Stepping off the merry go round

Last weekend, a pair of suicide bombers killed 81 people and wounded 140 more in an attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Last weekend, a pair of suicide bombers killed 81 people and wounded 140 more in an attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. A branch of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the bombing, proclaiming that such attacks will continue until the U.S. ends its campaign of drone strikes.

Christianity is the second-largest religion in Pakistan. There have been Christian churches there since at least the late 19th century, and relations between Muslims and Christians have fluctuated between co-existence and outright persecution. In recent years, however, the lives of Pakistani Christians have grown ever-more dangerous.

Since the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2002, the Taliban have been targeting Christians in revenge attacks. There is an evil kind of logic behind this. So much of what tears the region apart is the result of interference from a succession of U.S. presidents who have all to one degree or another traded upon their Christian faith while supporting murder and mayhem in Central Asia.

Jimmy Carter’s foreign minister Zbigniew Brezhinski bragged that his administration created the Mujahadeen, thus “giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” When Ronald Reagan ousted Carter, one of the few programs he didn’t axe was support for the Afghan “freedom fighters.” The Mujahadeen gave birth to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and so to a civil war. George W. Bush of course invaded Afghanistan, and began attacking suspects in northern Pakistan with drone strikes, a practice which Barack Obama has escalated.

It hardly needs to be said that the evils beset upon Central Asia by Christian American leaders is no excuse for the Taliban to blow up churches, no matter how sanctimoniously those leaders may spout their faith while financing the latest dictator, sending in the troops, or bombing apartment blocks.

Oddly enough, it apparently does have to be said that the evils committed by the Taliban are no excuse for murdering Muslims. Consider the drone campaign. Somewhere between 2,548 and 3,549 people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and July 2013. Of these, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 1.5 per cent were the so-called “high-ranking Taliban” officially targeted, while five per cent were children.

There is nothing more terrifying than the irrational. When we believe we are under attack by religious fanatics who hate us simply because they are madmen who hate freedom and democracy, the situation seems desperate. We are desperate. As Afghanistan has proven repeatedly, it’s not a situation that can be resolved using conventional military methods. So what to do? With no obvious alternative, it begins to seem reasonable to use drones to penetrate these fortresses of fanaticism, to try to stem the flow of terrorist attacks.

It’s not. Drone strikes are an act of war. So are suicide bombings. Or, if you prefer, they are both terrorist attacks. A difference in delivery systems doesn’t make one more or less evil than the other, nor are they unequal in irrationality. In both cases civilians, including children, die horribly. Both achieve the opposite of their declared motive, which is to get the other to stop.

There’s a lot that Western nations could have been doing for decades to stem Islamic extremism: tying aid and trade to human rights, helping to fund secular education, in particular for girls, encouraging and supporting moderate governments. Instead we have backed dictators and supported terrorists until they were no longer useful, whereupon we made war on them. Bulletin: it’s not working.

The predictable White House response to the Peshawar bombing is to hunt down the organizers of the attack and bomb them, along with an unknown number of accomplices, family, and neighbours. The predictable Taliban response to that will be another bombing. Somebody has to step off the merry-go-round first. Does anyone really believe it’ll be the Taliban?

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.