere between $4-5 hundred thousand. Think of what has happened since. Two wars have been fought, hundreds if not thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in direct response to the events of September 11th. All as a result of what nineteen people did that day. Staggering by any measure.

When you also realize that such a small number was involved you understand how difficult it will be to penetrate their planning and operations. When the world was divided into two camps during the Cold War, the target for our intelligence effort was pretty easily understood - the Soviet Union and the communist bloc. When the Soviet army had five million men under arms it was not easy to penetrate but the size of the target provided us with more opportunity. If only a few thousand or a few hundred or even a few dozen operatives exist in an organization and that organization is spread all over the world, it will be much harder to have someone on the inside to tip us before something really bad happens.

We must also realize that because a command structure for dozens of terrorist organizations may exist across dozens of countries, we can no longer assume that our enemies live only in our immediate area or just over our borders. We know that terrorists who participated in the September 11th attack traveled through Germany, Malaysia, Thailand and much of the world, planning, training, raising funds and preparing for the attack on America. Likewise, the Bali bombers availed themselves of help outside Indonesia and we do not know yet whether the decision to kill Westerners was made there or somewhere else. When it comes to terrorism, the notion that we have neighborhood interests that do not extend to the rest of the world is simply not true.

Four years ago in the last Presidential campaign not one candidate or one commentator that I am aware of predicated that the first conflict for us in the 21st century would be in Afghanistan, but it was. Whether we say that we live in a global village or a globalized world we must understand that technology allows a threat to our security to be hatched in one country, developed in another and carried out against us while we walk the streets of our hometowns or the cities of the world. There is no good reason to believe that Fortress America or Fortress Wherever will protect us from the threat of terrorists who hold irrational, anti-social beliefs. Whether they live next-door or half way around the globe, we must find the terrorists before they find us. And we should remember something else, we are not the cause of terrorism, we are the victims of terrorism. These people have no cause and no purpose that would justify the actions they have taken. They are wrong and they must be dealt with. Obviously, we cannot do it alone. We must convince a civilized world that we all have a stake in the outcome of this struggle. Islamic fundamentalism is not an American problem or an Australian problem or a problem of the Middle East. It is a problem of the whole civilized world and the whole civilized world must be a part of solving it.

The world I have described today may be very different from the one that existed only a few years ago. But it is a world where we can still find safety. Islamic fundamentalists who have adopted terrorism may threaten us in a way that we have not known before but knowledge, logic and reason will always trump ignorance, superstition and the irrational. We may have to be creative and innovative but we will find a way to defeat these terrorists.

Yet the victory over terrorism will not come in a ceremony on the deck of the battleship Missouri. It will not come solely as the result of our success at arms. We will win this war when we convince the world that the issues involved here are not about religion or poverty or even power.

We are not in conflict with these terrorists because we have a difference of opinion over the borders of a nation or the welfare of an economy or the independence of a people. We are not in conflict because we have differing political agendas that can be negotiated and compromised.

We are in conflict because the basic building blocks of a free society are at risk. If terrorists can win by blowing up trains, if taking hostages and beheading them works, if shooting women for going to school is accepted, if flying airplanes full of innocents into buildings is allowed, then we will have slipped into a new Dark Age where the monsters of a few will reign over the hopes of the many.

We cannot, we must not allow that to happen.

In his last State of the Union message before the United States was plunged into World War II, Franklin Roosevelt said the United States stood for a world where Four Freedoms could flourish - the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of Religion, the Freedom from Want, and the Freedom from Fear. Today, the acts of these terrorists have put those Four Freedoms at risk again. They are not just the freedoms of America or the freedoms of Australia. They are the freedoms of men and women of goodwill everywhere. They call to our generation as they have called to other generations for their defense. We must have the courage to answer their call.