America’s Financial War on Terror: Fighting for Failure

It is a key to winning any war that one knows the nature of their opponent. However, from the moment the planes hit the World Trade Center, the United States government has not only made no meaningful effort to understand the nature of its enemy but has sought to obfuscate any understanding of the causes of terrorism behind a veil of hubris and rhetoric.

Since September 11, the Bush Administration has been fighting an abstract noun: "terrorism." It has offered the simplistic explanation that September 11 and indeed all anti-American violence is simply a reaction of people who hate "democracy" and "freedom"; whilst smearing anyone who attempted to understand the root causes of anti-American terrorism as giving succour and comfort to the enemy.

The problem with refusing to understand the true causes of terrorism is that there is therefore no guarantee that the War against Terror is really a War against Terror. There is no assurance that the victories that one achieves in the war are in fact wins. It is entirely possible that in its ham-fisted attempts to eradicate terror, the United States is laying the foundation for more terror.

Since September 11, the war has been conducted on several fronts: military, cultural and financial. In the so-called financial war on terror, the United States has publicly and with much fanfare claimed a series of victories through the closure of various branches of Saudi-based Islamic charities.

Immediately after September 11, the United States designated the Bosnian and Somali branches of al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as having terrorist links. Announcing the move, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill described the organizations as perverting the "name of charity with acts of hatred and cruelty" but conceded that the Saudi Arabia-based charity is a "private, charitable, and educational organization dedicated to promoting Islamic teaching throughout the world."

The complaint against the Bosnian and Somali branches was that some non-Saudi employees may have had associations with people or groups connected with terrorism. As such, some funds may have been diverted to these causes – against the wishes and without the knowledge of the charities head office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In January 2004, the United States government then announced the addition of the Indonesian, Pakistani, Kenyan and Tanzanian branches of al-Haramain Foundation to the list of terrorist-supporting organizations.

Is the world a safer place for the closure of these charities? According to the Bush Administration, these are significant and important victories on the road to a terror-free world. However, the reality is rather different.

In each of the countries where al-Haramain was closed the charity ran several orphanages and schools. These facilities – funded entirely by the charitable donations of Saudi Arabian citizens and businesses – provided jobs for local people as well as valuable humanitarian and social services to some of the poorest communities in the world.

When the Bush Administration touts its victories in its so-called financial war against terror, one should remember that like any war this war as its innocent victims – its collateral damage. In the US’s financial war against terror, the collateral damage are the poor, the orphans and the children.

When the Somali offices of al-Haramain were closed, over 700 people had to be sacked. Over 6,000 orphans were turned out onto the streets homeless and without food or support. In Pakistan, the charity was forced to close six schools that had provided education free-of-charge to several thousand students and employed hundreds of locals. In Kenya, five schools were closed. When al-Haramain shut its operations in Tanzania, it left 136 Islamic centers unfunded and unmaintainable. Tanzanian students that the charity sponsored to study in universities in Kuwait were left with no income and an unlikely future.

Thousands of orphans and poor families have had their hopes, dreams and aspirations smashed by a US Administration that cares only about bogus "victories" in a quixotic war. The closure of these charities has not aided the Bush Administration in fighting terrorism, but rather it has only created an atmosphere where terrorism and extremism will flourish. Is there a more fertile ground for anti-American violence than amongst youth whose very futures have been stolen with the stroke of a politician’s pen?

As the poet Auden once wrote, "I and the public know, what every school child learns. Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return." America is not investing in her security, she is investing in her future insecurity. Of course, for a president who cares only about re-election, the future is another country.